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After AIPAC: The 2016 Election and Our Role

After AIPAC: The 2016 Election and Our Role

American flag and podium

When news surfaced that Donald Trump would appear at AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, American Jews found themselves at the center of an election season fraught with controversy. Our Movement’s leaders and members responded powerfully to the possibility of a candidate known for his appeals to bigotry being welcomed before the conference’s large audience.

This challenge only intensified on when Mr. Trump took the stage on Monday evening: some conference attendees, including URJ Board Chair Daryl Messinger and many of our NFTY leaders, chose to remain in the room while Mr. Trump was speaking in order to engage directly with the candidate. Others, including URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, ARZA President Rabbi Josh Weinberg and HUC-JIR President Rabbi Aaron Panken were not present, watching the speech on the screens outside the arena and studying Jewish texts on leadership and human dignity. During his remarks, Mr. Trump was warmly received by many of the 18,000 conference attendees, receiving applause, cheering, laughter and multiple standing ovations. Many of us were disappointed by this enthusiastic response, as it seemed to ignore the appeals to bigotry that have been central to Mr. Trump’s campaign, which he notably did not employ when speaking at AIPAC. Some took no issue with Mr. Trump’s reception, while others are still processing Monday’s events.

These events have called us all to grapple with deep questions concerning our role as a Jewish community in this election season. What do we make of the disappointment, confusion and frustration we may feel surrounding the response to Mr. Trump’s speech? And, beyond just this election season, how do we effectively speak up against divisive rhetoric? But, while in it, what can we do to make sure that this election season is marked not by fear and intolerance, but by compassion and inclusivity?

We are still searching for answers to these questions, but one thing is clear: our whole community has a role to play. Through our continued engagement as a Movement, in all of its remarkable diversity, we can contend with these issues and find a way forward that reflects our most cherished values and empowers each and every one of us. With that in mind, we want to be sure everyone has the opportunity to sample the diversity of reactions and views offered by those in our Movement both before and after Mr. Trump’s speech.

Reactions to Mr. Trump’s invitation in the days leading up to the AIPAC Policy Conference:

Reactions to Mr. Trump’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference:

Also be sure to make use of our text study, “Holding Leaders Accountable: Framing Moral Imperatives.” These are the texts Reform Movement leaders studied during Mr. Trump’s speech, and they remain relevant as we ponder our role in the 2016 election.

Finally, read Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner’s letter urgently requesting a meeting between Mr. Trump and Reform leaders to address our concerns with his campaign. We are in conversations with the campaign regarding this request, and hope this can be one of many opportunities to make our voices heard going forward.

Jacob Kraus is the campaign organizer at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, leading the Reform Movement’s Urgency of Now campaigns for criminal justice reform and immigrant justice. Based at the Union for Reform Judaism offices in New York City, Jacob grew up in Cincinnati, OH, where his family is affiliated with Rockdale Temple. He is a 2015 graduate of Macalester College.

Jacob Kraus

Published: 3/24/2016