Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island


Which Presidential Candidate Best Reflects Jewish Values?

Repairing the World.

Repairing the World.

By William Madway & Jill Zipin
Many experts continue to see Pennsylvania as one of the key battleground states in the 2016 race for The White House (see “Inside 4 battleground states that could determine the 2016 election“). Although the Jewish community in Pennsylvania is small — 3.35% of the state’s population as of 2015, according to the Jewish Virtual Library — we very well could determine the outcome of the Presidential Election in the Commonwealth. And as Pennsylvania goes, so might go the country.
[Read more…]

Review: The New 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future

THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future, by Robert Levithan seems to have been compiled at age 59. Gay, AIDS positive and “in the 1990s the ‘designated die-er’ in my circle”, the author exudes the profound joy of one blessed with unexpected years of life who has attained through the new medications, luck and self-care: “extraordinary health.” His sadness, given AIDS means he cannot responsibly provide his seed to father children, is also reflected in this honest narrative. A therapist in private practice, and active volunteer with Friends In Deed, a crisis center for those with life-threatening illnesses, he is also an active blogger. The New 60 is a reprinting of about thirty-three of Robert Levithan’s on-going blogs.

Frankly, as Robert Levithan presents himself in writing, I found it hard to like the man. His style is flooded with a stressing of associations with persons and things accomplished — the Huffington Post, O — The Opra Magazine, having had a relationship with the photographer Peter Hujar, with another man who had “an Oscar and some Tonys,” and a “Venezuelan director,” his nephew being a “Lambda award-winning author,” being photographed by Robert Maplethrope, upcoming travels to Turkey, Greece, South Africa, etc. And an entire chapter that opens: “Of late, I have been dating mostly younger men —  much younger men.” And, further on in the chapter: “My lovers have been my teachers, my comrades, my students.”
I felt I was missing the point of the book, something that a target audience would know right away. So I e-mailed Robert Levithan to find out the intended target audience, given he hadn’t reached his sixties at the time of writing, the title wasn’t conveying well. He called almost immediately: “I have a real desire is to reach young men and women with the message that they don’t have to be afraid of getting older. A lot of people, particularly gay men, fear passing 40.”

Concerns about HIV & Gay Suicide

Levithan told me he was deeply affected by Bob Bergeron’s suicide. Bergeron had written a book titled “The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond,” but it never was published despite a signed book contract, because he killed himself prior to the volume’s release. Levithan also of his concern for: “Narcissistically driven gay men that, when they lose attractiveness believe their life is going to be over.” He also writes of the dangers of vanity and the great beauty of “other-bodied people.”

Levithan further explained on our call: “The myth is those with HIV have a ‘shelf life.’ I show how to keep going and grow from it.” His goal is to offer an alternative view, that other chapters of life are possible, after 40, with/or without AIDS. It’s still not clear to me how a title “The New 60” would attract a readership of those fearing moving into their forties or fifties, nor what he knows, yet, about being in one’s 60s or beyond. His optimism and advice is abundant.

Questions of Boundaries

Given Robert Levithan is a therapist, his range of choices of partners seems strange. Surely he is aware of the problem of power differentials between people that arise not only professionally, but also by age. So I asked him: How do you view it as ethical to date young men?” Levithan first addresses this by explaining that he advocates recreational sex, not only sex inside of relationships and views it as a need of most men and some women. He also explains, as he does in the book, how having young lovers allows him to give them the mature mentoring he received from three relationships with older men when he was young. And then points out, as what he seems to consider a redeeming factor, a psychodynamic awareness he offers in the book: that perhaps dating young men is a form of avoidance of long-term relationships. “Besides,” he adds,  “I’m not a predator, young men approach me.”

“How do you tell someone you have AIDS?” I feel I have to ask, since safe sex isn’t a topic addressed in the book. “I really don’t have to; it’s listed in my profile on dating sites.” So I further inquired: “With so much that is fascinating to do in life, why is your ability to attract sexual partners a preponderant theme in your book?” His response: “In the HIV community, the HIV positive folks tend to feel they won’t have an opportunity; that their sex life is over. So I portray my own flawed journey, as a source of inspiration.”

Jewish Values Considerations

Since the author provides a chapter in which he strongly advocates honestly, I will give my honest opinion. I wouldn’t put this book into the hands of most young gay men under 40, or young people elsewhere in the spectrum of gender, despite it’s depiction of some beautifully realized Jewish values – particularly visiting the sick, honoring the dead, volunteerism and philanthropy. Actually, it is when he is sharing mitzvah-centered vignette’s and not talking about himself, that I find Robert Levithan is at his best.  

As a liberal rabbi, I’ve taught young people — gay and straight, the mitzvah of shmirat ha-guf, care for the body, the practices of safe sex, nutrition and exercise and the value of waiting on an intimate physical relationship until one is with someone likely to be enduringly beloved. This author’s values just don’t go there. THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future constitutes a provocative read for mature adults, and can lead to meaningful discussion. This book may well also be a helpful gift for those who tend to isolate, and/or lose their perspective on how life can continue in its joys and wonders in the wake of severe traumas, like contracting AIDS.  

NJDC Congratulates Representative-Elect Janice Hahn

–by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) congratulates Janice Hahn on her successful bid to represent California’s 36th Congressional district. In the special election held today, Hahn defeated her Tea Party-backed Republican opponent, Craig Huey, and dealt a blow to the hopes of Republican leaders who had hoped to send another extremist candidate to Washington, DC. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris released the following statement in response to Hahn’s victory:

“On behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council, I wish Representative-elect Janice Hahn the best of luck as she continues her career in public service by representing her community at the federal level. We look forward to working with Hahn and continuing the fight for the progressive values she shares with the vast majority of American Jews. After two special elections in this off-cycle year, the growing trend is clear: Americans want leaders to fight against the increasingly extremist agenda of the Republican Party. Hahn has demonstrated that she is ready to do just that.”

Throughout her race against Huey, Hahn distinguished herself as the only candidate that represented the values of most American Jews.

More after the jump.
Hahn pledged her support for Israel and President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen the bilateral relationship. Specifically, she expressed support for Obama’s intensified security assistance to Israel, the Administration’s additional sanctions against Iran, and the Administration’s condemnation of anti-Israel rhetoric in international bodies.

Hahn has also been described as “a true fighter on the side of working people” by the L.A. County Federation of Labor.  She has been an ardent proponent of President Obama’s health care reform package and has pledged to protect and expand it.  Hahn also firmly opposes privatizing social security and turning Medicare into a voucher system.

Individuals like Hahn who reflect Jewish values in their policy priorities serve as a reminder to the Jewish community that the Democratic Party remains the only party that advocates for Jewish values within the halls of Congress.