By Michael Regenstreif, Editor
My column in our August 19 issue discussed the explicitly racist attacks of U.S. President Donald Trump on four rookie members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all of whom are women of colour. In the days and weeks after that issue went to press, there have been some downright bizarre developments to the story.
Two of the congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who both support the anti-Israel BDS movement, were scheduled to visit East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August. In July, despite a law allowing Israel to bar BDS supporters from entering the country, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States (who is known to be extremely close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), announced, “Out of respect for the U.S. Congress, and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.”
That changed on August 15 when Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Immediately following Trump’s tweet, Israel announced that Omar and Tlaib would not be allowed to visit after all. Although Netanyahu and his ministers claimed the change had nothing to do with Trump’s tweet, few analysts believed that.
The decision was immediately condemned by mainstream American Jewish organizations including AIPAC, Jewish Federations of North America, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Israel Policy Forum, and J Street as contradicting democratic values.
Barring Omar and Tlaib may well have provided more PR value to the BDS movement than the visit itself would have.
Then the story got even weirder. On August 20, Trump proclaimed, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat; I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” (According to the Pew Research Center, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received 71 per cent of the Jewish vote in 2016, compared to 24 per cent for Republican candidate Trump. In the 2018 midterm elections, after two years of the Trump administration, 79 per cent of the Jewish vote went to Democratic candidates, compared to just 17 per cent for Republicans.)
Trump invoked the antisemitic trope about the loyalty of Jews – one of the most common expressions of antisemitism throughout history. In the following days, Trump doubled-down and tripled-down on the trope elaborating that Jewish Democratic voters (in other words, Jews who don’t support Trump) are disloyal to the Jewish people and to Israel.
“In my opinion, if you vote for a Democrat you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you’re being very disloyal to Israel. And only weak people would say anything other than that,” he declared on the White House lawn.
And in a tweet, Trump quoted and thanked talk radio conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root for his “very nice words”: “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.”
The nightly news – in these Trumpian times – is, indeed, stranger than fiction.
As Stephanie Shefrin notes in her column, she is stepping back from being a regular contributor to Modern Mishpocha, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin parenting column she created six years ago. Stephanie’s insights and discussions of various family and parenting issues have made her columns compelling reading for parents, grandparents and others.
One of Stephanie’s innovations was to recruit other contributors to the column and we’ll continue to publish Modern Mishpocha columns from Jen Perzow and Shirlee Press. In the coming months, we’ll also introduce a couple of new contributors Stephanie has recruited.
Thanks, Stephanie, for making discussions about modern mishpochas a vital part of the Bulletin. I know I speak for many when I say we’ll look forward to any not-regularly-scheduled Modern Mishpocha columns you’ll contribute in the future when inspiration demands and time allows.