Dear President Trump:
I write this letter to you as a daughter of a Cuban immigrant and a daughter of a naval officer who served in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. I am also an American Jew. The growing anti-Semitism in this country and around the world, and your recent comments about Jewish “disloyalty” if we vote for Democrats deeply trouble me. In our country alone, hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions have risen by almost 60 percent in the last year.
In this centennial year of my late and very patriotic father’s birth, I believe that this statistic, and your assertion would have devastated him. My father was not a religious man; he was what is typically described as a cultural Jew. Born in Connecticut in 1919, and a 1940 Yale graduate, as a Jew he kept his head down much of the time. He experienced anti-Semitism in this country while also taking part in the best of what it has to offer in education, culture and the freedoms that they afforded him. He was also very much a man of the 20th century. The Holocaust deeply affected him. Although I was born a number of years after the Second World War, I saw glimpses of his five-year tenure in the navy. He was a disciplined man who did pushups every morning. He had tears in his eyes whenever he heard our national anthem.
My father was a very private man who believed in the power and the right of the secret ballot as integral to our democracy. He never told a soul for whom he voted. He was old enough to vote for Roosevelt but would neither confirm nor deny if he cast his ballot for our 32nd president. He simply answered me with a wry smile when I asked. He followed his heart and married my immigrant mother at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, actively assisting her family to come to his beloved United States. That might resonate with you.
My mother, on the other hand, was a Kennedy Democrat. After she arrived from Cuba, Fidel Castro descended on Havana. She left her home to attend university and partake in American democracy. This was the beginning of the 1960s and for my mother the Kennedys represented vibrancy, youth, freedom and the dream of Camelot. In the early 1970s she and my father were involved in Latinx social justice issues in Hartford, Connecticut.
All this to say Mr. President, is that people and their politics are complicated. This especially applies to people with whom we disagree. I am firmly opposed to the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement (BDS) that has been orchestrated against Israel. I love Israel, warts and all, and I believe in her right to exist. But I also affirm Representatives Omar and Tlaib’s right to free speech. I wish you had not obstructed their trip to Israel. Among the ways for them to understand and appreciate the country is to see it in person. During a visit they might have encountered some of the 500 organizations on the ground there actively working for peace in Israel and Palestine. Perhaps the congresswomen would have been moved when they observed how thin the Green Line is.
Which brings me back to your latest observation that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” As I understand it, at the time you made that statement you were talking to the press in the Oval Office about Israel, and how you persuaded the Jewish State to bar Representatives Omar and Tlaib’s entry to the country. What you might have thought was defending Israel and the Jewish people actually called up the dangerous and horrendous anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.”
Mr. President, we live in a democracy that protects all points of view. Some of those views are upsetting, some are even heinous. One of the pillars of our great country is everyone’s right to free speech. However, please bear in mind that free speech that is hateful and inciting does not fall under this rubric. Think of the rhetoric of men—and they have all been white American men—responsible for mass shootings in these last years. Any one who has taken an eighth grade civics class understands the distinction.
You are the president of all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and anyone who checks off the “other” box. One of the privileges of being an American is the right to disagree openly with our government, and directly with you, without fear of being maligned or persecuted. Again, please note that these are bedrock American rights.
I am a proud American, Latinx, and Jew,. As the great American poet Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.” We all do. To that end, I hope and pray you will come to welcome and respect all of our citizens, residents and immigrants.