News from December 2 to December 8

Israeli election update, President Trump, and an NYT Holocaust story

Hey everyone! It was a relatively quiet week, so the third piece of news is a fantastic story that was published in the New York Times about two Holocaust survivors’ reunion, 72 years in the making. As always, if you have any comments, questions, or concerns, feel free to send them to me at newsofthejews@gmail.com

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? Nope. 

What’s new? The big news of the week is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to hold a leadership election within Likud on December 22. Importantly, that date falls outside the free-for-all period where any MK can attempt to form a government. Since Netanyahu is Blue and White’s most significant obstacle to forming a unity coalition with Likud, there had been some hope that replacing him during the free-for-all period could lead to a Likud-Blue and White coalition. Alas, any hope of Likud dethroning Netanyahu from its leadership will have to wait until at least December 22. 

Anything else? Barring anything truly unexpected, Israel will be going to its third election in one year. As if there weren’t already plenty of things to argue about in Israel, nobody can even agree on the date of the election. Likud wants to hold the election as late as possible because it maximizes the amount of time that Netanyahu can remain prime minister. This is a huge point because Netanyahu retains certain legal privileges as long as he’s the prime minister. For the same reasons, Blue and White wants to have the election as early as possible. If/when Israel goes to another election, the date will automatically be set for March 10, which is not possible because that is Purim. Another scheduling conflict is the March 3 memorial day for soldiers whose burial place is unknown. Accordingly, Israel might have to hold the election on a Monday instead of the customary Tuesday election day.

Update: Since I wrote this, Likud and Blue and White have agreed to hold the election on March 2.

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/No-talks-set-as-coalition-deadline-approaches-610299 (JPost)

President Trump speaks at the Israeli-American Council conference:

What happened? President Trump gave a speech at the annual Israeli-American Council (IAC) conference that sparked controversy. In his remarks, President Trump claimed that Jewish Democrats don’t love Israel enough. He also suggested that Jewish voters should not vote for Elizabeth Warren because she will “take 100% of your wealth away.” You can watch the full speech here. Jewish groups like the Jewish Democratic Council of America and JStreet immediately criticized the speech. While it is true that President Trump addresses many of the same topics in speeches to non-Jewish audiences, he frequently invokes stereotypes when he speaks with Jewish audiences. The rest of his speech mainly focused on his Israel-related accomplishments like moving the embassy to Jerusalem and defunding the Palestinian Authority. 

Background: President Trump is a bit of a conundrum when it comes to Jews and Israel. On the one hand, he has many material accomplishments on his record. President after president promised to move the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he finally did it. He also recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel and withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal, two moves widely sought by American Jews and Israelis. He even has Jews in his direct family (Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump). Additionally, he is a noted Israel supporter and is extremely popular in the Jewish state, where he has a town named after him. If you are a Netanyahu fan and you set aside strategic or political considerations, Trump has been a great President for Israel. He’s also been a fierce adversary of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS).

On the other hand, he and his top advisors have vilified some Jewish senior officials as “globalists,” which has been criticized as an antisemitic dog whistle. He also has repeatedly suggested that Jews who vote for Democrats are not “loyal,” invoking the antisemitic trope of disloyalty. He cozied up to alt-right figures like Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon who have mixed histories with Jews. Moreover, there were several instances of him invoking stereotypes of Jews and money during his presidential campaign, including running a campaign advertisement that indicated Janet Yellen, Lloyd Blankfein, and George Soros (all Jewish) controlled the “levers of power” and tweeting an image of Hillary Clinton with money and a Jewish star (though his campaign took down the photo and replaced the star with a circle). 

So, when it comes to promoting Jewish interests and fighting antisemitism, Trump’s record is a mixed bag.

What’s the verdict? (Personal note) That’s for you to decide. I will say that if you are worried about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism, you should also be concerned about President Trump’s. If Congresswoman Omar accused Jewish Republicans of disloyalty for not voting for Democrats, it would be front-page news. That is not to say that her statements are not problematic; both President Trump and Congresswoman Omar have made antisemitic comments. Thus, we must be vigilant and consistent with our criticism. President Trump’s positive actions should not be used as a cover for his antisemitic remarks. 

I’d also recommend reading Yair Rosenberg’s article on President Trump’s curious case of philosemitism (appreciation of Judaism). He essentially posits that President Trump sees antisemitic stereotypes as a good thing because he respects the pursuit of power and money. Where some see tropes about greed and loyalty, maybe he sees (and appreciates) rugged individualism. The implication is that he says antisemitic things but doesn’t have bad intentions. Does that matter? That’s up to you. Check it out here.

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/International/Donald-Trump-to-address-the-Israeli-American-Council-WATCH-LIVE-610227 (JPost)

Must read: “Lovers in Auschwitz, Reunited 72 Years Later”

What’s it about? This is an absolute must-read article. It’s the story of two Holocaust survivors who were boyfriend and girlfriend at Auschwitz and their incredible journey to reunite decades later. The ending will have you in tears.

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