How could we support a candidate who wants to slam the golden door shut in the face of refugees fleeing persecution?
This year, as Jewish Americans consider how we will vote in the presidential election, we should be asking ourselves, “What is it about this country that has made our wonderful American experience possible?” If we do that honestly, there can be only one choice.
Our Jewish-American story would not be possible were it not for immigration. All of us are here because of a wise ancestor who chose the promise of the unknown over the resigned inertia of the familiar. If, during World War II, the gates of America had been open as they were before 1924, who knows how many Jews might have been saved from annihilation by the Nazis.
How could we support a candidate who wants to slam the golden door shut in the face of refugees fleeing persecution? How can we countenance deporting millions of people who, in the aggregate, are as honorable as citizens, when we have been taught by our Bible to love the stranger, the foreigner, the alien, because we know the soul of the stranger, because we were aliens in the land of Egypt?
Our story would not be possible were it not for the American quality of acceptance. In his letter to the Jews of Newport, George Washington declared that “the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” We are a nation that proudly rejects prejudice against the humanity of any individual. Let each person be judged by their actions. Not by the actions of their group. There is nothing so biblical or Jewish as that ideal. Our nation has worked hard to make this ideal a reality.
How could we support a candidate who libels a whole national grouping as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists,” or support a candidate who would indiscriminately ban people on the basis of their Muslim religion because of the actions of other Muslims? Is our sense of Jewish historic consciousness so limited that we forget that at one time or another Jews were expelled from almost every nation in the Western world because of similar libelous statements and accusations?
How could any Jewish American vote for a candidate who dismisses with the arrogance of ignorance the truth of global warming and the threat it poses to the future of our planet? A candidate that blusters that it is a hoax by the “Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”?
Our American story would not be possible were it not for the ideal of one person, one vote — that every individual is equally entitled to vote, and every vote is equal. How could any of us support those who shamelessly try to disenfranchise the vote of the poor and minorities with voter ID laws? The motivation behind these laws is as transparent as it is insidious. Is there anything so un-American as undermining the very element of fairness that undergirds America? It is the same sort of thinking whose adherents promise to use the court to advance a mean-spirited agenda against the LGBTQ community, to restrict health care to the needy, and to overturn a woman’s right to an abortion, all issues high on the values agenda of Jewish Americans.
And our story is also the story of the steadfast support of the United States for the State of Israel. It was President Harry Truman’s leadership that led the United States to be the first to recognize the State of Israel. Every president since has been a staunch supporter of Israel. And despite the fact that every president since has had his differences with Israeli policy, this country remains Israel’s staunchest and often only ally in the world.
How could we not abhor a candidate who said he would be “neutral” in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and who has said that Israel “should pay us some money” to repay American foreign aid? How can any Jewish American support a candidate who wants to abandon NATO treaty commitments and create an isolationist America? Do we believe that a president ready to abandon NATO allies would be one on which Israel could rely?
The world today is a dangerous place. The fear of random terror looms large. We have had to change the way we go about our business; in many cases, routine things become convoluted so we can protect ourselves. It is easy to be tempted by a demagogue who promises absolute protection, whether or not he could possibly deliver on the promise without undermining the Constitution or abandoning the ideals that make this nation what it is.
As Jews, we know from our collective historic experience, better than most, that when fear undermines wisdom, when it tempts us to take shortcuts around our ideals and values, when it leads us to suspend who we are for the sake of temporary gain or satisfaction, we can never be winners. We will already have lost.
To the candidate who tells us that he, and only he, can “make America great again,” I say, as a Jew and as an American, you show no understanding of what makes America great. What makes America great is our belief in human dignity, enshrined in laws of justice. It is about respecting others until they give us a clear reason to do otherwise. It is about generosity of spirit. It is about common decency, openness, diversity and acceptance.
Donald J. Trump does not understand American greatness. Hillary Clinton does. She is the only choice for Jewish Americans in this election.
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom is the distinguished service rabbi at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park. The views expressed in this article are his own.