A Post-Election Letter To American Jews


Dear Liberals,

Let’s face it, you failed. Showering Barack Obama with love didn’t stop his final anti-Israel onslaught. He handcuffed America to Two Big Lies: that Israel — not Palestinian terrorism — remains the major obstacle to peace, and that Israel has no rights beyond the pre-1967 borders, including east Jerusalem.

Repudiating the Jewish consensus, Obama wrongly worships 1949’s improvised Armistice Lines and helped criminalize any Israeli presence beyond those boundaries. By ignoring his fanaticism, you enabled Obama’s masquerade as the world’s nicest Bash Israel Firster.

Swaggering now about speaking “truth to power” against Donald Trump rings hollow. It takes no courage to denounce your enemy; you were too cowardly to confront your friend. Did you ever write Obama saying, “I support your domestic agenda but please treat Israel more reasonably?” Instead, you echoed Thomas Friedman’s exaggerations calling Obama Israel’s “Best Friend Ever” and that he has “never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy” than Obama and John Kerry. Never say “never” in politics; overstatements overcompensate for insecurity (See: Trump, Donald J.).

Serving as Obama’s hofjuden, the medieval Court Jews who courted power by flattering the powerful, undermined your claims that criticizing Israel reflected your love. Why couldn’t you “love” Obama equally critically? Why does your love of criticism stop when Israelis criticize American Jewry? Also, how do you reconcile refusing to “normalize” Trump’s presidency with your demand that Israelis get over Palestinian terrorism and incitement? Must Israelis be the only good Christians around, turning the other cheek?

Just as “Donald Trump’s America” is not the only America, introduce a multidimensional Israel, beyond the headlines. Similarly, how come you don’t thank evangelicals for supporting Israel — and don’t denounce far leftists for their obsessive, anti-Semitic anti-Zionism? Don’t complain about polarization while practicing all-or-nothing partisanship yourselves.

Ultimately, I don’t see your Jewish bottom line. Do you have any Jewish commitments as solid as your commitments to social justice, feminism, gay rights and a woman’s right to choose? Judaism is more than American liberalism. Your Judaism appears totally negotiable — be it the taboo against intermarriage, Israel’s standing, Jerusalem’s status, Jewish ritual and law. It’s all Jew-ish: nice, as long as it’s convenient.

You drank the universalist Kool Aid, the postmodern propaganda dismissing Judaism, Zionism and Israel as too ghetto, not cosmopolitan like liberalism purports to be. You ignore liberals’ privileging of women’s, gays’, blacks’, Latinos’ particularisms. You forgot that Jews’ particularist “if I am not for myself – who am I?” helps others, too, because “if I am only for myself, what am I?” See how you tolerate inconsistencies regarding your American identity, but any Jewish dissonance makes you flee faster than Donald Trump facing an IRS audit. You fancy yourselves (John) Lennonists, living without borders or allegiances; but your own intolerance for those you deem intolerant often makes you (Vladimir) Lenninist — which explains your resentment of loving-but-provocative critics like me.

Dear Trump Voters,

Don’t be so smug; you failed, too. You boast about loving Jewish tradition and being more moral than those secular libertines, yet you elected a sexist demagogue as president. While I share your frustration with Barack Obama’s Israel-prickliness, he is not anti-Israel, anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. Your inability to distinguish between the real anti-Zionists and tough critics like him — who nevertheless visited Herzl’s grave and supported Israel militarily — embarrasses us, not him.

You decided that if Barack Obama is “anti-Israel” that made Hillary Clinton “anti-Israel” and Donald Trump not just “pro-Israel” but absolutely acceptable. Whatever Trump’s Israel policy, if you don’t hold him accountable for bigotry and boorishness, you will be Trump’s hofjuden, Court Jews. Don’t let America’s absolutist categorical crossfire blind you to other weaknesses — including some Trumpistas’ anti-Semitism. Fighting bigotry must not require first disliking the haters’ politics. Liberals must be particularly vigilant against leftist anti-Semitism, with conservatives combating rightist anti-Semitism.

A reminder to those of you who are Orthodox: You should cooperate more with other American Jews. Instead, you keep blowing great opportunities to unite. Why not use your credibility and financial power with religious Jews in Israel to fight the Israeli rabbinate? Why not help broker a compromise — or support the existing compromise — on the Women and the Wall issue? If you want liberal American Jews standing up against Democrats who delegitimize Israel, try standing up for liberal American Jews against Israelis who delegitimize them. You also understand the need for free choice with no state coercion to protect the synagogue from the state — teach Israelis that.

Ultimately, you have too many bottom lines. Why must religious orthodoxy impose orthodoxy everywhere else? Promiscuous rigidity imposes too much groupthink, alienating your most creative, iconoclastic young people. God issued no position papers addressing contemporary political issues. At the same time, your justifiable defense against the unjustifiable demonization of Israel makes you too defensive: ignoring the Torah’s compelling calls for social justice, equality, the dignity of all human beings, which not only includes the neglected in America and Israel, but Palestinians, too.

Real people are more important than real estate. Fifty years after the Six-Day War, Orthodox Jews are preoccupied by land worship. Although leftists err by minimizing Jews’ legitimate biblical ties to the Land, God is not a cartographer, either. Land lust has blinded too many religious Jews to Palestinians’ innate human dignity. Valid security concerns and righteous fury at terrorism cannot negate Palestinians’ national needs and individual rights. Until all Jews start addressing that challenge honestly, we will be stuck in conflict with them and, increasingly, with each other, too.

P.S., to all: My next column will be more positive, I promise: How Blue-and-White Jews can unite Red-and-Blue America and the Jewish community in the Age of Trump.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and the author of “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s” (Thomas Dunne Books).

is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American History and three books on Zionism, including "Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People," co-authored with Natan Sharansky.