Despicable behavior

Joseph Aaron

So after the Mueller report came out, one of the networks sent a reporter to a town that had overwhelming voted for Trump in 2016 and interviewed a bunch of people who said they are strong Trump supporters and asked for their reaction.

One answer really stuck in my mind. It was a guy who said nothing in the report bothered him. He then added, quote, that “Trump is a despicable human being, but he’s done great things for the country.”

This is a Trump supporter talking. Referring to him as a despicable human being. And that didn’t bother him at all, because “he’s done great things for the country.”

I will control myself as to whether I think he’s done great things for the country because what fascinates me is how many Jews feel the same way. Sure they say he’s a liar, he uses ugly language, he is nasty, mean, underhanded, disloyal, immoral, but so what, he’s moved the embassy to Jerusalem, killed the Iran deal, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, instructed his State Department to not use the term ‘two state solution.’

So for all those reasons, Jews who see themselves  as the most religious among us, Jews who see themselves as the most Zionistic among us, give Trump a total pass on his behavior, on the kind of person he is. He gives them the policy goodies they so want and so they look away from the fact that he is a despicable human being.

That really bothers me. To me the very essence of Judaism, the very essence of the Torah, the very essence of Jewish teachings and traditions, is that G-d expects each of us to be a good person. That is our collective mission, to be a light unto the nations, to show the world how people are to be. Indeed, one of the foundational lessons of Judaism is that ‘derech eretz kudmah l’Torah,’ that being a mensch is the most important thing of all, even more important than learning Torah. Because if you don’t live Torah, meaning if you aren’t a good person, there is no point in learning Torah. For the Torah teaches us to be a good, truthful, kind, compassionate human being, not a despicable one.

And yet so many Jews don’t seem to care about that. He has done things they like and so it’s cool if he’s despicable. To me it is despicable that so many Jews who hold themselves up as the best of us, who think themselves the most righteous and Israel loving of us, find his behavior, which they themselves will admit violates every teaching of the Torah, is just fine because he has done great things for Israel.

More than one rabbi throughout our long history has made the point that being kind goes to the very heart of Judaism. And so while you might think the goodies Trump has bestowed on us are great for us, the coarsening of our moral sense is in fact the greatest danger to us.

And we don’t even seem to have any sense of perspective about it. Consider that just this week, Bibi, Israel’s eternal prime minister, announced that he intends to name a town on the Golan Heights after Trump. This after Israel’s transportation minister announced about a year ago that he was going to name the new train station at the Western Wall after Trump. This after a square near the location of the new embassy in Jerusalem was named for Trump.

Very few American presidents have anything named for them in Israel. There is a street in Jerusalem named for Abraham Lincoln and another street for George Washington. There is a JFK memorial and a Harry Truman Institute. And that’s about it. One place each for only four of our presidents. And yet there will soon be three places in Israel named for Donald Trump, despicable human being.

Look, if you’re religious, if you’re right wing, I understand you would be happy about the things Trump has done.  But can we at least have some sense of decency that we don’t celebrate someone who acts like he does, who is the kind of person he is, the kind of person Judaism teaches us not to be. Sure, say thank you to him for doing the things he’s done, but don’t name the train station serving no less than Judaism’s holiest site after Donald Trump. Be grateful he gave you what you wanted but don’t desecrate Jewish values and principles and ideals and morals.

Why I so care about this is because without our moral compass, we are lost, we are not the Jewish people. And that starts showing up all over the place, erodes who we are and causes us to act in ways that are not what we are supposed to be.

I found absolutely fascinating a new study put out about the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that is about to leave office. One number jumped out at me. That of the 120 members of the Knesset, fully 29 of them, more than 20 percent, were punished by the Ethics Committee for a wide range of misbehaviors.

I found it absolutely appalling that when the White House recently convened leaders of the Jewish community for a briefing on issues “impacting the community,” the leaders of three of the four major Jewish religious streams were not invited.

Yes, a briefing about and for the American Jewish community did not include officials of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, meaning the movements that represent about 90 percent of American Jews. Also not invited were the Anti-Defamation League, the country’s leading Jewish civil rights group; HIAS, the lead Jewish immigration advocacy group; and The Simon Wiesenthal Center, another anti-defamation group.

This is something that has never happened before. Every prior administration, both Democrat and Republican, has always invited all religious movements and all of the community’s major organizations. Trump has no problem excluding any and all who don’t worship at the altar of the Donald.

Again to me it is shameful that the groups that did get invited didn’t say this isn’t the Jewish way, we don’t cut off so many Jews from a seat at the table, we won’t come unless you invite those who represent all of American Jewry. But no, in this age of praising a despicable human begin because he does what you want, we become numb to acting as Jews, doing what is right.

When you get rid of Jewish standards, it affects everything, makes you do crazy things.

Like harass a Jewish woman at Ben Gurion Airport for daring to not toe the line of the Bibi government. 

Laura Mandel is a board member of the Abraham Initiatives, which works for equal rights for Jews and Arabs in Israel and is considered a mainstream group that often partners with Israeli government agencies. Mandel said that before check-in for her flight back home, officers of the Israel Airports Authority asked “standard questions” that Mandel said were familiar to her. But once she mentioned the purpose of her visit, she said, the questions become more pointed.

“He asked me, ‘Why would an American be interested in the relations between Jews and Arabs?” she recalled. “Implying I don’t live there, why do I care so much?” Mandel said the interrogation intensified after check-in. At security, she recounted being taken into a room and asked to have a seat. Officers took everything out of her carry-on bag, “every little thing,” she said, and scanned each item with electronic devices. They did multiple pat-downs, had her take off her shoes and grilled her further.

“Why do you care so much about this work?” the officers asked. “Why is this important to you?” “Then they asked a bunch of weird personal questions,” Mandel said, like probing how she could afford the plane ticket as a graduate student.

Mandel was told she could not take anything with her on her flight. She said the officials took her carry-on bag, sweater, wallet and prescription medication (she was allowed to take her nightly dose before leaving). They wanted to take her shoes, but she only had one pair. “They let me make one phone call to my boyfriend. I told him what was happening,” she said. They packed up the rest of her belongings into boxes, which they stowed.

“I said, ‘I have a 15-hour flight and you’re taking everything from me,” she said. “The woman packing the bags didn’t even look me in the eye. She just kept doing what she was doing.” Mandel said at first she blamed herself for being truthful — that she should have just said she had been on vacation in Israel. “But then I realized that I shouldn’t regret being truthful because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Ah, but you did, Laura. You told the truth in the age of Trump where things like that just get in the way of doing what is convenient.

And finally this. The Genesis Prize, which calls itself the Jewish Nobel Prize and gives its winner a million bucks, this year is being awarded to Robert Kraft. Yes, the Robert Kraft who owns the New England Patriots and was arrested for getting his bris played with by prostitutes at a massage parlor in a Florida strip mall.

Now in fairness the prize was announced before the news broke, but in disgust, they are still going ahead with giving him the prize at a ceremony which attracts the cream of Israeli society, including the prime minister, who awards the prize.

Indeed, comedian Martin Short, who will emcee the June event, recently recorded a video urging invitees to RSVP for the ceremony. “I’ve never been to Israel, I’m not Jewish and I’m not a New England Patriots fan. So who better to have as your MC on the night when you honor Robert Kraft?” says Short.

So an award which goes to individuals for their “accomplishments and commitment to Jewish values,” is being given to a guy caught with his pants down with hookers. The foundation that awards the prize called the charges against Kraft “unfortunate.”

Such is Judaism in the age of Trump. He is a despicable human being but he moved the embassy, recognized the Golan, and killed the Iran deal, and what you do, not what you are is all that matters.

When we behave like that, when we lose our moral radar, then anything goes, even giving a big time Jewish prize at a ceremony in Jerusalem to a guy who solicits prostitution.

Problem with being cool with a despicable human being is that it starts to turn us into despicable Jews.

2 Comments on "Despicable behavior"

  1. I am heartbroken at what’s happening here and in Israel. I am a citizen of both countries and am ashamed. I shudder at Trump’s behavior and the people around him, as well as Bibi and the Felons that surround him.

  2. Patricia McMillen | May 3, 2019 at 2:47 am | Reply

    Mr. Aaron, I am so grateful to you for writing this column and for your honesty about the existence of double standards within the Jewish community. Please (as another commenter said regarding an earlier column) don’t give up. You are a breath of fresh air, our best friend as Jews: one who holds us to the standards we avow, and reminds us that what we do and say really does matter. Thank you! PS I know my name doesn’t SOUND Jewish, but I joined the Tribe around 7 years ago, at age 60, after a lifetime of admiring Jewish practice and values.

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