What would Ben-Gurion say?
For those who are gratified that the new administration is making a point of showing renewed support for Israel but worried that President Donald Trump is threatening the basics of democracy at home, consider the dilemma David Ben-Gurion faced in 1939.
As the leader of the Jewish community of pre-Israel Palestine, Ben-Gurion saw Hitler launch World War II, with a commitment to eradicate European Jewry. It was also the year Great Britain issued a White Paper policy to severely limit Jewish immigration to Palestine for five years, and then ban immigration entirely. This was seen as a death blow to efforts to free European Jews from the Nazis. But England’s armies were desperately needed to defeat Hitler.
In response, Ben-Gurion issued this famous statement: “We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war.”
Tragically, Ben-Gurion and the Jews of Palestine were helpless on both fronts. But the concept of supporting certain positions of a government while opposing others is eminently reasonable, particularly at a time when so many Americans view Trump as either a savior or devil.
David Suissa, in a brave column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, suggests that for all of the president’s “reckless and cruel behavior” and “offensive style,” his “forceful approach may spook and deter evil regimes like Iran or shake up the hypocrites at the United Nations or even help create humanitarian safety zones in Syria. If such success happens, will we discount it because it came from a man we abhor?”
As Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week, proclaiming his support for the Jewish state, the president deserves commendation for his commitment to restore the luster to the bruised Washington-Jerusalem relationship.
But the president’s autocratic tendencies — like targeting the mainstream press and judicial process at the outset of his term, and issuing an executive order to ban immigration — are deeply disturbing. They can’t be dismissed by suggesting his critics are overstating the case in worrying about the future of our system of government, with its checks and balances.
What we’re left with is a situation that demands thoughtfulness, strategy, and nuance. Opposing Trump for who he is, regardless of what he does, is as unhelpful as supporting him for being the Washington outsider eager to shake up, if not dismantle, the federal government.
Perhaps it’s time we take a lesson from Ben-Gurion.