How much more complicated can we get than this last week? Trump trashes four members of Congress, four women of color. His rally crowd picks up his refrain of “go back home.” Representative Omar and several others, including John Lewis, co-sponsor a resolution backing boycotts as an expression of the First Amendment, but partially as implicit support for the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.
The recent couple of months, including last week, have not been a proud time for either President Trump or Congresswoman Omar. As I wrote in April, Representative Omar made comments that were properly taken to be anti-Semitic tropes. They were wrong and hurtful, and she has apologized. Many people are giving her the benefit of the doubt, while others are not, but time will tell if she will turn over a new leaf. In particular, her new BDS-supportive resolution is troubling – and more will be said about this soon.
But what the President is doing is even more divisive to American society – and to Jews. He is dividing, not uniting, the various groups in this country. His statements of racism against the Congresswomen should be anathema to all Americans. But apparently, they are not. We as Jews know the danger of those in ultimate power having such sway over much of the population in divisive ways. We must call such leaders to account and must exemplify the uniting forces necessary for the country to thrive.
What the President did, and continues to do, is more dangerous to both Jews and Muslims, and to all of civil society. Recently, Trump told reporters and others that the Democrats are anti-Semitic, and Jews should not support Democrats because of Israel, that is, because of our Jewishness. He has also said in a variety of venues that Democrats are not good for Israel.
The Jewish community in America and in Israel have always worked hard to keep Israel from being a partisan issue. It does no good to divide the political world over a question of whether one American party is bad or not for Israel. The political world in the United States is such that, at some points in time, the Republicans are in control of the levers of government and, at other times, Democrats are in control. Israel needs to be supported by both sides of the political spectrum.
Just to gain a personal political advantage, Trump is dividing the political world over Israel. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can let him get away with this. One of the strengths of the United States-Israel relationship is that it is nurtured by both political parties. Israel has been a bipartisan issue. Israel needs to be welcomed by both parties and needs support from both of the major political parties. If one party seeks to gain votes by claiming that the other party is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, some voters will begin to see the relationship as tainted, or worse, as unnecessary.
The United States also needs Israel, no matter which party is in power. Israel is a democracy in an area without other democracies. Israeli intelligence, military and technology are among the best in the world, and the United States needs access to those advantages, no matter which party is in power.
What Trump is doing is dangerous to the relationship, and we will see it in starker terms as the political season heats up, UNLESS both parties counter his efforts. Democrats must verbally argue back that they are indeed friends of Israel, and Republicans must ensure that they stand for the proposition that both they and the Democrats are central to a good relationship with Israel.
It is up to our community to keep both parties honest and earnest in their support of Israel.
Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.