The Talmud (Yoma 22b-23a) poses a challenge to the man of virtue, fighting for noble causes, who is belittled by obstructionist forces. On the one hand, if he does not avenge the honor of his mission “like a snake,” he will be trodden underfoot, unworthy of serious consideration as a visionary. On the other hand, the Bible does not permit acts specifically motivated by personal revenge. How to solve this dilemma?
Two conditions are imposed. One, he should let his surrogates prosecute the grievance, rather than doing it himself. Two, the method employed should not be vicious or hurtful.
It becomes clear upon closer examination that the most valid form of avenging the honor of the cause is by promoting that very honor in a way that shows up the pettiness of that sullying skeptic.
Indeed the Hasidic tradition sees the roots of this notion in the phrase (Psalms 94:1): “God of Vengeance, appear!” The founder of Hasidism, Israel Baal-Shemtov, explained that God’s ideal form of vengeance for His honor is not through punishment but through revelation, by “appearing,” demonstrating His honor until the one who doubted Him is ashamed.
This week we witnessed this approach artfully practiced by Donald J. Trump against AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee), the powerful lobby ostensibly dedicated to supporting the State of Israel. When Trump spoke at AIPAC’s annual gathering in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, his message backing Israel and condemning Palestinian incitement roused the crowd of sixteen thousand to their feet. He concluded by proudly announcing that his third “beautiful” Jewish grandchild was expected any day.
(Both Presidential candidates have daughters who married Jews. Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism and is a practicing Orthodox Jew who keeps a kosher home and observes the Sabbath and holidays. Chelsea Clinton, by contrast, was married in a multidenominational ceremony amid a muddled mishmash of symbols that managed to simultaneously cheapen both Judaism and Christianity.)
So what’s not to like?
Nope, the AIPAC machers were miffed. Trump had included a throwaway line to the effect that it was a relief for Israel that Obama would soon be out of office — “Yay!” — eliciting lusty applause from the crowd. Intolerable! So the very next day AIPAC repudiated its own guest and disavowed Trump’s remarks. The organization apologized to Obama for providing a platform for such effrontery. Fortunately Trump came by plane so their attempt to throw him under the bus failed. But much as we try to ignore stupidity, it still smarts.
Fast forward to this week in Cleveland, where Republicans have hied to crown Donald Trump. The main activities for delegates are to spot LeBron James and to avoid John Kasich. While awaiting the main event next week, they are hammering together the planks of the party’s platform. The last two elections the platforms were fitted with trap doors to turn them into gallows, but this time there is an effort afoot to review some of those stands and see if we can build a reviewing stand instead.
Mister Trump took an especial interest in the plank about Israel. He sent his two closest advisers on Israel, attorneys Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman. They were determined to avoid the weasely language AIPAC had foisted on the hapless 2012 team, calling for a “two-state solution.” After all, the first Republican to accept the two-state solution was George W. Bush on June 24, 2002, and he had predicated his stance on several preconditions which he outlined in a letter.
Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. Palestinians must undertake a comprehensive and fundamental political reform that includes a strong parliamentary democracy…
Fourteen years later we have none of the above.
So Trump’s people teamed up with the great Republican lovers of Israel, and instituted language crafted in consultation with Iron Dome Coalition, headed by Jeffrey Ballabon, a contributor to The American Spectator. Gone is any mention of a two-state solution. The BDS movement is identified as anti-Semitic. Support for Israel is deemed an expression of Americanism. As Ballabon points out, this was a large dose of truth, so naturally politicians will not enjoy swallowing it down. But this is what distinguishes the Trump candidacy. Politics is becoming more reality, less show.
AIPAC prefers to maintain the fiction that Democrats are as supportive of Israel as Republicans. This creates a perverse incentive to hold back the Republicans less they show a greater enthusiasm than Democrats. But we all know that the left wing around the world has feted the Palestinians while roasting the Israelis, and American Democrats will never stray too far from the leftist herd. It is time to force Democrats to meet a higher bar rather than engage in the unseemly exercise of Jews trying to cool the Republican ardor for Israel.
And so Trump has his revenge, in exactly the appropriate manner. No blustery putdowns, no petulant pejoratives. He took revenge on AIPAC by showing Israel that it will be safer relying on the grandfather of Theodore James Kushner.