Trump is bad for America and bad for the Jews
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Trump is bad for America and bad for the Jews

Nothing pains me more than to speak up with anguish in the face of this presidential election. But silence is not an option. American Jewry confronts a fateful choice.

Another four years of Donald Trump will be nothing less than a body blow for our country and our community.

I must acknowledge the unexpected nature of this statement. For more than half a century, I avoided public positions on electoral politics. When I chose a career working for the Jewish people, I took on a sacred obligation, like so many other professionals, to avoid taking sides in partisan contests. That is an obligation that I carried into retirement.

But there is more than enough evidence showing that Trump is a demagogue and his presidency threatens American democracy.

When our democracy is weakened, and when nativism is stoked, the rights of Jews and other minorities will be diminished too. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and Jews know this well from bitter experience.

I respect any American, and any Jewish American, who continues to identify with and support the Republican party, which has made significant and lasting contributions to the Jewish community. And I understand why some of these voters are struggling with their decision.

In my mind, the case is closed. His leadership endangers our democracy, and therefore our community.

My reasoning is simple and stark: Trump’s presidency — in spirit and in deed — has given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society. He and his administration dehumanize immigrants, demonize the most vulnerable, and undermine the civility and enlightened political culture that have allowed Jews to achieve what no diaspora community outside Israel can claim in two millennia.

What’s more, American Jews look beyond our own parochial interests, for we know that our future is inextricably tied to the welfare of others. Promoting tolerance, inclusion, and equality is non-negotiable. Defending immigrants and refugees is an inseparable part of our collective story — and my own, as a Holocaust survivor and a refugee.

We must ask ourselves: Is America stronger, more stable and more caring, than it was before Trump entered office?

For me, the answer is clear. No. I know I am not alone.

Talk to Jewish community leaders in private and read surveys of the Jewish public. After decades of progress, following successive generations of rising metrics of safety and security, Jews are filled with fear and anxiety. President Trump shoulders a good measure of the blame.

Is the president of the United States an anti-Semite?

No. But that’s not the right question.

Has his leadership lifted America? Has it made Jews feel more secure? Is he our best hope for healing our nation and addressing the twin crises of a pandemic and a reckoning with racism?

If anyone needs another reason, look beyond our borders. A stable, credible, influential, revered — and sometimes feared — America has been a force multiplier for world Jewry for decades, often in ways that are most clearly visible to those of us working behind the scenes on behalf of global Jewish causes. Remember freedom for Soviet, Ethiopian, and Syrian Jewry.

Here, too, there is no doubt in my mind that Trump’s failings of character and America’s dismal global standing have hurt Jewish interests.

It is true that Trump has made decisions that many in our community have waited for, including his decision on Jerusalem, which I support. But these decisions have come at the cost of Trump’s frontal assault on bipartisan support for Israel, and some have been clothed in deeply offensive stereotypes about Jews and their ties to the Jewish state.

Our community has an enormous stake in bipartisanship. It is the only way to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry. It is how we built a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

Indeed, I grew up in an America where Jews were not fully integrated and Washington’s support for Israel was wafer thin. Yet the reality is different now, in large part because leaders of conscience have cultivated and sustained the broadest possible base of support for this agenda.

Trump has damaged that necessary consensus, and we cannot permit Jews and Israel to be weaponized for anyone’s narrow political interests.

We do have reason for hope. I have known Joe Biden for many years, and I have confidence that he will restore the equilibrium that has been lost. He has been an ally, and he has pledged repeatedly to fight anti-Semitism aggressively. I am confident he and Kamala Harris will not back down from confronting Israel’s enemies and detractors, even if they emerge within their own party.

I am old enough to remember a world where illiberalism ran amok and dictators held vast numbers of our brothers and sisters hostage, behind Iron Curtains and worse.

And I am old enough to recall a style of Jewish American politics that was more quietist, more hesitant, a politics of a minority too accustomed to keeping its head down.

But thankfully, American Jews left this behind — yet another reason I cannot be silent at this inflection point in history.

Nor can any of us, for the sake of our nation, our people, and our world.

Abraham Foxman of Bergen County is director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League.

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