A month and a half in, all the gung ho Trump people are still maintaining that The Donald is God’s gift to the Jews and to Israel. But if you look at his rhetoric and that of his inner circle, it’s anything but clear. Take the issue of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, for instance. Back on October 27, Trump could not have been clearer in his speech to AIPAC. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
But in January, after assuming office, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he didn’t want to talk about it. “It’s too early,” he said.
And now? “I’m thinking about it. I’m learning the issue and we’ll see what happens. It’s not an easy decision. It’s been discussed for so many years. No one wants to make this decision, and I’m thinking about it seriously.”
Translation: he doesn’t want to make the decision. He’s thinking about it.
Then Friday night, Vice President Pence, speakingto the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas seemed to distance the prospects of an American embassy in Jerusalem even further when he said that Trump’s administration is “reviewing additional steps to demonstrate America’s support including assessing whether the American embassy in Israel should be relocated to Jerusalem.”
Note the use of the word “whether.” We’ve gone from “We will move the embassy,” to debating “Whether we should move the embassy.”
In the language of the Talmud, this would be going from the vadai to the safek—from the certain to the questionable, which is an unnatural order for how things should be.
In examining the shift from electoral promise to placing the issue on the backburner, one cannot discount the idea that it is Jerusalem pouring cold water on the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu has publicly said he wants the embassy moved to Jerusalem; that in fact, Israel’s policy is that all embassies should be in Jerusalem. And still, it is possible there is more to this picture than any of us know. We the people never know what is going on behind closed doors. And if it is Bibi who doesn’t want the embassy moved, it isn’t as though it would be politic for Trump to say so.
Then there’s this: could it be that the apparent change in policy proves Trump never really intended to go through with moving the embassy in the first place? This is, of course, more than possible. Every candidate makes promises. Every candidate breaks promises.
And finally, there is the matter of Trump’s alt right base. Trump has been reluctant to appear philosemitic on several occasions. Take his alteration of the Holocaust Day speech prepared for him by the State Department. The original speech made explicit mention of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But Trump (or one of his lackeys) changed the wording, omitting any reference to the Jewish people, to make the speech more “inclusive.”
Trump, it is said, is meanwhile thinking about cutting several special envoy positions, including one dedicated to battling antisemitism. Right at the time that antisemitic incidents are exploding all over the globe, including in the United States, where we have hundreds of gravestones overturned in Philly, swastikas sprayed on cars in Buffalo, and a wave of bomb scares hitting JCC’s all across the country. Allegations (not particularly credible ones) have been made that Trump said that the Jews themselves are behind these incidents.
In any event, the feeling is that Trump is not coming out sufficiently strong enough against these expressions of hatred. He had his press secretary make a statement: “The president continues to be deeply disappointed and concerned by the reports of further vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.”
“Disappointment” just doesn’t cut it. Would Trump have expressed “disappointment” in Hitler (may his name and memory be erased) for gassing the 6 million? Or perhaps “deep concern?”
All this is a far cry from how Trump presented himself to the Jewish people in the run up to the election. Take, for instance, the way Trump allowed David Friedman to be his Jewish “face.” Friedman made a speech in October in which he came right out and called the State Department antisemitic for refusing to move the embassy.
“In 1995, Congress enacted a law that required the embassy of the United States to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Friedman at the Jerusalem rally while stumping for Trump. “That’s 21 years ago. Hasn’t happened. Why? Because the law provides that the obligation to move the embassy to Jerusalem can be waived at the desire of the State Department, the same State Department that has been anti-Israel and anti-Semitic for the past 70 years.”
“Now every president gets elected and he says to the State Department, ‘what about this law? Should we move the embassy to Jerusalem,'” said Friedman. “The State Department says, ‘absolutely not. Absolutely not.’ The lifers in the State Department are absolutely, positively committed to never moving the embassy to Jerusalem. What’s different about Donald Trump? You all know Donald Trump. If there’s anybody in the world of politics who could stand up to the State Department, it is Donald Trump.”
But Donald Trump is NOT standing up to the State Department. He is not moving the embassy. He’s not doing anything about the sudden burgeoning of antisemitism in the United States. To the contrary, he’s mulling over cutting the special antisemitism envoy’s position.
Donald has a Jewish daughter and grandchildren. He counts a number of right wing Jews among his closest advisers and confidantes. But Trump also has a very strong alt right base and he is reluctant to appear at odds with their ethos.
There is no question that this is a very bad thing. Egregious. It is absolutely imperative that he stand up when it counts and face these expressions of antisemitism. He must stand up to his alt right base and denounce antisemitism in no uncertain terms. Trump cannot continue to coast on the Jewish creds of his family and advisers, but must himself take the bull by the horns. Far from cutting the antisemitism envoy position, Trump should be creating a taskforce to deal with the current rise in Jew-hatred.
None of us should be giving Trump a pass, looking the other way, insisting he wouldn’t hurt Israel or the Jews because Ivanka and Jared. It doesn’t wash. It never did.
Trump must be judged not on campaign promises or by his relatives and associates but by his own actions and deeds post-election. Now is the time for Trump to step up to the plate and show his mettle.
The Jews are the canaries in the coal mine, the harbinger of larger dangers in the immediate environment. Trump would be wise to see the warning for what it is and deal with it in no uncertain terms. He should be moving that embassy today. He should be crushing that alt right base, he needs to decry and disavow them, shame them. He needs to let them know that he is NOT their man.
And if he doesn’t, if he won’t. Well then. He IS.
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