Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sanders, Trump, Biden: The U.S., Israel, and the Jews

I cast my ballot in the California primary.  I voted for Joe Biden.  It wasn't the happiest or most enthusiastic vote I ever cast.  But it could be one of the most important.

Biden is a bit past his prime.  I don't agree with him on every issue.  But he is a competent, decent man who will govern from the center/left and will act responsibly, and who will surround himself with competent, reasonable people.

In contrast, the other two candidates with a realistic chance of taking the oath on January 20th are adverse to the interests of the United States, of American Jews, and of Israel.

As Yossi Klein Halevi has written, a race between Sanders and Trump would be a nightmare for American Jews.    Both men are radical, polarizing figures.  History shows that Jews don't do well in radical, polarized societies.

Wittingly or unwittingly,  Trump and Sanders are working in tandem to make Israel into a polarizing, partisan issue.  Both are trying to turn the Democratic Party against Israel.

Sanders has surrounded himself with and empowered people who trade in anti-Semitic tropes and who would deny the Jewish people our right to self-determination in the land in which we are an indigenous people. Hate and bigotry is equally despicable, and should be opposed, whether it comes from the right or the left.

Sanders lied about and smeared AIPAC, which has as members and which hosts speakers from across the political spectrum. He showed that he is a hypocrite, having spoken at conferences that feature Jew haters and people who would deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination.

And in 2015 he spoke at Liberty University, the university founded by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and now led by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr.  It is a bastion of opposition to gay rights, reproductive rights, and other rights and beliefs the left holds sacrosanct. Apparently just to show what a proud Jew he is and how much he respects Jews and Judaism, he spoke there on Rosh Hoshanah.

Would-be authoritarians from the left are just as destructive as ones on the right. Because they feel they have seen the light, their views are the only righteous ones and, in their eyes, people who disagree with them are morally deficient and beholden to ignoble forces. (Thus, rather than "I disagree with AIPAC, AIPAC provides a platform for racists.")

Therefore, the ends justify the means. In his own, perhaps more subtle way than Trump,  Sanders would most likely run roughshod over democratic norms to achieve his ends.
Facts and logic do not matter when you are an ideologue.

As Fareed Zakaria and many others have shown, Sanders' economic proposals are mired in timeworn ideologies and would either bankrupt the country or would require a crushing tax burden on the middle and working classes. As Zakaria explained so well, his energy plan is "magical thinking." 

The most galvanizing event in Jewish history of the last half of the 20th century was the Soviet Jewry movement. It was an epic struggle to free two million Jews from bondage. Coming just 30 years after the Holocaust, the American Jewish community felt morally compelled to rescue Soviet Jews and to not again abandon our brothers and sisters.

We marched, we wrote, some got arrested, we sat in, over and over again. Many took great risks to meet with "refuseniks," smuggling in prayer books and other cherished items.  Many U.S. officials raised the issue with their counterparts and, while in the Soviet Union, visited with refuseniks in order to demonstrate concern and solidarity.

What did Sanders do on his trip to the Soviet Union in 1988?  If you believe what he and his wife said for 25 years, they honeymooned. If you believe what some now say, that was a joke and that, in reality, the purpose of the trip was to establish a sister-city relationship.

In any event, what he clearly did not do is join his fellow Jews in demanding their freedom.  The picture of a bare chested, happy Sanders reportedly just out of a hot tub does not demonstrate much solidarity with his fellow Jews.  There is no report of him raising the issue either during or after the trip.

In short, Sanders was complicit in the oppression of Soviet Jews.

(During the 1980's, my city of Sacramento declined to establish a sister-city relationship with a city in the Soviet Union in order to show solidarity with Soviet Jews.)

Trump is equally antithetical to American values and interests and to the ultimate security and long-term well being of Israel.  His deficiencies as a human being and as a president are demonstrated almost daily, sometimes hourly.

Trump has run roughshod over democracy and democratic norms.  He is vindictive.  He is often vile.  He is ignorant.  He clearly lies and misstates.  Many of the things he says, how he treats women, his racism, his mocking of a disabled person, his disrespect to Senator McCain, his disrespect to a family whose son died for the country, all of this demonstrates a person unfit to be President.  Indeed, it demonstrates a seriously flawed human being.

As I have written before, President Trump, if not an anti-Semite, clearly holds some stereotypical views of Jews.  His behavior and speech contribute to an atmosphere where anti-Semitism and hate generally can take root and flourish. 

To these charges, many pro-Israel Trump fans, Jews and non-Jews alike, have adopted a standard refrain:  "But he's great on Israel" and "He's the best President ever for Israel."

Putting aside the debate about whether his supposedly fantastic positions on Israel should outweigh any and all of the terrible things he does as President and the awful person that he is, the assertion that he is the best and and the greatest for Israel is highly questionable.

We should acknowledge when the President does something good for Israel.  I have done that with the move of the capital to Jerusalem, the recognition of the Golan Heights (although I question the value of that recognition relative to other issues), and the withdrawal from the Iran deal, although I did question this President's ability when it comes to putting together the right follow-up, a concern that is being shown to have been justified.

Despite the President's positive steps, he is far from the best President, or the President that has done the most for Israel. What Israel needs more than anything else is a U.S. that is strong, respected, reliable, united, and dependable, that is willing to project and even use force when necessary, that is rational and smart, that is strategic, that is capable of uniting other nations, that is supportive of democracies and countries that value freedom, and that is respected throughout the world.

Unfortunately, that is not President Trump.  Indeed, many, including a good number of Republicans and former Republicans, would argue that he projects an America that is the antithesis of those characteristics.  (e.g. George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, George Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson, William Webster)

Moreover, we have now seen how President Trump's deficiencies in many of these qualities is causing danger  to Israel and Israelis that far outweighs the positive things that he has done for it. A few that come to mind:

1. Failing to respond after Iran downed a U.S. drone and after it destroyed half of the Saudi's oil refineries communicated to the Iranians that he is a paper tiger, i.e. that he will not use force to back up the tough talk. Iran has felt free to try to move into Syria. Israel is constantly working to stop it from doing so successfully.

2. He has allowed Russia to move back into the Middle East a goal of Russia and the Soviet Union for over 50 years. Russian soldiers are now in Syria, and Syria has received sophisticated Russian air defense systems, making it much more difficult for Israel to attack Iranian assets. If Israel ever makes a mistake and kills Russian soldiers, we are in for a very difficult time, to put it mildly.  As a result, Israel's ability to maneuver and act is significantly limited.

3. In announcing a pullout from Syria and hurriedly moving some troops out,  President Trump left the Kurds to be exiled and slaughtered by Turkey and its President and would-be Caliph, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump demonstrated convincingly that even the most reliable ally, one who sacrificed 10,000 soldiers in battle as a U.S. ally, cannot depend on the U.S. That sent shudders down the backs of many Israelis, including its leaders. It was a cruel awakening.

Shortly after President Trump gave the green light to Erdogan to engage in ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, he gave him a warm welcome to the White House. "I'm a big fan," he said as he gave an embrace to a man who is doing everything to impose a dictatorship on his people, who has more journalists in jail than virtually any other country in the world, who has repeatedly uttered vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tirades, and who plays willing host to Hamas, a terrorist organization whose overriding objective is the destruction of Israel and which has managed to kill and maim a few Americans over the years. 

Even Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has or had a strong relationship with the President, said that, when it comes to Iran, Israel is on its own, that it cannot rely on the U.S. to join a fight.
The Prime Minister's own relationship with President Trump is telling in that it demonstrates how everything with President Trump is personal and how fleeting his "friendship" can be. The minute Netanyahu failed in the second election to gain enough the support of the 61 Knesset members needed to put together a coalition, President Trump started distancing himself from Netanyahu.

That is understandable. As President Trump has said on multiple occasions, he likes winners. Why would he respect a Prime Minister who can't get 61 votes together when he doesn't respect a soldier who spent five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton--"I like people who weren't captured."

Besides, how could one expect the President to understand and appreciate how Israel's constitution-lacking democracy can be at a stalemate when he apparently doesn't understand the U.S. Constitution--Article II allows him "to do whatever I want."

 (Fun fact: President George W. Bush, not known as the most intellectual of presidents, read 13 books about Lincoln while President. How many have President Trump read?  Zero)

The actions favorable to Israel that President Trump has taken should be acknowledged.  Appreciation should be expressed.  But they pale when compared to the things he has done that put Israeli lives in real danger.

As I wrote at the outset, both President Trump and Senator Sanders are bad for the United States, for American Jews, and for Israel.

Former Vice-President Biden is the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Senator Sanders and President Trump.  He is not my perfect candidate.

But he is a competent, decent human being who will act responsibly as President.  He will respect American democracy and its values, and will bring a sense of dignity back to the White House.  He will not create a petri dish for anti-Semitism and hate.  And he will ensure continued bi-partisan support for Israel, something vital to Israel's security.

(Originally Published in The Times of Israel)


  1. thanks for your intelligent insights.
    i agree that both bernie and potus are dangerous on many levels.

    i am also voting for joe.
    amy and pete did the right thing at the right time, at least for those who havent voted yet.

    i really dont like ca. early voting-- there are most likely too many wasted votes on candidates
    who are already out.

  2. Outstanding commentary! I am a bit more enthusiastic about Biden. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Trump. Yes, good for Israel on some points. But overall a liability, because of his unpredictability, lack of international leadership and strategy, and devotion to self.

    Keep it up!

  3. Strong and (mostly) persuasive column. Yet I find myself yet again having to respond in defense of the Orange Oval Occupant and Carnival Barker in Chief.

    I think this line reveals your most serious misgivings about the loud-mouth, filterless and seemingly rudderless US President:

    (Fun fact: President George W. Bush, not known as the most intellectual of presidents, read 13 books about Lincoln while President. How many have President Trump read?)

    This certainly is one of the driving concerns of the Never-Trumper movement on the Right (almost all of whom are intellectuals, first, principled conservatives second). And as the great British historian, Paul Johnson, descried “Intellectuals” in his book of that name: they care more about ideas than people.

    Perhaps you haven’t noticed, given you’re sharing of two homelands with your time/presence, but the Trump economy (and make no mistake: his unprecedented level of red-tape and tax-slashing, as well as a full embrace of our fossil fuels energy sector makes this YUGE expansion his) has lifted millions off food stamps and out of poverty. The single greatest bump in wages has come at the lower end of the scale (blue collar trades).

    This helps explain the total realignment of that voting block to the GOP — the so-called “Reagan Democrats” of the 80s — through this realignment is permanent, given the consistent lurch to the Left of the Democratic Party, who are fixated on intersectionality and culture boutique issues over economics (even the Bernie has clothed his economic socialism in cultural terminologies, e.g., “social and environmental justice”, etc.). When Elizabeth Warren promised to give a veto to a 9-year-old transgendered student to pick her Ed Secty, that was the clearest signal yet that the Democrats could care less about economic prosperity (education being the single most critical foundation for career preparation).

    So on the “caring more about people” front, Trump’s policies have actually benefited the most number of people, especially at the lower ends of the socioeconomic spectrum (he has consistently been pulling in the mid-30’s among African-Americans — which if that translated to votes this November would be the death knell to the venerable Democratic Party). I’m not surprised in the least the intellectual Right has totally missed these realities on the ground (out beyond their NYC/DC beltway).

    But for you, a Jew living in Israel not to see the “caring for people” standard is particularly troubling. Those Jews who have told you “he’s great on Israel” or “the best President ever for Israel” have good reason for those observations. They aren’t fixated on the intricacies and sensitives of international diplomacy. They simply see a guy who is keeping his campaign promises by pulling American GI’s out of intractable Middle East quagmires and steadfastly and consistently taking Israel’s side in all of these regional conflicts.

    And his unprecedented level of “maximum pressure” on the Persian Mullahs have not only decimated their economy (placing the ruling class in the most precarious position they’ve been in since the '78 revolution and undermining their ability to project their terrorist designs abroad), it has also galvanized the Sunni Arabs (Gulf nations) against Iran and even openly with Israel. This has isolated the Persians in a way heretofore unseen, and I believe provides the best diplomatic landscape for gaining a lasting, two-state solution (though I’d never bet on the Palestinian youth to go along with any deal, after generations of Jew-hating indoctrination).

    Sorry for long response, but I respect your insights and judgement, even when I don’t agree with you.

  4. Excellent! I am passing this on to some of my Sanders relatives.

    I hope Warren stays in and takes votes away from Sanders.

  5. You have always educated to empower.

  6. Good to see your emails again. I think Israel is in good hands, like him or not President has done a few things right. Arab countries aligned with Israel, rare but good, the world did not implode with Jerusalem as capital and life goes on.
    As more of a rationalist, and I’m pretty nonpartisan, I do feel that the Democrats have wasted last 3 years on nonsense and the average person is very turned off. They are not vocal about it, but privately many Dems have flipped to the other side.
    It’s crazy out there.

  7. I couldn’t have expressed my feelings better. Even though I have been a supporter of Amy Klobuchar, I also cast my primary vote for Biden (even before Amy’s withdrawal from the campaign). In times such as these, stopping Sanders and Trump is far more important than finding the “perfect” candidate.
    But for the future, enough with our geriatric presidency. (Excuse me AARP; I had my 72nd birthday yesterday. I’m in excellent health but can’t imagine enduring the physical and cognitive demands of the presidency.) We need a president who is in the prime of life, not one who is staring at the prospect of dementia in the foreseeable future. We obviously didn’t learn the lesson of having Regan serve a second term while in the early stages of his eventual Alzheimer’s dementia. Is Trump/Sanders/Warren/Biden/Bloomberg the best we can find? It’s time my generation stepped aside in favor of the next cohort of leaders.

  8. I agree about Sanders….not sure of Biden….never know what Trump will say next….yet….(like he’s known to come up with), “we’ll see what happens….”

  9. Outraged by Sanders! He wins, we leave this country.

  10. From your lips to God’s (and Democratic voters’) ears …

  11. Well said !!!!
    Thanks for so eloquently expressing what so many of us feel and think !!

  12. Right on, Right on. And that’s coming from a Canadian with tons of family in the USA who are thinking about sheltering in place to weather the coming awfulness this November that they fear will descend which has nothing to do with snow.

  13. A bit past his time?? He is way beyond his sell date, so much so that if you take a good whiff, he is starting to stink. He is gaffe prone, unable to put two sentences together without some glaring error. Among other things, Trump is going to latch on to his support of the credit card purveyors who charge the middle class an average of 21% interest rates that “average Joe” consistently supported, not to mention getting his drug addicted son a job w/Burisma for which he had no experience and was paid $50-80,000 per month. What a sorry situation for Democrats, a choice between an old guy who is not the sharpest tack in the tool box, and an old Commie/socialist who would like to turn our entire economy upside down, totally screw up health care for the majority of people who are perfectly happy with their current care plan; free college; wipe out student debt, insulting every parent and student who paid for their kid’s education; raise taxes on everybody including the middle class to pay for all his free nonsense. I could support Mike Bloomberg, but doubt if he can get the nomination.

    Trump is far from perfect. I can’t stand some of his rhetoric, insults, and hyperbole, and outright falsehoods, but he has accomplished just about everything he said he was going to do and has been a great friend to Israel, and therefore I have come to the conclusion that he is the only one I can honestly vote for in November. Alan I like you, but in this situation I cannot disagree with you more.

  14. Thank you for the in depth analysis. Times are scary in both U.S.A. and Israel. Looking forward to a blog from you that explains why Israel is so politically divided.

  15. Kol HaKavod! I've been with Joe all along (although I did have a 30 sec thought about Mike). Let's hope Tuesday will shine through for him. While I agree he's not the most exciting and I don't like some of his verbal messes, he's the most appropriate and capable out there.