The news on Wednesday afternoon that President Donald Trump had commuted the utterly unjust and downright cruel 27-year sentence of Shalom Rubashkin followed the president’s warning to United Nations member states that those who vote against America’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be punished by a reduction in American foreign aid.
At first glance, these are issues that primarily affect the Jewish community. Rubashkin was the largest provider of kosher meat in America; and Jerusalem is the 3000-year-old central city of the Jewish people, founded by King David himself. But in truth these are universal stories that affect all people, with the Jews merely serving as canaries-in-the-coal-mine.
First, Rubashkin. A Hassidic Jewish father of 10 children, he was a significant philanthropist and communal activist noted for his fair and reasonable prices to make kosher meat more affordable and available throughout the United States. But when he was found guilty of financial fraud, this first-time, non-violent offender was essentially given a draconian life sentence — much longer even than Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron and L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco.
To give you an idea of just unjust Rubashkin’s sentence was, Mark Turkcan, the president of First Bank Mortgage of St. Louis, misapplied $35 million in loans, an amount similar to the Rubashkin charges, and was sentenced to one year and a day in prison. Sholom Rubashkin, however, was sentenced to twenty-seven years, scheduled for release at the age of seventy-four in 2033.
In the fall of 2012 the Supreme Court — ignoring six amicus briefs urging the court to review the case, including 86 former federal judges and Department of Justice officials, two FBI directors, four Deputy Attorneys General and one Solicitor General — formally declined to hear Rubashkin’s appeal.
Many alleged that antisemitism motivated the unbelievable sentence, and for years Rubashkin’s horrible treatment was a terrible wound in the Orthodox Jewish community. But with the stroke of a pen, and citing vast bipartisan congressional and legal support, President Trump commuted the sentence without pardoning Rubashkin, making him a free man after more than eight years served. There was jubilation in the streets of Monsey, Crown Heights, and Boro Park, where Orthodox Jews gave thanks to President Trump for correcting a monstrous injustice and allowing justice to be served.
Then there is Jerusalem. Why is it that Israel alone is singled out to have its capital not recognized by the nations of the world? Who is Sweden, South Africa, or Thailand to tell Israel where it’s capital should be? Imagine the inanity of France placing its Embassy in St. Petersburg rather than Moscow because it has decided that it knew better than the Russians where their government center should be.
Congress already voted in 1995 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but strangely provided a security waiver to presidents to delay the move. Every president since has campaigned on the promise to move the embassy and then broken his promise. That is, until Donald Trump.
And why should any of this matter to non-Jews? Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr., the greatest American of the twentieth century, famously said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If a Hassidic Jew with a long beard and large brood can be treated differently by the justice system than polished Wall Street executives who took their companies to the cleaners, then all of us are at risk.
And if a tiny Middle Eastern country, which is daily threatened with annihilation by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, can lose the support of the international community – which daily assails its reputation even as it remains the only democracy in the Middle East – then who knows which country is next.
I’m well aware of how many people hate Donald Trump. Many are friends of mine. They speak to me of his crassness and behavior which, they say, is an affront to the presidency and diminishes the office. Many of them are Jewish.
I wonder, however, if they likewise acknowledge one of the great friends the Jewish people have had in the Oval Office. Do they acknowledge that since taking office Trump and Nikki Haley have taken on the United Nations over Israel? That this international body, long distinguished as a place that practiced the foulest anti-Israel bias and blatant antisemitism, now has as its champion the most powerful nation on earth?
Who would have believed that just one year after Barack Obama and Samantha Power allowed Israel to be condemned by Resolution 2334 for building condominiums in Shiloh, a new President would actually warn American allies that if they turned on Israel and condemned America’s proclamation on Jerusalem, they would be punished by diminished support from the United States?
Obama and Power dishonored themselves and brought shame to America by choosing to condemn Israeli settlements while the city of Aleppo was being bombed to smithereens and Arab children were being murdered before the eyes of a world that could not see their suffering because they were blinded by irrational hatred of Israel.
Donald Trump is not perfect and I have offered my share of criticism. But to overlook the incredible friendship he continues to show Israel and Jewish people is to violate the core Jewish principle of gratitude. And I, for one, am grateful that in this era of Trumpian foreign policy, Israel is no longer standing alone.