Of the many hundreds of letters, emails, comments and postings reacting to our Oct. 14 endorsement of Hillary Clinton, for me the most memorable one read simply: “If I subscribed, I would cancel.”
The quintessential Jewish response.
More seriously, though, while we are all bombarded with numbers from election polls and percentages each day, I found that reading actual comments from our readers underscored — in the most bracing, vivid way — the deep divisions within our community when it comes to assessing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Her supporters praised her as “brilliant,” “experienced,” “compassionate” and “committed to healing” the country. Critics described her as “a modern day Evita,” “despicable,” “corrupt,” and as the woman who “kissed Arafat, gave Iran money and weapons to kill Jews, and equate Israel’s actions to terror.”
Fans of Trump sometimes acknowledged his abrasive behavior, but focused on his calls for change. “He’s not running for Boy Scout,” one man commented, noting that many presidents, including FDR, JFK and LBJ, had extramarital affairs. “He’s offensive, but his platform is intelligent and informed,” he said.
The Republican candidate was also praised for his up front support of Israel and condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal. “Orthodox Jews overwhelmingly support Trump because he supports school vouchers, Israel, and hopeful change for the poor in inner cities,” one volunteer for the candidate wrote. Another, no doubt speaking for many, asserted: “We want a change, and any change is better than Clinton and Obama.”
Maybe those rationales help explain why Trump is receiving more support from the Orthodox community than any other Jewish segment. Like many evangelical Christians who favor the Republican candidate despite his history of vulgar behavior and language, moral flaws and lack of religious observance, the critical issue for many Jews of deep faith may be less about his following the commandments than about believing his anti-establishment policies are admirable, even if his personal behavior isn’t.
Trump critics spoke of their fear of his presidency. “I liken him to Pharaoh, with less humility,” one reader wrote. Said another: “I have come to believe that Donald Trump will always do what is best for Donald Trump,” reasoning that if he could “throw” his loyal running mate, Mike Pence, “under the bus,” he could “do the same to Israel.”
The Jewish Week noted that the editorial decision, leading to our first endorsement, was undertaken because we felt the upcoming election is “not just about politics. It’s about character, competence and compassion” as well as American and Jewish values.
Many praised us for being “courageous” in the face of communal and political pressure. “Thank you for your sanity embedded in Jewish wisdom,” one woman wrote. Others told us in no uncertain terms that we were at best naïve:“Jews never learn from mistakes”and at worst, “delusional” and even “anti-Semitic – take the ‘Jewish’ out of your [paper’s] name.”
More than a dozen readers called to cancel their subscriptions, and others indicated in their written comments that they have had enough of us. One man told us where to “shove” our endorsement, and a woman wrote: “Good bye, Jewish Week.”
One man asked: “Is this a liberal newspaper?”
How to respond? We strive to be a voice of reason in the community, a bridge between the increasingly distant segments of left and right. But those definitions are fluid and subjective, and we are routinely criticized for leaning too far toward “the other side.”
One reader commented: “The Jewish Week finally endorses, and chooses an anti-Semite.” Another: “The Jewish Week is out of touch. Hillary Clinton should be in jail. She’s not pro-Israel, and Trump is not a racist.” But then there was: “I am so proud of your stance,” and, “Israel is of vital importance to us all; however, civility, morality, experience, and intelligence trump all else.”
And so it goes. Overall, a significant majority of the comments supported our decision, some eloquently expressed gratitude for it. But many of the ones that took issue with us were passionately opposed. More than disappointed, they were angry, and accusatory of our motives, like suggesting we were controlled by the Clinton campaign or George Soros.
Not surprisingly, our staking a position in such a uniquely nasty election campaign stirred — and reflected — the deep emotions roiling the Jewish community, and our society at large. The choices are stark, levels of frustration and fear are high, and the consequences could not be more serious. Many of us can’t wait for the election to be over with already.
But what follows — a time of healing or deeper division — remains to be seen.