Several prominent pro-Israel groups are refusing to condemn Donald Trump’s choices for his top adviser and attorney general of two men who have expressed intolerance toward Muslims and blacks. The organizations’ silence on human rights, which ought to be a core value, surely reflects the fear that the groups could alienate the future president by criticizing him. And if they have one core value it is that they don’t want any daylight between the American government and Israel.
Their silence stands out because some Zionist groups are condemning Trump’s choices of Steve Bannon (White House strategist) and Jeff Sessions (AG), men associated with racism and bigotry, notably the Anti Defamation League and J Street. So the Israel lobby is cracking apart, between those who put their concern for Israel ahead of fundamental American rights, and those who don’t.
Let’s go down a list of some biggies in the Only-Israel crowd. The Conference of Presidents has had nothing to say against Trump, since congratulating him on being elected.
We look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his advisors in the transition before his inauguration and in the years to come during his presidency on the issues facing our country, as well as of specific concern to the American Jewish community including strengthening the special U.S.-Israel relationship, the rise of anti-Semitism and the security of the Jewish people at home and abroad. . .
Conference President Malcolm Hoenlein — silent. (And last year Hoenlein’s rejection of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban had to be eked out of him from the press.)
AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, has also not said a single word against Bannon/Sessions, while congratulating Trump on his victory.
This election once again demonstrates that support for Israel transcends partisan differences.
Josh Block of the Israel Project also refuses to criticize Trump. He is very worried about a Muslim possibly becoming chair of the Democratic National Committee, and about anti-Semitism, and has retweeted a couple of statements critical of the Steve Bannon pick, but the otherwise prolific voice has had nothing to say on the matter. When Trump condemned the alt-right convention in Washington this weekend, Block retweeted the Trump statement, as if it were a victory.
The Israel Project is keeping its trap shut about Trump. It only has comments about how terrible Iran is, and the destruction of Aleppo by Assad.
The Jewish Federations have also had nothing to say critical of the Bannon/Sessions appointments. JTA reports that the Federations, a pro-Israel network of charity organizations, said:
“As with every democratically elected official in America, we believe that President-elect Trump needs to be given an opportunity to lead,” the statement read. “We are hopeful that his actions align closely with the American values that we hold dear.”
Some individual Federations have spoken out against the appointments. Ben Murane offers a complete list of Jewish groups that have condemned the appointments, and those that have not (and links the silence to Jewish leaders’ refusal to condemn the Nazis rise).
The American Jewish Committee also refused to say a word against Trump. Though it expressed apprehension about the appointments, it quickly changed the subject to Israel and everything that threatens it:
[N]ominations and appointments send signals, all the more so when there is still considerable uncertainty, because of no prior governing experience in the case of President-elect Trump, about our country’s course following the inauguration on January 20th. . .
We especially urge President-elect Trump to take into account the concerns of many members of minority communities, who are understandably alarmed about the polarizing, even incendiary, rhetoric used by some in the recent campaign. We respectfully urge him to find early opportunities, both in words and deeds, to stress his commitment to the well-being and protection of all our nation’s citizens. . .
We believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship embodies America’s highest values, as well as the promotion of our vital interests in the Middle East. . . We have long supported Israel’s age-old aspirations for enduring peace with all its neighbors, beginning with the Palestinians, and the indispensable role of the United States in the quest for such an accord. Time and again, Israel has been confronted with rejection, incitement, and attempted delegitimization.
Two people who used to work at the American Jewish Committee, Eliana Lauter and Jacob Levkowicz, write in Haaretz that the AJC is playing an access game. They note that the AJC slammed Chuck Hagel when President Obama nominated him for Defense, because of Israel, and Jeff Sessions back in 1986 when he was nominated to the US District Court in Alabama because of his awful civil rights record.
What compelled you to speak out then, but not now? If “nominations and appointments send signals,” then exactly what kind of signal do Bannon’s appointment and Sessions’ nomination send? Do you believe that your access to the incoming administration depends on your silence? Do you find the cost of that silence fair and appropriate given President-elect Trump’s dangerous threats to civil liberties?
We believe that it’s critical that we stand with the communities most endangered by President-elect Trump’s vision for America. While the launch of a new joint AJC-ISNA initiative, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, is a step in the right direction, we believe the work is only half-done here.
When you fail to issue a concurrent condemnation of figures like Bannon, and now Sessions, what message does this send to the Muslim community, and all those you say you stand with — people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants?
Haaretz nailed the message on Twitter:
David Harris of AJC has had nothing to say about any of this.
The Union for Reform Judaism is trying to split the baby: challenging Trump to denounce the alt right, and saying it has “real concerns” about his appointments but leaving it at that.
Meantime, the Israeli ambassador to U.S., Ron Dermer, is looking forward to working with Trump and senior adviser Steve Bannon.
“Israel has no doubt that President-Elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” he said after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. “We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel; he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country, and we look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”
Alan Dershowitz of course has defended Bannon, and spoken at the Zionist Organization of America, which embraces Trump. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has put himself on the same ice floe, by championing Trump.
And again, the Anti-Defamation League (member in good standing of the Israel phalanx) has split left. It has not only denounced Bannon and the alt-right movement he represents for its links to anti-Semitism, but it joined up with a Muslim group to condemn the rightwing hatred.
So the Israel lobby is dividing before our eyes, between those who care about our country and those who care only about Israel.
Update: IfNotNow is on the case. It is resisting not just Bannon but what it calls the “Jewish Establishment:”
Yet the leadership of some of our community’s largest institutions refuse to speak up against Trump, Bannon and their dangerous policies. Some have even defended Bannon on the grounds that he supports the right-wing Israeli government and the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people.
Thanks to Yakov Hirsch.