Casting out the Kushners?

The effort to treat the presidential daughter and son-in-law as unwelcome in the American Jewish community deepens the partisan divide in a way that undermines Jewish values.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem ahead of the official opening of the U.S. embassy, May 13, 2018. Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem ahead of the official opening of the U.S. embassy, May 13, 2018. Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

According to The New York Times, Ivanka and Jared Kushner aren’t going to have an easy time of it when and if they return to New York City after working in the administration of her father. The presidential daughter and son-in-law may be credited with helping guide the administration towards a strong pro-Israel stance, including a historical shift involving the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But as far as many Jews are concerned, they are a disgrace and should be treated as such.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president, in Jerusalem ahead of the official opening of the U.S. embassy. May 13, 2018. Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90.

That was the conceit of a feature article on the cover of the Styles section of last Sunday’s New York Times, which took as its premise the notion that involvement in the Trump administration was the sort of thing that decent people could not stomach.

I don’t doubt that many Jewish New Yorkers shared the point of view of one former high school classmate of Jared Kushner that he was complicit in acts of Chillul Hashem (literally, “desecrating the name of God”) or as the Times’ somewhat inadequate definition put it, “when a Jew behaves immorally while in the presence of others.” The majority of American Jews are liberals and Democrats, and regard U.S. President Donald Trump as beyond the pale.

You can criticize the president’s behavior or oppose some of his policies. But to assert that those serving the nation in his administration should be considered unworthy of being called to the Torah at synagogue—as one rabbi asserted to the Times—is injecting partisan fervor into Jewish life in a way that is unhealthy for both the country and the Jews. More than that, those who wish to treat the Kushners as pariahs are at least as, if not more guilty, of helping to destroy the fabric of American democracy as anything they imagine Trump is doing.

I suppose that if you really think Trump is an anti-Semite, an enemy of democracy or an enabler of Nazis, then perhaps anathematizing those associated with him might make sense on some level. But while some of his statements, such as his conflation of those opposed to the removal of Confederate statues with neo-Nazis that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, were characteristically misguided, the notion that he is leading the country towards a rerun of the Weimar Republic is partisan hysteria, not rational analysis.

Blaming him for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, as many Jews do, or to take it as a given that there is, as the Times asserted, “an assault on Judaism” going on in the United States since January 2017 is equally unreasonable. It requires us to ignore that the struggle against anti-Semitism—both in the United States and in the Middle East—has actually gotten more support from Trump than his predecessor. Not to mention the fact that Jews aren’t merely welcome in his administration but also in his family, as Trump’s Jewish grandchildren can attest.

Disgust about Trump’s unpresidential behavior and statements fuel support for the resistance. But anger at his administration is also a function of policy disagreements, such as the argument about whether enforcement of immigration laws is a litmus test of decency.

His Jewish supporters point instead to his exemplary record on Israel, and they credit the Kushners for steering him in that direction and for his decision to seek to reverse the appeasement of Iran that was enabled by President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal.

But the problem with this argument—at least with respect to the question of how Jews should treat the Kushners—is not just that some of the attacks on the president are either unfair or over the top. Nor is it really a matter of preferring Obama’s policy of pressuring Israel to make concessions to achieve peace to Trump’s effort to hold the Palestinians accountable for their support for terrorism.

What’s at stake in this discussion about the treatment Ivanka and Jared should expect if they walk into your synagogue is not just whether they should be held accountable for policies you dislike. Rather, it’s about whether we are prepared to treat our political opponents as enemies to be delegitimized and hounded from the public square, or as fellow citizens with whom we must, as democracy requires, agree to disagree with on many vital issues.

As the Times notes, the Kushners reflect the politics and the religious values of the minority of Americans who are politically conservative and/or religiously Orthodox. Such voters are not only more likely to prefer Trump’s conservative policies to those of liberal Democrats on a variety of issues. They also see support for Israel as the No. 1 issue, and therefore are not only cheering Trump, but also honoring the Kushners for their role in helping to shape his views. These political disagreements are driving red and blue Jewish America further apart the same as is happening for the rest of the country.

We need not weep for the fate of Jared and Ivanka outside of the White House or Trump Tower. With their massive wealth, they will do just fine and probably always receive a warm welcome at Chabad centers (such as the one they attend in Washington) and other places where Jewish Republicans pray.

But we should worry about a country and a Jewish world where political disagreements are treated the same way medieval communities (both Christian and Jewish) treated those who dissented from prevailing Orthodoxies. Putting the Kushners in cherem—the Jewish version of excommunication—as heretics to be shunned may satisfy those whose hatred for Trump and his supporters knows no bounds. But those who lament what they not unreasonably consider Trump’s coarsening of political discourse must understand that what they are doing is no better.

By seeking to shun Trump supporters, they are driving an already dangerously splintered Jewish world even farther apart. That’s too high a price for Jewish communities to pay for even the bitterest political disagreements.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS – Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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