by Alan Elsner
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made most American Jewish leaders, both secular and religious, deeply uncomfortable during his campaign for the White House. However, until now, many have stayed publicly silent on his candidacy.
Trump’s intemperate talk against Muslims, women, immigrants, bereaved military families and others, as well as his campaign’s use of an anti-Semitic image, have induced widespread disgust — but have not moved organizations and leaders who still feel they have an obligation to stay publicly neutral in the campaign.
But when Trump this week incited gun owners to rise up and take direct action against Hillary Clinton and/or her future judicial nominees, he crossed a final line. In the face of this new recklessness, there should no longer be an excuse to remain silent. We must ensure that Trump is not elected president.
For Jews especially, it is time for our spiritual and communal leaders to speak up. There is an eerie similarity, as noted by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, between the incitement that preceded the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the incitement now being practiced by Trump.
Privately, I don’t doubt that most of our leaders are appalled by Trump and what he represents. But publicly, many of our leading organizations, institutions and spiritual leaders, still seem to feel that they must “remain neutral.” That has to end now. By staying silent, we are giving our silent assent to a candidate’s whose election would have frightening consequences at home and abroad. If anything, God forbid, should happen to Hillary Clinton, Trump will be indirectly responsible — but so will anyone who stayed silent in the face of this provocation.
There is no shortage of Jewish scripture and rabbinical thought for declaring that what Trump represents is the antithesis of what we as Jews believe. To give just one example, the Book of Proverbs (Chap 12:18) tells us that “the words of the reckless pierce like swords but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Words have real consequences. They have the power to wreak violence and provide comfort.
Of the 43 sins listed in the Al Cheit confession recited on Yom Kippur, no fewer than 11 are sins committed through speech. The Talmud further instructs us that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse.
There is danger in Trump’s words as well as his silence. He, more than any candidate in recent memory, has misused his tongue. He’s misused it to spout racist invective against Muslim and Hispanic Americans and to mock the disabled. He’s refused to use it to speak out against the white supremacists flocking to his campaign. He’s created and encouraged an atmosphere of violence and thuggery around his campaign. This week, he blamed “Barack Hussein Obama” for creating ISIS — a clear dog whistle for his followers.
Given all Trump has said and not said, it is difficult to excuse the religious and secular leaders who continue to remain silent. But when he crossed the line to advocating violence, it became impossible. Trump is a danger to American democracy. Our silence is not an option.
Alan Elsner is the Special Advisor to the President of J Street