As Joe Biden launches his transition and the Republicans telling Donald Trump he lost show off their regrown tongues, spines, and souls, the Jewish community remains polarized. As a first step to rebuilding a healthy dialogue, can we agree on certain facts? By identifying enough inconvenient truths to unnerve partisans at both extremes, perhaps we can lower the rhetorical temperature and raise awareness about some of the goals, interests and values that unite us, not just the tactical issues dividing us.
Bidenistas should acknowledge that Trump leaves at least three welcome facts on the ground in the Middle East. First, America’s embassy is now in Jerusalem – fulfilling promises Democrats and Republicans made for decades. Second, the Abraham Accords have Israelis and Arabs excitedly building business, cultural, personal, and diplomatic ties. Third, Trump’s economic sanctions have sent Iranian unemployment rates and consumer prices skyrocketing – while starving Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups that target Israelis, Jews, Americans, Westerners. And it’s not controversial to admit that Biden’s win thrilled Palestinian rejectionists, Progressive anti-Zionists worldwide, and the Democratic Party’s small, loud, growing anti-Israel faction.
Similarly, while there’s no point relitigating the Trump era and cataloguing the many faults of Trump his supporters overlooked, excused, or actually encouraged, Trumpistas should acknowledge that Middle East peace processing cannot bypass the Palestinians. And, it’s equally non-controversial to admit that Trump’s loss depressed America’s increasingly loud mob of right-wing, Jew-hating, White-Supremacist racists.
These facts set a common agenda on three fronts, with common goals uniting most American and Israeli Jews. First, the more constructive, peaceful Arab-Israeli ties that proliferate, the better. Most of us want peace between a safe, secure, democratic Israel and as many Arab countries as possible. Second, we want the Iran threat contained and terrorists worldwide starved of funds and legitimacy. And third, we hate the haters and would love to see a united front against Jew-hatred and other forms of bigotry too.
Hopefully, this exercise demonstrates that it’s worth “agreeing to agree” not just “agreeing to disagree.” The headaches begin when we descend from lofty visions about lovely goals to the tactics we trust to get there – and the values we emphasize when choosing our strategies. Still, in the spirit of consensus building, let’s flip the discussion around, tackling the easiest challenge first.
It’s a sin for partisan differences to block us from repudiating all Jew-haters left and right. End the partisan myopia: left-wingers should confront Progressive anti-Semites and anti-Zionists while right-wingers must confront White Supremacist and garden-variety conservative anti-Semites. The Jews of Great Britain showed how to unite against Jeremy Corbyn – and appeal to their fellow Brits’ decency. Unfortunately, all kinds of anti-Semites abound – even those who cannot be shoved into little partisan boxes. Every Jew should commit: for each anti-Semite I denounce who seems to come from a group I truly hate, let me also denounce a Jew-hater from a group I usually like. Exercising these most basic self-protective and objective muscles, which partisan fanaticism often atrophy, we can fight this scourge, ally with others, and rebuild Jewish unity.
Parts of the Iran question are also easy. Few people want a nuclear Tehran or well-funded terrorists – especially with dollars made-in-America. The question is how to achieve those goals.
Biden’s people need to see the direct pipeline from the Mullah’s rhetoric to Iran’s petrodollars to terrorist blood money. And we should highlight every line and outcome of the JCPOA – the Iranian deal – that facilitated that weapons flow. Unfortunately, when discussing the nuclear issue, people’s differences sound almost theological: Biden’s people still believe the treaty can slow Iran’s nuclear program; few Israelis ever did. Israel’s diplomats should be rifling through our Iranian intelligence treasure troves, translating whatever smoking guns they can find to prove to Biden’s team – and the broader public — about how the Mullahs exploited the treaty – even before Trump trashed it.
And speaking of theology, few international conflicts are as paralyzed by people’s fact-resistant dogmas than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Joe Biden is undoubtedly pro-Israel. Critics of his Middle East policy should find different words than “anti-Israel” to criticize his stands without negating the many decades of genuine love he has shown for the Jewish state. But Biden’s foreign policy team – along with his American Jewish supporters – needs to ask: What can we learn from Trump’s unconventional approach? How do we build on the Abraham Accords?
Trump discredited the peace-processors’ creed that the road to Middle East peace runs through Ramallah. That road is not just pockmarked and strewn with land mines, it’s now further blocked by the wreckage of the Rabin-Barak-Olmert-Clinton-Kerry failures – which really are the Palestinian failure to accept Israel’s basic right to exist.
Rather than trying to drive through the rubble again and again, Trump and his team drove around it. So, to switch metaphors, rather than making the ever-resistant Palestinian leaders the gatekeepers to the entire Arab world, the new approach hopes that a changed climate within the Arab world, will ultimately sweep away Palestinian terrorist rejectionism, ushering in a genuine, bottom-up, grassroots peace.
Yes, we’re now in the realm of opinion, calculation, speculation. But such a conversation, once fundamentals have been identified and agreed upon, usually proceeds far more civilly, warmly, and constructively.
So, first the facts, then the goals, and only later the tactics, issues and values. By all seeking truth as one community, we can find a common language – and remember our common cause.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.