Donald Trump is the Cyrus of our era. He is the most pro-Israel president the United States has ever had. He clearly likes and admires Jews. He’s more accepting of his daughter’s faith than most non-Orthodox Jews would be if their daughter went frum.
Now, it may be that a philo-Semite is someone who got the memo but read it backwards. But after the bracing refresher course of the Obama years, I’ll take a philo-Semitic, Mar-a-Lago opening, pro-Israel, embassy-moving, Golan-annexing president any day. And so should American Jews.
‘I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,’ Trump said. He’s a studiously crude speaker and actor, and tremendously vain too, but he’s only pretending to be stupid. His allegedly outrageous comments aren’t really outrageous at all. They may be crude and vain, but they’re also highly perceptive, and largely accurate too.
It isn’t accurate to characterize the Democrats the way Trump did last March, as ‘totally anti-Israel’ and ‘anti-Jewish’. It would be more accurate to say that the Democratic left, the party of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Keith Ellison, harbors an obsessional loathing of Israel that frequently shades into anti-Semitism. It would also be accurate to say that the candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2020 are more concerned with pandering to the party’s Jew-hating left than with common decency. Which is why Beto O’Rourke calls Netanyahu a ‘racist’, and Elizabeth Warren demands that Israel admits Omar and Tlaib to its territory. Trump has stood up to this squalid and cynical betrayal of the Democrats’ stated principles. Would Barack Obama have done so? Has Barack Obama said anything about his party’s descent into fellow-traveling with Jew-baiters?
No and no. Nu, back to the Jews. Trump sees American Jews as a single group, with intense affiliation to Israel. No American president has given more to Israel, and though that puts Trump in a position to ask for more in return, it’s not clear whether he’s going to get around to it. Trump has also backed American Jews when the Islamists and the left have tried to delegitimize the Jewish state, to ghettoize American Jews as solely a religious group, and to drive them out of the Democratic party as camp followers of ‘white supremacy’.
Jews are supposed to be clever, but their adherence to the Democrats is dumb, a mixture of sentimentality about the party of FDR — a party that no longer exists — and fear of the Republicans as a hybrid of Cossacks, evangelical Christians and, perhaps worst of all if you want to get on and up, country-club snobs. Meanwhile, Republicans are more supportive of Israel and religious freedom than Democrats are. No wonder Trump is astounded that American Jews show no sign of reciprocating with their votes in 2020. No wonder he’s calling them ‘disloyal’ — disloyal, that is, to him, because they refuse to reciprocate his generosity, or to calibrate their votes to their economic and political interests, like sane people would. Jews in Israel, Britain and France have made that shift. But then, they’re not as complacent as most American Jews are.
The anti-Trumpers will make bad-faith objections about Trump talking about American Jews as a single group, but Trump’s perception of American Jewish identity is pretty accurate. In a 2018 American Jewish Committee survey, 59 percent of American Jews defined Jewishness as more ‘a matter of ethnicity and culture’ than ‘mostly religion’. Only 25 percent adhered to the 19th-century assimilationist notion that Jewishness was only ‘a matter of religion’. Sixty-two percent of American Jews said that caring about Israel was a ‘very important part of my being a Jew’, and only 15 percent strongly disagreed. Seventy-two percent believe that ‘a thriving State of Israel’ is ‘vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people’.
As for the links between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, 71 percent of American Jews feel that Israeli Jews are like ‘siblings’ or ‘first cousins or extended family’, and 78 percent of Israeli Jews feel the same way. These figures reflect an ancient fact, the enduring unity of the Jewish people, and also a modern process that the academics call ‘Israelization’: the redefinition of Diaspora Jews by the Jewish state, whether in their own self-understanding or in the eyes of others.
The truth, and it’s not a truth that the major American Jewish organizations want to admit, is that Israelization is making the Jews less American, not more. Instead, some of their leaders are condemning Trump for raising the ‘trope’ of ‘dual loyalty’. They’re like generals who will lose this war because they’re still fighting the last one. They’re also terrified of losing the ‘bipartisan consensus’ on Israel. But that may already be lost, and not because they didn’t lobby hard enough.
Meanwhile, two futures are forming for American Jews. One is the path of greater intermarriage and assimilation, and less affiliation to Israel and Torah: the left turn that leads ultimately to disappearance, and in the meantime to secularism, ‘social justice’, spasms of anti-Zionism, caring too much about what non-Jews think, and a ‘total lack of knowledge’ about Judaism, Jewishness and the Jewish past and present that makes all this possible. The other path is that of keeping the faith, teaching the children, keeping a stiff or at least moderately inflexible neck, and valuing a candidate’s position on Jewish issues.
So Trump is right. The Jews who are drifting out of Jewishness don’t really care what he does for Israel. They don’t even bother to practice Judaism or educate their children. And the Jews who care intensely about Jewishness and Israel aren’t redefining the Jewish vote. He’s wrong, however about the reason for this. It’s not because they’re disloyal or ungrateful; it’s because they’re not yet numerous enough to tip the balance. Demography may soon do that, though. With liberal Jews opting out and conservative Jews making up the difference, American Jews will soon turn more religious, more socially conservative, and more hawkish. Trump may be playing for a future beyond 2020. In the meantime, a prophet, as someone once said, is without honor in his own country.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.