Rabbis boycotting Trump are ignorant of their own history

The president was correct in condemning all violence. In a viable democracy, there is no excuse for political violence in the streets.

August 31, 2017 20:31
3 minute read.
donald trump president  Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts as he meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)


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The novel Bridge on the Drina is a poignant depiction of the Balkans being torn between the competing empires of the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians.

In 1878, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina. As the troops of the Hapsburg Empire came across the bridge on the Drina, representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths stood there as supplicants, hoping their new rulers would recognize them as representatives of their respective communities.

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In America, even minority religions have access to the corridors of power, and some of these political relationships are informally institutionalized.

The representatives of faith groups are not supplicants standing on a bridge waiting humbly for some sign of recognition.

For Jews, one of the mechanisms that affirm their access to the political structure is the annual High Holy Day conference call with the president.

This year, three non-Orthodox rabbinic associations, seemingly unaware of their own painful history, will boycott the annual event. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly, joined by the political arm of the Reform Movement, will not take US President Donald Trump’s call.

Their decision is as contemptible as it is outrageous and self-indulgent.

For centuries Jews were wantonly deprived of the opportunity to have the needs of their communities heard. Now, possessing political access, these religious leaders seek to squander it.

Their forebears, who stood on the bridge over the Drina waiting for recognition by the Hapsburgs, could not have imagined either this kind of access or behavior.

The boycott will further alienate the Jewish community from the administration.

It is an immoral form of grandstanding at the expense of the Jewish community.

The non-Orthodox rabbis are vexed over Trump’s statements about the violence in Charlottesville, which the mainstream media characterize as a morality struggle between the forces of light and darkness.

It obviously wasn’t. There were violent elements on both sides. Antifa is not the Girl Scouts. It actively trains people in the use of violence at demonstrations and it justifies violence through the delusion that it is standing in the streets of the Weimar Republic fighting Hitler’s Brownshirts.

The statesman-like tradition in American politics, as James Robbins correctly notes, is to condemn all violence.

One does not parse good violent rioters from bad violent rioters.

The president was correct in condemning all violence. In a viable democracy, there is no excuse for political violence in the streets. The antisemitism of the far Right is palpable, but so too is the antisemitism of the far Left. It’s just that progressive Jews are incapable of confronting antisemitism when it comes from those with whom they share a political agenda on other issues.

The president who most threatened the Jewish community is not Donald Trump but Barack Obama. Obama sat at the feet of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for 20 years while he cursed Jews and America. It was only when Wright’s sermons became public and Wright persisted in his hatred that Obama distanced himself from the man he called “his uncle.”

The Obama administration staked out positions for the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel. It slighted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by making him come to the back door of the White House and then serving him non-kosher food while Obama retreated to his living quarters. The contrived insults were unworthy of an American president.

The Obama administration gave Iran the bomb and freed up over $100 billion that Iran is now using to fund terrorism against Israel.

Did the ostentatiously publicity- hungry rabbinical organizations ever refuse to take a High Holy Day call from Obama? To ask the question is to answer it.

The self-centered rabbis will bask in the ephemeral limelight of their political exhibitionism. They will join other Jewish organizations that are crafting letters and petitions to attack Trump for not condemning one set of street thugs more than another.

They will indulge their self-important fantasy and receive affirmation from their congregants, who think that Trump is the greatest threat to Jewish existence since Hitler. They will have advanced the real interests of the Jewish community not one iota.

The writer is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @salomoncenter

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