This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
With Hillary Clinton’s victories in Tuesday’s primaries, her nomination is all but assured. She may self-destruct, always a possibility in the Clinton’s imperial universe, but the likelihood now is that in the general election, Hillary will face off against another imperial candidate, Donald Trump.
This makes the progressive Jewish establishment’s treatment of Clinton and Trump of interest. Clinton is obviously and proudly in the palm of the Jewish establishment’s hands, as was her husband. Trump is an outlier in many, mostly racist ways, and a relative unknown in his views on Israel.
Thus the Reform Movement’s response to AIPAC’s invitation of Donald Trump a few days ago is a bellwether of how the Jewish establishment views Trump’s candidacy and perhaps, as importantly, how it views itself.
The Reform Movement’s condemnation of Trump’s racism is expected. The important element is how this condemnation is framed.
Though the Reform Movement has been cautiously liberal with regard to Israel over the last decades, calling for two-state solution and the protection of Palestinian human rights, their response to AIPAC’s invitation to Trump begins ominously with a nod to their close relationship with AIPAC:
The Reform Jewish Movement has always worked very closely with AIPAC. We respect completely its decision to invite all the viable candidates for president to speak at its upcoming Policy Conference. By inviting the candidates to speak, AIPAC does not support or oppose their candidacies, nor does it condone or commend their policies. AIPAC has, as it must, a singular focus: the U.S./Israel relationship. AIPAC’s intent – and its responsibility – is to better understand the candidates’ views on issues that impact the U.S./Israel relationship.
In this boastful but revealing opening, AIPAC is treated as a neutral think-tank, rather than an arch-conservative enabler of the destruction of Palestine. Is the Reform Movement, thinking strategically, placing its opening statement in the affirmative to get down to business later? Or is the Reform Movement, despite its rhetoric, essentially in bed with AIPAC?
The statement continues with a strong condemnation of Trump:
At every turn, Mr. Trump has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic.
Mr. Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric reminds us that our own ancestors’ access to American shores of freedom and promise were once blocked, with deadly consequences. When he speaks hatefully of Mexicans or Muslims, for example, we recall a time when anti-Semitism put Jews at deathly danger, even in the United States. We cannot remain silent, for we have been commanded to “remember the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
His approach to immigration, his proposal to ban Muslims from entering our country, his comments speaking favorably about the use of torture, and his general demeanor of disrespect for the office he now seeks are all anathema to our fundamental values. The values we hold most dear – justice, mercy, compassion, peace – are altogether absent from Mr. Trump’s statements.
The great sage Rabbi Hillel offered us guidance centuries ago, saying, “Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you.” Jewish history is replete with times when political leaders, both at home and abroad, demonized the Jewish community much as Mr. Trump now demonizes Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans. We, the leadership of the Reform Jewish Movement, believe we must speak up against such hate speech.
As a religious movement, we do not endorse or oppose any candidates – and we do not do so now. We have often listened to and, more importantly, engaged with candidates and officeholders whose views sharply differ from our own; such interactions are the essence of our political system. But Mr. Trump is not simply another candidate. In his words and actions, he makes clear that he is engaging in a new form of political discourse, and so the response to his candidacy demands a new approach, as well.
The statement ends with the desire to engage Trump on AIPAC’s and, by extension, the Reform Movement’s turf:
The Reform Movement and our leaders will engage with Mr. Trump at the AIPAC Policy Conference in a way that affirms our nation’s democracy and our most cherished Jewish values. We will find an appropriate and powerful way to make our voices heard.
“Our nation’s democracy.” “Our most cherished Jewish values.” Strong words, true, but the innocence, the naiveté is telling. As Israel and the Jewish establishment dwell in the abyss of injustice, causing and enabling the ghettoization of the Palestinian people – with rhetoric and policies that mirror Trump’s message – can the Reform Movement work with AIPAC, call out Trump and keep a straight face?
Instead of trumpeting its close relationship with AIPAC as an American and Jewish badge of honor, the Reform Movement should have engaged in a process of critical self-reflection. Instead of condemning Trump, it should have paused and drawn the parallels between Trump, the Jewish establishment and Israel’s rhetoric and policies toward Palestinians.
To see our Jewish refection in Donald Trump’s narcissistic mirror is frightening and important. Instead of pointing our finger outward toward others, it is way past time to see Trump’s finger pointing back at us.