American Jews should reject Faustian bargains

Is American Jewry willing to sell Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish community, to Donald Trump?

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday. (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
On Wednesday morning, after watching the train wreck of the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, I read Judah Waxelbaum’s opinion on why “American Jews should reject Joe Biden.” He contends that Trump will provide more support for Israel than Biden, citing an exchange over aid to Israel between Menachem Begin and then-Senator Biden almost 40 years ago.
Our principles regarding Israel are precisely what are on the ballot in the United States 2020 election. Before Israel was ever a delineated geographic location, it was a people. Israel is a people. Assuming the false choice he presents is correct, then the question before us is straightforward: Are we willing to sacrifice the soul of world Jewry for the land of world Jewry?
This notion brings to mind a conversation I had with a brilliant man who was born into a Jewish family in Argentina and lived through a time when free-thinking intellectuals were “disappeared” during the so-called “Dirty War.” He asked me an abstract question that has remained with me: “What do you think about black and white, versus gray?” It is imperative to understand nuance and complexity, to perceive different shades and textures of gray between the spectral extremes of black and white. Amid all of our Jewish laws, it is our ability to question and struggle with the gray of ethics and morality that has produced such avid thinkers. In my response to this seasoned scholar, I replied that life is often gray, but that you must be able to distill and focus your ideas to monochrome to make sound decisions and evolve.
This is such a moment. It is not our land that is threatened by Trump. It is us.
In Tuesday night’s debate, President Trump refused to condemn white supremacy, the very force that led to the slaughter of six million Jews. And yet, there are those among us who would still support him. Though this administration has made decisions in Israel’s favor that many celebrate, I submit that the essence of the Trump administration for Israel as a people, for Klal Yisrael, does not lie in its political maneuvers in the Middle East. It lies in its attestable amorality.
Are Jews willing to be charmed by a demonstrable racist and antisemite who deceives us into thinking that he is good for Israel, both the people and the land? Trump embodies the essence of sociopathic brainwashing: Initially he makes you feel appreciated, he makes you feel understood, he makes you feel consequential. And he would turn on the Jewish people the moment it suited his aims. Many of us, at least once, have been hypnotized by such an individual, but this election is the Faustian bargain of our times. Does our soil trump our soul?
THERE IS another way to read Menachem Begin’s words in 1982, which perhaps differs from Mr. Waxelbaum’s interpretation: “I am not Jew with trembling knees.”
No. It is not “our principles” to tremble before a demagogue, nor to worship one, nor to allow our fear of the coronavirus to prevent us from exercising our right to vote. Trump loves to scare, intimidate, threaten and denigrate. If he could not frighten us, he would attempt to bewitch us. He would do it to us, every one of us, black, brown, and white Jews.
“I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of history,” Begin said. “Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens.”
The Nazis claimed that their ideology of racial purity was supported by American ideas on race and white genetic supremacy. Trump is for those ideas. Biden is against them. That the United States fought with the Allies and has been a haven for Jews does not erase this fact.
“Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country,” Begin continued.
No. And therefore, as the former prime minister himself noted, “aid” cannot lead the Jewish people to make decisions that will carve out our souls for false protection.
“We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it.”
We have paid for our faith, our ethics, our values and our principles with our lives. Will we protect the stranger? Will we protect the poor? Will we care for the disadvantaged? Will we treat the sick? Will we fight for justice?
I disagree heartily that a vote for Biden would threaten Israel, aid to Israel, or support for Israel. That idea creates a false choice. Nevertheless, let us confront the deep terror behind this claim, and let us distill our fear into a question behind it: Would we protect Klal Yisrael over Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel?
You may disagree and ask me how there can be a protected Klal Yisrael without an Eretz Yisrael. I submit to you that it is the reverse: Klal Yisrael preceded Eretz Yisrael, and without it, Eretz Yisrael is geographic. These are the types of decisions that Jews have been faced with from the beginning of time.
“We will stand by our principles. We will defend them, and when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”
Here is the principle. It is quite black and white, disturbingly so: Do you choose a human being with a track record of compassion, thoughtfulness and values, despite his shortcomings? Or do you choose a human being who is uncontrolled, sociopathic and immoral, despite his assistance to Israel? We don’t need aid to make this decision. Be the “light among the nations.” Klal Yisrael depends on it.
The writer is a clinical psychologist in New Mexico.