Tuesday, October 03, 2017

American Politics and Judaism

Nikki Haley - one of the reasons Orthodox Jews support Trump
For Orthodox Jews, politics should not be the guide we use to choose our candidates. We should be guided by what the Torah teaches – and choose candidates who most reflect those values. And yet it is becoming increasingly the case the Orthodox Jews are moving to the political right. I think that’s because many – perhaps even most values of the right are in consonance with our own religious values.

But that does not explain why there is so much support by Orthodox Jews for the current President who is not really a conservative. Why did so many of my Orthodox friends vote for Donald Trump? If there was ever a man whose conduct and character seemed to be the antithesis to our values, it is him.

As many people know, I voted for Hillary Clinton, even though I did not like her as a candidate. But at the same time she would not have been the embarrassment to our country that the President is.  

Why is Hillary Clinton considered so terrible in the first place? There is almost a visceral hatred for her among Orthodox Jews. I admit that I can’t really stand her either. Why is that? I have asked myself that question many times and I have not come up with a rational answer to that question. Nor has anyone else I have asked this question to - who has expressed worse feelings toward her than I have.

So why do so many Orthodox Jews support him now (currently at 71% of Orthodox Jewry) despite the constant embarrassing conduct that does not reflect our values at all?  Compare this to the 80% of non Orthodox Jews that disapprove of him. Does that mean that non Orthodox Jews are more ethical and more sensitive to his boorish conduct than Orthodox Jews are?

I don’t think that is the answer.  As much as I didn’t like Clinton, for me she was clearly the lesser of 2 evils. That however was not the case with so many of my Orthodox friends and the rest of the 80% that supported Trump and still support him.

I think the answer might be found in how each candidate relates to both religion and Israel. Despite the fact that Trump is not really a political conservative, he does tend to lean more in a socially conservative direction.  For example in a constitutional contest between gay rights and religious rights, he sides with religious rights.  This is why Evangelical Christians supported him (although that support is waning somewhat). Religious people view his policies to be more in line with their biblical perspective.

As for his policies on Israel, although there has been no tangible improvement in Israel’s well being under a Trump administration, he is clearly viewed as more supportive of the current Israeli government. The rhetoric coming out of the White House about Israel is far more generous and warm.

This is reflected most strongly by Nikki Haley - Trump’s appointee to represent the US at the UN. There has never been a truth telling US voice like hers in the UN that speaks so eloquently about Israel.  There are no ‘equivalency politics’ coming out of her mouth. Refreshingly - only the truth. 

This does not fit the narrative of liberal Jews who tend to lend credence to the other side no matter how weak their arguments are.  So if Israel is attacked by Palestinian terrorists, they will condemn it - but then say something like what do you expect the poor Palestinians to do under such a harsh occupation? In some cases even comparing it to Apartheid as former President Carter does! This kind of talk resonates with the left. It is outsize garbage to the right.

Trump by far is more inclined to support the right on this issue. Because his advisers are very strong supporters of Israel. Which can be seen in his  appointment of the ‘settlement supporting’ David Friedman as the US Ambassador to Israel.

Orthodox Jew love all of this while non Orhtodx Jews reminisce about the former US narrative that said settlements are an obstacle to peace. A view shared by Hillary Clinton. That the Trump administration has not supported a ‘free for all’ settlement policy in Israel has not detracted from his being viewed as extremely pro Israel

What about all of the embarrassing boorish behavior that is unbecoming of any human being with any kind of dignity – let alone a President? Orthodox Jews will admit that they don’t like it. But at the same time are willing to overlook it – believing it is a small price to pay for the kind of pro religion and pro Israel rhetoric coming out of the Presidency now compared to the kind of sorry rhetoric about Israel exemplified at the end of the last administration that let Israel down at the UN. They see Hillary Clinton as more of the same.

I guess that all of this makes Trump a far better looking President in the eyes of an Orthodox Jew who values his religious beliefs and who has strong support for Israel.

As for me - I do not regret voting for Hillary Clinton. Despite the so called conventional wisdom about how terrible she would be. The truth is that despite my antipathy towards her - I don’t think that is accurate. 

Nor do I think Israel would be any worse off. That’s because in truth the last administration was not anti Israel at all. They supported Israel both morally, financially, and militarily. There is no indication that Clinton would have been any worse.  True the ‘anti settlement’ talk would have continued. But so too would the material support. And who knows, Clinton may have been able to improve the US relationship with Israel despite such criticism.

Most Orthodox Jews don’t see it that way and are glad Trump is in office. I just hope they don’t someday regret it. Because with man like this in office, the future has never been so uncertain.