(December 14, 2016 / JNS) By Abraham H. Miller/JNS.org
Do you remember when Jewish organizations boycotted events sponsored by President Barack Obama because of his past association with the anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Or perhaps you can recall when liberal Jewish organizations boycotted an event Obama sponsored because he broke bread at the end of Ramadan with Islamists who were not only anti-Israel, but anti-American?
You don’t remember? Strangely, neither do I. Maybe it was when the administration made more fuss over a Jew building a room addition in a historic Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood than Tehran building a bomb that liberal Jewish organizations boycotted events sponsored by the president. You don’t remember those either? Well, that’s because they never happened. Obama was the president, and disrespecting him would have been unthinkable, if only because of the office he held.
Fast forward eight years to the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, and 12 groups belonging to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are boycotting their umbrella organization’s Hanukkah party because it is being held at a Trump-owned hotel.
Hannah Arendt coined the term “banality of evil.” Here we have the banality of hypocrisy. The explanations for not attending the event ring as hollow as Hillary Clinton’s attempts to explain the ethical norms that governed her foundation’s dealings with foreign governments while she was secretary of state.
Let’s cut through the nonsense. These organizations were looking for an excuse, once again, to vent their opposition to the Trump presidency and their refusal to accept that reality.
Their absence will be a blessing. Most of their views are an irritating reminder of the incomparable Pauline Kael, who could not accept that Richard Nixon had won the presidency because from her perch in Manhattan she knew absolutely no one who voted for him.
These people live in their own incestuous bubble, in denial that their mindset is what caused Hillary Clinton to lose the election.
The Democratic Party was once the party of the working stiff, the people I knew as a child growing up in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood, where a Republican was more difficult to find than blooming flowers in Chicago’s brutal winters. These were the people who worked in the steel mills, the factories, the stockyards and the garment district. Few owned cars. Everyone carried a lunch pail and rode the street car, often transferring three times before getting to work. There were no transit stop shelters in those days to block the winter wind that either came off the lake or blew in across the plains from Canada, with nothing to stop it.
These were the people who looked to the Democratic Party to protect them from the exploitation of the rich and powerful. These were union people and proud of it, most of them white immigrants, Catholics and Jews, who worked in large corporations owned by Protestants. Labor conflict had an ethnic characteristic. The Protestants got here first, and they spoke English.
But the Democratic Party forgot about these people as it became the party of identity politics. Everyone had an identity to be celebrated—except members of the white working class, who were vilified as bigots. You know, the folks who cling to their Bibles and guns, as Obama once described them. My grandmothers clung as proudly to their prayer books as our Catholic neighbors clung to theirs. Where was the harm?
Liberal Jews have been at the forefront of identity politics—but not for themselves. Like other liberal Democrats, they champion the cause of every identity except those that the Democratic Party was supposed to protect. But in this election cycle, the white working class decided it had been ignored too long. Just look at the electoral maps for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Hanukkah boycotters represent the left wing of the Democratic Party, and just as they have forgotten the working-class stiff, they have also forgotten Israel. Most of these Hanukkah boycotters have stood behind every anti-Israel policy the Obama administration pursued. Indeed, their feckless response to Obama’s anti-Israel policies doesn’t hold a candle to their defiant protestation over a Hanukkah party in a Trump hotel.
New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch opined that any organization that would host a Hanukkah party at a Trump hotel is “utterly out of touch with the majority of American Jews.” This is almost funny coming from a man who runs an organization whose NGO network includes Adalah, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Yesh Din and others that “use their budgets to bombard the U.N., the European Union, journalists, academics and others with false allegations of war crimes and apartheid,” according to NGO Monitor.
I doubt if anyone will miss the boycotters. Maybe they can have their own Hanukkah party and exchange stories about how they knew nobody, absolutely nobody, who voted for Donald Trump.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter @salomoncenter.