There is policy and there is character. And while you might think one has nothing to do with the other, sooner or later, character always catches up with policy.
For more than two years now, to their eternal shame, those who consider themselves the most religious among us, and those who consider themselves the most Zionist among us, have closed their eyes to the character of one Donald J. Trump.
It didn’t bother them, though it should have, that he violates pretty much every teaching of the Torah. Let’s take the case of Jim Mattis, to pick just one example of a million examples.
The Torah teaches us that political leaders are supposed to listen to and defer to military experts when it comes to military matters. Trump, the only president ever who never held any political or military office before taking office, totally ignored Mattis’ advice about not pulling all American troops out of Syria. Even though Mattis was a Marine general who served decades in uniform.
But we’ll get back to Syria in a minute to show how you can only ignore character so long before you inevitably wind up with policy you very much do not want. Other things the Torah teaches us is that you are supposed to show hakarat hatov to people who have worked for you, meaning show them gratitude, appreciation. We are also taught to treat every person with dignity, remembering that we are all creations of G-d.
And so when Mattis decided to resign as a matter of principle, because he saw the decision to leave Syria as being incredibly dangerous, Trump should have thanked him for his service, wished him well and let that be that.
But no, he had to push him out, not let him stay until the end of February, as Mattis thought important for the department of defense, tweet out he would have to leave within a week. So unnecessarily cruel, so needlessly depriving Mattis of a graceful and dignified exit.
Not that that is anything new. Trump let Reince Priebus find out he was out as chief of staff by reading a tweet as he stood on the tarmac of an airport in the rain after having just departed Air Force One. He told Rex Tillerson he was out as secretary of state while Tillerson was literally on the toilet. He then followed up by tweeting that Tillerson was lazy and stupid. I could cite dozens of other examples showing no hakarot hatov, showing no dignity but we’re so used to it by now that it doesn’t outrage us.
And then there is the Torah prohibition against lashon hara, speaking ill of others. We are taught never to disparage anyone, ever. Of course that is all Trump does, name calling and insulting and labeling and accusing and shaming.
I could go on and on with all the Jewish values he violates, violations that should repel Jews, but those on the religious and political right, including the most prominent heads of yeshivas in this country, simply ignored his character, ignored that he is the exact opposite of what Judaism teaches a person should be, how a person should act, because they liked Trump’s policies. And so they put policy before character, not seeming to realize the dangers of such a devils’ bargain in that it can’t help but coarsen all of us, either causes us to subconsciously think such behavior is okay – hey it got him elected president – or causes us to become numb to it, fail to react, don’t even see anymore how objectionable it is. Which in my view is the more dangerous affect. I believe way too many of us have absorbed the lessons of always punch back, never be reasonable, ignore ethical and moral considerations because winning is what matters. And that it’s okay to do or say whatever you need to at the moment.
And yet the deal some American Jews and almost all Israeli Jews have made the last two years is to accept Trump’s character, even as it violates every principle of Judaism, because they like his policies.
Move the embassy to Jerusalem, love it, kill the Iran deal, love it, rip away all funding for the Palestinians, love it, excuse the murderous crown prince of Saudi Arabia because he and Israel are on the same side when it comes to Iran, love it.
Love the policy and policy is all that matters has been the attitude of so called religious Jews and so called pro-Israel Jews who have been so thrilled with the policies of Trump that they haven’t concerned themselves with his character, or lack thereof.
Well, when you deal with someone who has no values, who lies as easily as he breathes, who will overthrow any and all values when it’s convenient, sooner or later those character traits are going to lead to policies that you won’t find so appealing.
Which brings us to Syria. If you thought Iran’s nuclear program was such a threat to Israel that the Iran deal just had to be killed, even though it ensured that Iran would not have any nuclear program for at least 15 years, how do you like Trump’s new Syria policy which strengthens the hand of the Iranians who are at this very moment right next door to Israel in Syria.
You got Iran trying to secure a foothold in Syria, you got Russia and Turkey doing the same and now instead of having a couple thousand American soldiers there keeping an eye on those three enemies of Israel, you will soon have no American soldiers in Syria, which is very good for Iran, Russia and Turkey, none of whom has warm feelings toward Israel, but not so good for Israel.
Yes Trump’s insane character, which some Jews have found so charming when he was moving the embassy, has now led to an insane policy, an impulsive and ill-advised decision to ignore every single national security expert and abruptly pull all American troops out of Syria.
What that means was captured succinctly and terrifyingly by the headline on the New York Times story. “Syria Pullout by U.S. Tilts Mideast Toward Iran and Russia, Isolating Israel.” Showing that when Jews embrace a character at odds with Judaism because it appears to be good on policy, eventually you get a policy as bad as the character who is making it.
Let’s quote a bit from that New York Times story, shall we. “The American decision to withdraw from Syria has abruptly scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East, clearing the way for Iran to expand its influence across the region, leaving Israel virtually alone to stop it, and raising the prospect that thousands of Islamic State prisoners could be set free.”
And more. “Israel, which hoped the American presence in Syria would block Iran from completing its corridor to the sea, now has to reckon with a new reality. “This leaves us alone in the arena with the Russians,” said Michael Herzog, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Israeli defense official. “We are alone in the battle against Iran in Syria.”
And more. “The American presence in Syria was particularly vexing for Iran, preventing Iranian-backed militias from crossing into Syria from Iraq. A pullout would free Tehran to treat the Iraqi border as fully porous, easing the movement of fighters and weapons — and potentially of the advanced missiles and other weapons through Syria to Hezbollah, Iran’s partner in Lebanon.
“To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Mr. Trump’s decision came as a deep embarrassment heading into an election year in which his national-security credentials, closeness with Mr. Trump and obsessive focus on stopping Iranian expansion were central to his argument for another term. Mr. Netanyahu seemed to reach the height of his influence in Washington earlier this year when Mr. Trump moved the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and then abandoned the Iran nuclear agreement, which Mr. Netanyahu had railed against for years.
“But Mr. Netanyahu ends the year “appearing to have mismanaged Israel’s relations with the two global superpowers, the U.S. and Russia,” Mr. Zalzberg said. Mr. Putin has refused to meet with him since the accidental downing of a Russian military jet in Syria during an Israeli airstrike in September.
“While Israeli military experts played down the tactical dangers of being left alone to fight Iran in Syria, many said an American retreat was debilitating to Israeli morale. “It’s all of 2,000 soldiers,” said Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon at Tel Aviv University. “Psychologically, though, they were there, which to a degree put the others — the Russians, the Iranians — on notice.”
“But an abrupt American pullout gives credibility to the idea, increasingly pervasive in the Middle East, that the United States’ support for its allies is not what it once was, Mr. Zalzberg said. “And that narrative is very harmful for Israeli power and deterrence, irrespective of the veracity of it,” he said.”
And while we all like to focus on the danger Iran next door poses to Israel, having Turkey free to do its thing ain’t so good either. Indeed, just recently, Netanyahu called Turkish President Recep Erdogan an “anti-Semitic dictator” who is “obsessed with Israel.”
And indeed just a few days ago, Erdogan said: “The Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men but also women and children when they fall on the ground.” He added that Muslims will “teach them a lesson.” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Nevlut Cavsoglu in a tweet called Netanyahu a “cold-blooded killer of modern times.” Erdogan has frequently compared the Israeli military’s actions against the Palestinians to the Nazis’ actions against Jews during the Holocaust.
So here we are. Thanks to Jews ignoring Trump’s despicable character and being on his side despite it, we now have that character bringing us a policy that threatens the very security of Israel, empowers Iran which is now right next door, empowers Turkey which is now right next door and empowers Russia which is now right next door, all as American troops are leaving right next door thanks to Trump, thus leaving Israel all alone against three of its worst enemies.
That’s what happens when you think the character of a person, the character of a president doesn’t matter, are okay with him desecrating every value Judaism holds dear so you can have a temporary sugar high of an embassy in Jerusalem. Well, all you Jews who have ignored the character of Trump, enjoy your embassy because you now have Iran stronger than ever just a few miles from Israel’s border.