Trump outrageously asserted recently that American Jews who support Democrats are disloyal – it wasn’t clear if he meant disloyal to the United States, to Trump, or to Israel, but the insidiousness of the statement remains and smacks of centuries old anti-Semitic tropes. (Could that questioning of loyalty have something to do with the spike in anti-Semitic attacks, in Commack, Williamsburg, Nyack, Geneva, and by the Rockland Republican Committee?)
As we enter the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, when we ponder our place in the universe and reflect on our obligations to our fellow person and the natural world, I would make an equally hyperbolic statement: how could any American Jew support Trump and the Republican Party?
“You must neither wrong nor oppress a foreigner living among you, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)
I think of what the Trump and his henchmen in the administration have done to migrants fleeing for their lives – seven (that we know of) have died in custody; thousands of children will suffer lifelong disabilities and trauma; families have been broken apart as parents who have been in this country for decades are summarily deported. Trump is even going after people who have been in this country legally – people with medical deferrals for whom deportation is tantamount to a death sentence.
It would be humorous if it weren’t so sick that Trump has suddenly awakened to the issue of homelessness in major cities and the rat-infested conditions in Baltimore apartment buildings his son-in-law Jared Kushner owns) – but it turns out his outrage has nothing to do with the plight of the poor or homeless, but a weapon to wield against Democrats and to further loosen regulations on development.
Instead of confronting systemic, government-sponsored racism that allowed for red-lining (why Nassau County is one of the most racially segregated places in the country), with the resulting disparities in educational and career success and ability to amass wealth that could be a legacy for the next generations, doing something about housing vouchers, or helping communities build affordable housing or install mass transit, Trump used the rise in homelessness in major cities (which happen to have Democratic mayors) to attack Democrats. His administration actually said that the availability of shelters is a reason for homelessness; deregulate real estate developers, officials said, and homelessness will fall 54 percent (54 percent?).
Trump’s analysis of the plight of the homeless?
He says the homeless outside expensive apartments in Los Angeles are “harming” the prestige of the city, causing his wealthy foreign friends to vacate. Instead of addressing the climate injustices that may well have contributed to homelessness and sickness, he labeled the homeless “a pollution hazard” and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency – the same EPA that has reversed regulations for methane, standards for auto emissions, and overturned localities’ ability to limit development that pollutes streams and rivers – to fine San Francisco for environmental violations caused by homelessness.
That’s the height of chutzpah – or moral depravity.
But he comes to the United Nations General Assembly – snubbing the Climate Summit to address the desperation of millions of people for a global campaign to save their homes and way of life from rising seas, catastrophic storms and fires, famine and drought and who recognize that climate action is a human rights issue – strutting into the hall to the strains of “Hail to the Chief” to hold a “Freedom of Religion” event.
With Steven Miller, the architect of his nationalist immigration policy, lurking, Trump was lauded as a savior by Vice President Mike Pence.
But what exactly is Trump’s grand gesture to spread religious freedom to the 80% of the world living under regimes where religious liberty is “threatened, restricted or even banned”?
He is “dedicating”$25 million to protect religious freedom, religious sites and relics; forming a coalition of US businesses for the “protection of religious freedom” in the workplace (“This is the first time this has been done,” he beamed from the podium); and appointing a Special Envoy to monitor anti-Semitism.
“Too often people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful,” Trump said. ”True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their deeply held religious beliefs.”
This is code for freedom of employers to discriminate against LGBTQ at work, in housing, in medical care, cut off women’s reproductive rights and for officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples. “We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God.
The United States has a vital role in this critical mission,” Trump declared. Except that in America, we separate church and state; freedom of religion is supposed to mean freedom from religion.
Both Pence and Trump cited the massacres at Tree of Life Synagogue, at the New Zealand mosque, at churches – but said bupkis about preventing access to guns or stopping the spread of hate.
No, that was more in the bailiwick of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who noted two recent UN initiatives against religious intolerance: addressing the root causes of hate speech and supporting efforts to safeguard religious sites and houses of worship.
“The best way to promote international religious freedom is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights everywhere,” Guterres stated.
The reason that over 70 percent of American Jews vote Democratic is because the Democratic Party more dependably stands up for the values that Judaism espouses: social, environmental, economic and political justice.
And if you support Trump because you think he is better for Israel, I would suggest otherwise: American support for Israel has always been bipartisan and steadfast. But Trump on this issue that is so important to American Jews, as every issue, is building a partisan divide.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life. Happy New Year.