There was an article in The New York Times on the 20th of January by Bernard-Henry Levy under the title, Jews, be wary of Trump. Good advice to be wary of everyone, but there was something far more sinister than to remind yourself that we all have agendas and no one’s agenda is ever in perfect accord with our own. But this was more. This was to say that Jews should be even more wary of Trump than of others – such as Barack Obama, say – because of their need to preserve their very Jewishness, which trust in Trump will destroy. Here is the principle from which the argument builds and in his own words. I have numbered the passages from 1 to 5 with words from the second repeated in the third. But the fifth is the one that matters.
(1) “There is a law that governs the relations between the Jews and the rest of the world.”
(2) “That law was articulated in one form at the time of the trial of Adolf Eichmann.”
(3) “At the time of the trial of Adolf Eichmann the great Jewish thinker Gershom Scholem faulted Hannah Arendt for falling short of ‘ahavat Israel’ — for showing insufficient ‘love of the Jewish people.’”
(4) “That law says that demonstrations of love count for less, paradoxically, than love itself.”
(5) “It says, to be precise, that gestures of friendship, when they do not come from the bottom of the heart and are not built on sincere love — that is, finally, on a deep and true knowledge of the love object — are gestures that eventually may turn into their opposite.”
His point is this: Jews cannot trust anyone else unless they have a sufficiently deep love of the Jewish people. Since Trump may not have the requisite sufficiently deep love for the Jewish people, “nothing is more important . . . than to maintain a measure of distance”. Levy, or The NYT for that matter, had never said anything like this about Obama, nor suggested that some kind of distance should be maintained. But about Trump, we instead find this:
Like all other American citizens, Jews must respect the president-elect in the forms provided in the Constitution. But they must not fall into the trap of believing in his inconsistent and ultimately double-edged benevolence. They must not forget that, no matter how many times Mr. Trump declares his love for Israel, for Benjamin Netanyahu or anyone else, he will remain a bad shepherd who respects only power, money and the perquisites of his palaces, while caring nothing for miracles, of course, and not a whit for the vocation of study and the cultivation of intelligence that are the light of the Jewish tradition.
Such high-minded idiocy really is hard to take. The ignorance of even the basics of politics are a phenomenon. The reality is as it is and each political actor must attempt to work out what is best to do given the circumstances as they understand it. The question truly is, what is the Israeli government to do in this world where Donald Trump is president and where strategic allies are essential if Israel is to be preserved? Here is the dumbest least appropriate advice I have come across in a very long while:
For the heirs of a people whose endurance over millenniums was because of the miracle of a tradition of thought nourished, rekindled and resown with each generation and through a constantly refined body of commentary, the challenge is clear: Any sacrifice of the calling to intellectual, moral and human excellence; any renunciation of the duty of exceptionalism that — from Rabbi Yehuda to Kafka and from Rashi to Proust and Levinas — has provided the ferment for its almost incomprehensible resistance; any concession, in a word, to Trumpian nihilism would be the most atrocious of capitulations, one tantamount to suicide. [Bolding added]
Any commentator who can see in Trump’s approach a form of nihilism is devoid of understanding not just of politics but of history and philosophy. The suicide it may not seek but would certainly advance if any notice were taken of what Levy has written, is that of the Israeli state. In the long sweep of history, four years, or even eight if it comes to that, will pass before you know it, in the same way that Obama was elected and is now himself gone from power. That Jews and Israel must balance all of these considerations in real time in the midst of a Middle East whose future contours remain as invisible and unforeseeable as is the evolution of American political attitudes. This is the nature of all political calculation. But to advise Jews and Israel not to work with the American president because it would be “the most atrocious of capitulations” to the historical intellectual traditions of the Jews is pure madness. The danger is not in Donald Trump but in following the advice of Bernard-Henry Levy and the NYT. They seem to be among the greatest enemies Israel and the Jewish people must deal with today.