Sharansky, Oren join condemnation of Trump’s comments on Muslims

‘We should not let ourselves turn our legitimate fears into hatred of the other,’ says Jewish Agency chairman

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall meeting on a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, November 19, 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall meeting on a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, November 19, 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

The wave of condemnation of Donald Trump for his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US spread to Israel on Tuesday, as several figures across the political spectrum denounced the American presidential hopeful’s comments.

Among those criticizing the remarks were ambassador-turned-lawmaker Michael Oren and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.

On Monday, Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, caused uproar when he demanded a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

His comments were widely condemned both by US politicians, including his Republican rivals, and by virtually all Jewish groups in America. Israeli officials mostly kept mum, citing the need to stay out of internal US politics.

But those who spoke out condemned Trump’s incendiary proposal, while at the same time stressing the need to step up the fight against terrorism perpetrated by Muslims.

“I am very concerned by the fact that while there are more and more terrorist attacks carried out extreme Islamists, there are people who are unwilling to recognize this or to call it by its name. And if you’re not ready to call it by its name how can you fight it?” Sharansky told The Times of Israel.

“On the other hand, we should not permit ourselves to turn our legitimate fears and threats and challenges of terror into hatred of the other, into dismissing whole national or religious groups of people. That’s why extreme remarks in one or another way are very dangerous.”

Oren, the American-born former Israeli ambassador to the US, pointed to the Jewish people’s historical experience. “We Jews, who have been the victims of gross and hostile generalizations throughout our history, should be first out there to condemn it,” he said, referring to Trump’s comments.

Michael Oren. (Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)
MK Michael Oren (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“While it’s very important that we acknowledge the fact that there is an extremist form of Islam that wants to destroy Israel and Western civilization, it is equally important that we make every effort not incriminate all Muslims. And that it’s precisely Israel that must stand up and defend not only its own peaceful Muslim population, but the countless millions of Muslims who abhor terror and who are the first victims of terror.”

During his time as ambassador in Washington, Oren hosted Muslim leaders for an iftar dinner to break the fast of Ramadan. “One of the reasons I did that was to fight against Islamophobia,” the freshman lawmaker from the centrist Kulanu party said.

Support for Israel in the US remains very high, Oren continued, saying that there are numerous reasons for this, such as shared democratic values and strategic interests. However, “Part of it, I always acknowledged, came from a sense of Islamophobia. And that is the part that I’m willing to do without. I don’t want people to love Israel because they don’t like Muslims.”

“Trump’s comments are diametrically opposed to everything American stands for. And the statement should be rightly condemned by all,” said Kory Bardash, co-chairman of Republicans in Israel. “I was happy to see that the Republican leadership in the US did condemn it. There is room for a legitimate debate about immigration policy, but there’s no apology for what Trump said.”

Meeting Netanyahu

Despite their criticism for his anti-Muslim proposal, Israelis are not calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shun the controversial politician during his upcoming visit to Israel.

Trump last week announced that he intends to come to Israel “very soon” and that he plans to meet Netanyahu, whom he has endorsed in the past.

Israel has “a longstanding tradition of host candidates from both parties,” Oren said, citing visits by Barack Obama in 2008 and by Mitt Romney in 2012. “At the same time,” he added, “it’s important for leaders of a country close to 20 percent of whose population is Muslim to stand up and say that we distinguish between radical violent Islam and the faith that inspires million not just here but internationally.”

Even Bardash, the co-chair of the Israeli branch of the Republican Party, seemed to understand Netanyahu’s predicament when weighing whether to embrace a man espousing blatantly racist policies. “It’s for Netanyahu to determine who is appropriate for him to meet with in his capacity of prime minister. I can’t speak for the Israeli government,” he said.

“If Netanyahu meets with Trump it should not be perceived as an endorsement of the man or his policies, and that should be made clear. But there is a tradition of meeting with leading candidates, and proper protocol should be followed in this case as well.”

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