I don’t expect to change anyone’s vote with an op-ed or a Facebook comment. Still, it’s important to be clear about what a vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump is not. No one should think themselves a bad Jew for supporting Biden or a good Jew for backing Trump.
Much like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, who helps Jim escape slavery but feels guilty about it, there will be Jews who vote against Trump’s racist, self-aggrandizing dystopia only to believe they’ve somehow betrayed Jewish interests or sold out Israel’s future.
Yes, Biden voters tend to support a balanced judiciary and fair policing (incidentally, one of the seven Noahide laws incumbent upon all societies, according to Jewish tradition). And they favor keeping a woman’s reproductive choices safe and out of the secular courts, in line with most rabbinic opinions.
Many of the 70-plus percent of Jews voting Democratic even hold out hope of an eventual arrangement that sets four million Palestinians on an independent path and rescues Israel from the looming train wreck of permanent control, dehumanization and the downfall of a Jewish democracy.
Despite Biden’s record as Washington’s longest-standing and staunchest friend of Israel, numerous Jews will regret not being able to stand with Trump – the mover of our Embassy to Jerusalem; the negater of Palestinian rights; and the impresario of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. And yes, that Mideast deal should be welcomed, even though it was long in the making, and even though the prime motivation was to provide advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE and set the stage for a region-wide war against Iran.
Yes, some Jews will vote for Biden, fearing for their school-age children under Trump’s expansive view of gun rights under the Second Amendment. But they will feel uneasy about risking their college students at universities threatened by anti-Israel BDS messages that the First Amendment protects – protections that Trump has tried to overturn to “save” our kids.
Government control of universities and restricting freedom of speech should be triggers for every Jew.
Too many of us will vote for Biden while accepting the charge that we’re somehow voting against Israel or Jewish interests, even though the handful of violent attacks targeting American Jews and synagogues have mostly been carried out by white supremacists in line with Trump’s embrace of the “very fine people” of QAnon, All Lives Matter, those at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and despite his own revival of the Nazi-era “America First” movement.
EVEN THOUGH the racists’ first targets are Muslims and people of color, and scapegoating Jews is just part of their necessary shtick to get what they want, is this really what we want, on any level?
For those concerned about “Jewish interests,” rest assured: Jews have always looked out for and taken care of ourselves. But most of us have found a way to reconcile our parochial interests with our core values. At our best, we have saved ourselves and others in ways that exemplify our mission and purpose in this world.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, in reprising the Passover song “Dayenu,” started off with, “Had President Trump only passed the largest tax cut in history.” Anyone who believes that greed is a Jewish value rather than a vice, that economics is an evil science, or that Trump is somehow on a par with the Lord of Hosts, will not be convinced by any Jewish-based counter-argument.
And that is the point.
Even today, with Trump fanning the flames of confusion and hatred, most of us can readily see that no matter which Jews actually marched with Martin Luther King 60 years ago, very little has fundamentally changed in America; and that today we face a stark choice between right and wrong; and that it doesn’t matter that our philanthropies benefited from Trump’s tax cuts if our African-American neighbors can still be gunned down with impunity and denied the right to be our neighbors.
We should also remind ourselves that the biggest hit to our institutions in our lifetimes has been the prolonged economic and social disruption caused by Trump’s self-destructive approach to COVID-19.
As for Jewish values of justice and helping the stranger, the poor, the children who cannot fend for themselves, of humility and courage; do they sum up the Trump years?
So please, let’s all exercise our constitutional right to vote. We will have years to try to redeem the friendships torn apart by these dark years, and to repair our society in ways Americans failed to do after the Civil War. But we should do so without conceding our moral bedrock.
I won’t demand that any Trump voter explain their vote within a Jewish context unless they raise the subject first. But I prefer that they do not try staking some perverse claim to Jewish truth.
We should not waste our breath trying to convince those who have already narrowed their understanding of Jewish values and interests to fit their choice, nor should we allow ourselves to internalize the pro-Trump theology of control, division and lawlessness. These are not Jewish values. They have never worked to our advantage, and while we shouldn’t go boasting, in no way should we apologize for upholding the highest ideals of our faith.
The writer is a lobbyist and former Jewish communal executive, and is a senior fellow with the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. (Twitter @shaifranklin)