Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed a former president indicted three times on federal charges, with a fourth imminent from Georgia. We’ve also seen fissures within Israeli society, responding to moves made by a governing coalition disproportionately controlled by its far-right wing.
I believe that followers of the disgraced Donald Trump in the United States and judicial reform supporters in Israel share some commonalties.
Primary is resentment of their treatment by elites in government, academia, and the media.
When NBC’s Tim Russert was reporting on the presidential election, he categorized states won by Republicans on his electoral map as red and by Democrats as blue. Now, years later, states are branded not by their capitals, attractions, and the like but as blue or red. In turn, they are either venerated or vilified by their supporters or opponents. “I won’t move to that state if it doesn’t match my political color,” I hear all too often. Conversations then descend into vilification of opposing views, avoiding dialogue and retreating into our own bubbles, where we interact only with ideological compatriots.
The “other” in red states or sharing red views have been consigned to clinging to their bibles and guns or decried as deplorables. They have seen their manufacturing jobs disappear, victims of free trade. They witnessed executive actions to write off $450 billion in student loans when many of them never went to college or naively paid off their loans. Meanwhile our borders are not well sealed, with millions of illegal immigrants crossing our border taxing border communities and beyond. Many cynically believe that this is an effort to buy Democratic votes in the future, when these migrants or their children inevitably become citizens. Others view them as eroding white supremacy.
They view our system of justice as not being fair, with bogus charges of Russian collusion haunting the Trump administration while Hunter Biden’s laptop is treated skeptically by the media, and when he’s charged with crimes is treated with kid gloves.
Meanwhile, they struggle with which pronouns to use, gender changing surgery for minors without their parents’ permission, and calls by the extreme left for late term abortions.
And for many if not most of them their presidential hopes lead them to a man convicted of sexual harassment, whose chief financial officer just got out of jail, who tried to overturn an election, held and bragged about top secret documents as trophies, betrayed his vice-president and the Constitution. Meanwhile there are credible candidates running for the Republican nomination who have not made a dent in Trump’s electoral lead. Is there a cult of personality at work here?
Meanwhile, across the ocean, we see a similar phenomenon in Israel. The Mizrachi population, now a majority in Israel, has been the subject of condescension by Ashkenazi elites in government, the media, and academia for decades. Most recently New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, whose opinion I generally respect, treated the Ashkenazim as Israel’s underclass, reminiscent of how German Jews felt about the unwashed mass of Eastern European Jews, most of American Jewry’s ancestors.
Since their arrival in Israel, fleeing by hundreds of thousands from Arab pogroms in the early 1950s, Mizrachi Jews were treated as second class citizens by the Labor Party, continuously in power from 1948 to 1977.They were disproportionately consigned to development towns in the periphery of the country and suffered widespread social discrimination by their Ashkenazi co-religionists. When the Polish born Menachem Begin was elected prime minister, with Mizrachi backing, one of his first initiatives was Project Renewal, by which diaspora communities, including Greater MetroWest in Rishon L’ Tzion, adopted neighborhoods to upgrade housing, recreational facilities, and social support.
Mizrachi Jews are more conservative on relations with the Palestinians. When the Oslo Accords resurrected the banished PLO into the governing Palestinian Authority partner in the West Bank, Mizrachi politicians were appalled, particularly since this revolutionary pact was approved by the slim majority vote of 61 in the Knesset. They have seen right-wing legislation overturned by an Ashkenazi-dominated Supreme Court and the expulsion of thousands of settlers from Gush Katif in Gaza.
Considering this backdrop, it’s not surprising that judicial reform has become an important issue for many of them.
This worldview held by many American citizens and our Mizrachi fellow Jews is real and can’t be ignored, let alone condemned. We need political leaders who care about country first to forge compromises on judicial and other reforms in Israel. President Herzog is a great example of this kind of leadership. Responsible members of Likud and the opposition should put the welfare of Israel first as it faces horrific disunity, the nuclear threat of Iran, and enemies on its borders.
It’s a long way to the Republican nomination. I hope that coalescing around one candidate to defeat Donald Trump will emerge, and that Joe Biden, like LBJ in 1968, will defer running again for the good of the country.
When we look for examples of statesmanship I remember a Ford, not the great Lincoln, who pardoned Richard Nixon to salve our nation’s wounds after Watergate, even at the expense of his election. Or Menachim Begin, who folded his power base, the Irgun, into the IDF to help Ben-Gurion unite the nascent Jewish state.
We need to show respect for differing opinions and exert pressure on our elected officials to begin healing our fractured society.
Lincoln’s admonition that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” was the right message for the impending Civil War in 1861, with its attendant loss of 600,000 lives.
While not in any way making a parallel, we need leaders to listen to the concerns of their citizens and develop policies that have a broad consensus to better unify our beloved America and our only Jewish state. The alternative is too bleak to contemplate.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.