Beirut, Paris, San Bernardino, Ankara, Brussels. We can’t escape terrorism, but we can decide how to deal with it. In this year’s election, we face a choice between two ways of responding. One is tribalism. The other is values.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton presented these alternatives in their remarks on Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the biggest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. Its membership is overwhelmingly Jewish, and that’s the angle Trump chose to play. He pointed out, as he has in debates and in a previous speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, that his daughter married a Jew and converted. He kvelled over his Jewish grandkids. Trump often mentions the “massive contributions” he has made to Israel and to Jewish organizations, the awards he has received in thanks, and a pro-Israel parade in which he served as grand marshal. He says his father was a big Israel backer, too. Jews are his people. It’s a family thing.
This pitch works not just on many Jews, but also on conservative Christians who think of Israel as, in Trump’s words, a “cultural brother.” As Ben Carson put it last month: “We have a Judeo-Christian foundation, and the last thing we need to do is to reject Israel. … It’s like when you have a child. You know, you want to be fair to all the children around, but you have a special attention for your own child.”
From this point of view, outreach to other faiths is treachery. Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance, says President Obama “betrayed Israel, because he believes that if we create separation from Israel, it will help our relations in the Islamic world.” Trump, too, casts Obama as disloyal. “Radical Islamic terrorism,” the GOP front-runner complained in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We have a president who refuses to use the term. He refuses to say it. There’s something going on with him that we don’t know about.”
In a question-and-answer session at the RJC, Trump was asked whether Clinton was “a friend of Israel.” He replied that she “doesn’t have the strength” to help the Jewish state. Israel is up against “dirty fighters,” Trump explained. To defeat that enemy, he argued, “We need tough. We need Gen. George Patton. We need Gen. MacArthur.” He praised Patton as a “vicious, horrible, brilliant” general and pledged to “knock the crap out of” the enemy. When tribalism is your only guide, reluctance to use extreme measures is weakness.
Clinton, in her speech to AIPAC, offered a different approach. She described a U.S.-Israeli friendship based on “shared democratic values,” not kinship. “We are both nations built by immigrants and exiles seeking to live and worship in freedom—nations built on principles of equality, tolerance, and pluralism,” she argued. Clinton cited Israel’s free-wheeling political debates and its gay pride parade. She concluded: “Let’s defend the shared values that already make America and Israel great.”
In a shared-values framework, foreign peoples and faith traditions aren’t necessarily your enemies. They can be objects of empathy. Clinton drew an analogy between Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and an infamous U.S. exclusion of Jewish refugees: “We remember the nearly 1,000 Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry in 1939 and sent back to Europe. … If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him.”
In a shared-values framework, everyone, including you and your cultural brother, has to meet moral standards. “Today, Americans and Israelis face currents of intolerance and extremism that threaten the moral foundations of our societies,” Clinton warned. Without using Trump’s name, she condemned his behavior: “encouraging violence, playing coy with white supremacists, calling for 12 million immigrants to be rounded up and deported, demanding we turn away refugees because of their religion, and proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.”
The values approach requires tough love. If we support Israel for its democracy, not for its Judaism, we have to speak up when it threatens to become undemocratic. A two-state solution is “the only way to guarantee Israel’s long-term survival as a strong Jewish and democratic state,” Clinton told AIPAC. To facilitate peace, she added, “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements.” She portrayed outreach to the Palestinians as strength, not weakness: “America needs an Israel strong enough to deter and defend against its enemies, strong enough to work with us to tackle shared challenges, and strong enough to take bold steps in the pursuit of peace.”
The argument against a foreign policy of shared values is that it can blind you to personal loyalty and the importance of alliances. That’s what Trump, in his remarks to AIPAC, said of Obama: “He constantly applies pressure to our friends and rewards our enemies.” But a foreign policy of tribalism carries a more insidious risk: The real enemy is barbarism, and it can infiltrate your soul.
Trump is a chilling illustration of this corruption. He says we should relax our human rights protections and military ethics “so that we can better compete with a vicious group of animals.” He advocates retributive torture and the deliberate targeting of family members of terrorists. To defeat religious conflict, he would ban a particular religion. To punish protesters at his rallies, he encourages violence against them.
The barbarism infection has spread well beyond Trump. At AIPAC, he denounced Iran for “offering Palestinians $7,000 per terror attack and $30,000 for every Palestinian terrorist’s home that’s been destroyed—a deplorable, deplorable situation.” Thousands of well-dressed people applauded this line, apparently oblivious to—or untroubled by—the distinction between subsidizing terrorism and compensating families whose homes are destroyed by Israel when a family member is arrested on a terrorism charge. Israel’s demolition policy is explicitly based on collective punishment: the idea that a potential terrorist “should know that his criminal acts will not only hurt him, but are apt to cause great suffering to his family.” It is Trumpism in practice.
In France, Belgium, Israel, and California, you can see the war of tribes: Muslim terrorists are targeting and killing non-Muslim Westerners. But you can also see the war of values: Some of us are choosing Clinton’s ethics, and some are choosing Trump’s. Look at the survey of Israelis released by the Pew Research Center two weeks ago. More than three-quarters of Israel’s religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that halakha, the Jewish counterpart to Sharia, should be state law. Three-quarters believe that if halakha conflicts with “democratic principles,” the country should choose halakha. Nearly two-thirds believe that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.”
Polls taken in Israel by the Israel Democracy Institute show how tribalism has eroded Jewish values. Thirty-six percent of Israeli Jews, including a majority of Jews who vote for the two major ultra-Orthodox parties, agree that “the interrogation of Jews suspected of terror attacks should be done with less harsh methods than those used in interrogating Palestinians suspected of terror attacks.” Thirty percent, including most Jews who vote for the ultra-Orthodox parties, agree that “the punishment the court imposes on Jews found guilty of terror attacks against Palestinians should be lighter than the punishment it imposes on Palestinians found guilty of terror attacks against Jews.” Eighty percent of Israeli Jews agree that “the home of the family of a Palestinian who has murdered Jews for nationalistic reasons should be destroyed,” but only 41 percent agree that “the home of the family of a Jew who has murdered Palestinians for nationalistic reasons should be destroyed.” Fifty-three percent affirm that “any Palestinian who has perpetrated a terror attack against Jews should be killed on the spot, even if he has been apprehended and no longer poses a threat.”
This erosion of values isn’t a Jewish disease, any more than terrorism is inherently a Muslim disease. It can happen to any of us. Israel simply faces more terrorism than the United States does, and therefore greater pressure on its morals and laws. It’s a warning of where we’re headed. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken a little more than a year ago, 58 percent of Americans said that “torture of suspected terrorists” was often or sometimes justified. One of every three conservative Republicans said torture was often justified. And in an ABC/Post poll taken earlier this month, one-third of Americans, including a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, endorsed “a ban on Muslims entering the United States.”
To protect your values, you have to remember why your allies are your allies. “America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival,” Clinton told AIPAC. “We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent.” Ultimately, that’s not a commitment to Israel. It’s a commitment to the principle of innocence. Israel has to live up to that principle, and so do we.
The problem with Trump, Clinton explained, is that he thinks “everything’s negotiable.” She’s right about that. But Trump’s flaw isn’t an indifference to Israel. It’s an indifference to rules. Toward the end of her remarks, Clinton quoted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” That kind of neutrality—moral neutrality—is the most dangerous of all. “Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry,” she concluded.
It’s hard to remember that warning as we watch the carnage in Brussels. So Clinton, in a statement on Tuesday morning, repeated it. “These terrorists seek to undermine the democratic values that are the foundation of our alliance and our way of life,” she declared. “But they will never succeed.” Unless we surrender.