Earlier this week, renowned fashion retail mogul and pro-Israel philanthropist Leslie Wexner made national headlines after publicly announcing that he’d be withdrawing his support for the Republican Party over Donald Trump. As a longtime Republican donor and the single richest man in the state of Ohio, his departure from the conservative camp sent shock waves throughout the nation.
“I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” Wexner, the CEO of L Brands said. “I’m an independent.” He added that he would no longer “support this nonsense in the Republican Party.”
Even for the most politically active individuals, it’s not entirely out of the ordinary to switch political teams. America has always had a dynamic political landscape, with each party’s interests and objectives shifting broadly with the passage of decades. It is to be expected from time to time that leading political figures may leap between America’s ever-swerving political fault lines.
There is also no doubt that the rise of Trump has signaled significant changes in the Republican Party, just as the rise of many far-left figures speaks to seismic shifts across the aisle.
So, Wexner’s choice isn’t all that shocking.
What is, however, quite confounding, is the reason he gave for his decision.
Speaking to a small audience in Columbus, Wexner told his listeners that he’d decided to quit the Republican Party in part due to a speech he heard from former president Barack Obama.
Obama had recently paid a visit to Ohio, looking to further the prospects of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray. At one rally, Obama broke protocol and took the opportunity to launch an attack against the current president.
“We’re supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” Obama said at point. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”
He didn’t know it at the time, but Obama had done far more than boost a fellow political figure. He’d also managed to convince a longtime Republican billionaire to abandon his own party.
Wexner was apparently transfixed by Obama’s address.
“I was struck by the genuineness of the man, his candor, humility and empathy for others,” he said of Obama, according to The Columbus Dispatch. But he added that there was another president to thank for his leftward political slide – and that, of course, would be Trump. The CEO recalled a time in the past year when he told his employees that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” when Trump found it hard to roundly condemn the white nationalist violence that occurred at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.
WEXNER IS a consummate supporter of Israel, a pro-Israel patriot, and an accomplished philanthropist. He is also entitled to whichever political views he believes best represent his core values.
Nonetheless, I must take issue with his reasoning.
It may very well be that, in the realm of words, Obama holds an advantage over Trump. Few American presidents have been as gifted at oratory as Obama, and I will forever recall the inspiring speeches he delivered across the world during his first campaign for the presidency. Nor will I ever forget Obama referring to my friend and mentor, Elie Wiesel, as “the conscience of mankind” upon the great man’s death on 2 July, 2016. Trump, on the other hand, has made many utterances that have upset people. In the case referenced by Wexner, it was Trump’s lack of words to properly condemn the scourge of white nationalism that many, including myself, found so disappointing.
But, as compelling as this understanding of their merits may be, it rests on the flawed notion that words are what truly matter. According to the wisdom of the Jewish faith, however, “It is action that is critical.” Because, ultimately, words aren’t what count. Actions are.
And, in the realm of action and a moral foreign policy, Trump holds his own clear advantage.
For all his nice speeches, Obama’s presidency was stained by his historical failures in the fight for human rights and putting a price on genocide.
Obama stood idly as Bashar Assad waged a genocidal war in Syria, with so many civilians murdered that few are left counting. Even as Assad walked right over Obama’s “redline” by gassing dozens of Muslim men, women and children, Obama refused to act and embarrassed himself by turning to President Vladimir Putin and the Russians to enforce a fraudulent Syrian promise to purge chemical weapons.
Then, there was the Iran deal, whereby Obama quite literally rewarded a genocidal regime with billions and billions of dollars, much of which was funneled directly into further fomenting terrorism and mayhem in the Middle East. He signed the deal even though it had sunset provisions that would allow an ideological and expansionist regime to build nuclear weapons in about a decade and threaten the peace not just of the region but of the entire world. More immediately, it offered wide-ranging legitimization to a vile regime that stones women, hangs gays, shoots its citizens, and exports terrorism without relent. Worst of all, Obama ratified the treaty without once demanding that the Iranian leadership cease threatening the Jewish nation – which suffered a holocaust just 70 years ago – with another one today.
To paraphrase the words of Obama that Wexner found so inspiring, “How hard is it to condemn Iran for threatening to kill all the Jews?” But Obama never condemned the mullahs. Not once. Not ever.
And who is a greater threat to the Jewish people today? True, the white racist neo-Nazis are the scum of the earth, and they murdered an innocent woman in Charlottesville. But they currently possess no power whatsoever to threaten the Jewish people with a modern-day holocaust. But the Iran nuclear program absolutely does. And Iran is already aiding and abetting a genocide of Sunni Muslims in Syria.
Trump, on the other hand, has twice attacked Assad for gassing Arab children and has made it overwhelmingly clear that there will always be a price to pay for employing nerve agents against Muslim civilians.
Trump shocked the world last year by refusing to ratify the very deal signed by Obama with Iran. He made clear-cut demands of Iran to alter its behavior and agree to stricter terms – failing which, the deal would simply expire. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has reversed decades of anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism at the UN. Trump’s special adviser on the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman have held the Palestinian Authority accountable for grotesque antisemitism and rampant corruption, even going so far as to defund UNRWA and close the Palestinian mission in Washington, DC, because of the Palestinians’ incitement against Israel and refusal to even appear at the table of peace. Of greatest significance, Trump finally moved the Embassy of the United States to the eternal capital of Israel in Jerusalem.
Obama, parenthetically, also promised to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, in what was actually a moving and beautiful speech. He just never actually did it.
He was there in word, and absent in action. And in the end, even his words have been forgotten.
To conclude: I can understand why Wexner found Obama’s speech truly moving and Trump’s silence on Charlottesville genuinely troubling.
But what he must ask himself is this: What, in the end, are all these words actually worth? And how can Obama engage in such blatant hypocrisy by castigating Trump on his failure in Charlottesville but giving the murderous mullahs, who promise the annihilation of the Jews, a complete pass?
There can be no question that when it comes to speech and his tweets, President Trump can use the Jewish High Holy Days as an inspirational moment to ennoble words. But when it comes to Israel and the security of the Jewish nation, President Trump has greatly exceeded our expectations.The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 32 books, including Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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