Local Jewish leaders viewed several of President Donald Trump’s recent tweets with a cynical eye in the wake of the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representative’s vote to condemn the Republican in the White House.
Trump sent the following tweet on July 15: “The Dems are trying to distance themselves from four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats.”
The series of tweets that sparked backlash toward the president included Trump saying four unnamed minority congresswomen – reported to be U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. – should “go back” to their “broken and crime-infested” countries. All four congresswomen are U.S. citizens.
Local observers expressed concern over Trump inserting Israel into the debate as well as the overall sentiment believed to be behind the tweets.
“The Jewish people and everyone who is pro-Israel needs to be not only concerned but alarmed by the fact that the president of the United States is using Israel and Jews as a political football,” said Rabbi Steven L. Denker, who leads Temple Emanu El in Orange. “Whenever we’re used as a surrogate or a football in political dispute, that has never in Jewish history – modern, ancient or medieval – been good to us. The president has shown an extraordinary lack of respect for Israel and the Jewish people by attempting to turn Israel into a partisan political issue.”
Denker said the success of Israel’s relationship with the United States depends on bipartisanship.
“That is to say nothing of the fact that we have seen the president’s true colors come out. The racism that has always been there is now quite evident and we need to be very concerned about the fact that that racism is selling,” he said. “Nothing President Trump says or tweets is an accident. He’s not crazy and he’s not stupid. Everything he says and does is intentional. And Americans should be concerned about the kind of racism and divisiveness that is being used for political purposes from the White House.”
Prior to the House condemnation on July 16 in an endorsement of the president, the Republican Jewish Coalition retweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s statement responding to Trump’s tweets, which read in part,“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country. … They accuse people who support Israel of doing it ‘for the Benjamins.’ They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”
Multiple attempts to reach the national office of the RJC were unsuccessful.
James Pasch, Anti-Defamation League regional director in Cleveland, spoke in a similar vein as Denker.
“His tweets were blatantly racist,” he said. “They’re racist on their face. And then defending them by using us, Jews and the Jewish community as his shield, only harms us. It just has no place in our society, and it certainly should have no place in the highest office in the land.
“This issue is a matter of principle, not a matter of politics. It’s important when we call out racism and bigotry and xenophobia whenever we see it. And it’s coming in this case from the president of the United States which is particularly jarring.”
Pasch said those who have retweeted the president’s tweets include, “white supremacists and extremists like Richard Spencer.”
Lee C. Shapiro, regional director of AJC Cleveland, used similar language in an email.
“The president’s remarks were inappropriate, offensive and eerily reminiscent of a darker time in our nation’s history,” she wrote. “There is no place for this type of rhetoric in the public discourse. We as a nation deserve better than that.”
Rabbi Scott Roland, who leads Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood, learned of the tweets while he was on an eight-day trip to Israel.
“We can’t afford as an American Zionist community and as a nation for Israel to become a wedge issue,” Roland said. “The relationship between the United States and Israel is just too important and requires support on both sides of the aisle. And it does no good for Israel’s name and the United States-Israel relationship to be associated with bigotry and with partisanship – not that those two things are equal.”
Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, called for a higher level of debate.
“We are better off as Americans, and as a Jewish community, when our political disagreements focus on public policy,” he wrote. “Our tradition is filled with examples of raucous but respectful argument ‘for the sake of Heaven.’”
Author and former Shaker Heights resident, Aaron David Miller has served as a Middle East adviser and negotiator to presidents in both Democratic and Republican administrations and has voted for both. He wrote the book, “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have and Doesn’t Want Another Great President.”
“We’ve never seen a president in a modern period who has so violated conventional norms of governance, ethical standards and managed to offend the sensibilities of just about everyone other than the group that he seems to represent,” said Miller. “In order to be president, to be effective, you’ve got to have the capacity to turn the ‘M’ in ‘me’ upside down so that figuratively and practically speaking it becomes the ‘W’ in ‘we.’ This president has a preternatural incapacity to do that and he’s demonstrated it repeatedly.”
Like the others interviewed, he sees the tweets of the president to be both deliberate and political.
“These tweets suggest at a minimum that he practices demagoguery, which is essentially the art of deploying other people’s passions, prejudices, biases, and yes, racial prejudice in order to acquire and maintain power,” Miller said. “His entire world, in terms of the way he defines his identity vis a vis the world, he defines it according to race, class and gender. So, it’s not just people of color, brown, black. It is not just the anti-immigrant bias that he maintains. But he defines himself as what he considers to be his class, and there’s a strong strain of misogyny that runs through so much of what he does.”
Miller went further.
“So, he’s deployed the strategy, I think, in order to demonize and divide Democrats, and he’s introduced the Israel/Jewish issue in an effort, essentially, to make clear that the Republican party is the go-to party on Israel,” he said. “It is not the Democrats, not even the mainstream Democrats, like Pelosi.”
Miller predicted that Trump will continue this kind of rhetoric as the next presidential election nears.
“It’s not simply racist tropes or racism deployed because it represents how this particular individual looks at the world,” he said. “It’s got a coherent, logical political cast to it. And this, I think, is what you’re going to see increasingly in the run-up to 2020.”