The world has seen a plethora of leaders maintaining their position for many years, but in recent history, only a few of them have been able to reset the course of the world through their everlasting courage.
The following leaders come to mind: Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Donald Trump. The harsh reality is such that despite the fact that these three leaders changed the course of history and made the world a much better and safer place, they failed to win re-election. What sets these few leaders apart from the pack is that they were not career politicians.
Winston Churchill had much sympathy and esteem for the Jews, and the war against Hitler would likely not have been won without him. Unexplainably, Churchill lost his bid for re-election in 1945, at the height of his fame. The new Labor government headed by Clement Attlee toiled hard to thwart the establishment of a Jewish state, even in light of the unfolding horrors of the Holocaust, and all the while Jewish survivors continued to struggle to reach the Promised Land.
Winston Churchill established himself as a great world leader when he served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Churchill’s biography tells us that though he was born into a life of privilege, he dedicated himself to public service. His legacy is a complicated one: He was an idealist and a pragmatist, an orator and a soldier, an advocate of progressive social reforms and an unapologetic elitist. He was born to an aristocratic family at the family’s estate near Oxford, England. He became an officer of the cadet corps as a youth. Later, after finishing school, he began formal training as a military officer. Through his first-hand experiences with conflict as a military officer and war correspondent, Churchill learned one of the key aspects of becoming an effective leader – determination.
Once World War II began, Churchill was selected to lead the United Kingdom due to his courageous ability to stand in as a voice of reason, speaking powerfully for his distraught countrymen. Churchill’s ability to lead his country during this critical period would prove to be extremely inspirational, as his speeches became famous and his countrymen rallied around his message. Furthermore, Churchill understood exactly what needed to be done in order to accomplish his primary goals, at the cost of hardship and sacrifice. Churchill excelled as a leader because he always had a key goal in mind that the broader public could easily understand and appreciate – ensuring global peace and stability during times of international strife.
Just as Churchill predicted, the road to victory in World War II was long and difficult: France fell to the Nazis in June 1940. In July, German fighter planes began three months of devastating air raids on Britain herself.
Though the future looked grim, Churchill did all he could to keep British spirits high. He gave stirring speeches in Parliament and on the radio. He persuaded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide war supplies – ammunition, guns, tanks, planes – to the Allies, a program known as Lend-Lease, before the Americans even entered the war.
Though Churchill was one of the chief architects of the Allied victory, war-weary British voters ousted the Conservatives and their prime minister from office just two months after Germany’s surrender in 1945. This was hard to digest then, and remains so now when looking back at his many accomplishments that saved the world.
Then we have Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev was never heard of until he served as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991 and president of the Soviet Union in 1990–91. His efforts to democratize his country’s political system and decentralize its economy led to the downfall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev ended the Soviet Union’s postwar domination of Eastern Europe and he proceeded to initiate deeper reforms of the Soviet economic and political system.
Under his new policy of glasnost (“openness”), a major cultural thaw took place: Freedoms of expression and of information were significantly expanded, the press and broadcasting were allowed unprecedented candor in their reportage and criticism, and the country’s legacy of Stalinist totalitarian rule was eventually completely repudiated by the government. This was not an easy feat. He encountered serious resistance from party and government bureaucrats who were unwilling to relinquish their control over the nation’s economic life.
Gorbachev applied the same political philosophy to his foreign policy. Gorbachev cultivated warmer relations and trade with the developed nations of both West and East. In 1987, he signed an agreement with US President Ronald Reagan for their two countries to destroy all existing stocks of intermediate-range nuclear-tipped missiles. In 1988-89 he oversaw the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan after their nine-year occupation of that country.
Gorbachev was the single most important initiator of a series of events in late 1989 and 1990 that transformed the political fabric of Europe and marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Throughout 1989, he had seized every opportunity to voice his support for reformist communists in the Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe, and, when communist regimes in those countries collapsed like dominoes later that year, Gorbachev tacitly acquiesced in their fall. As democratically elected, noncommunist governments came to power in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in late 1989-90, Gorbachev agreed to the phased withdrawal of Soviet troops from those countries. By the summer of 1990, he had agreed to the reunification of East with West Germany and even assented to the prospect of that reunified nation’s becoming a member of the Soviet Union’s longtime enemy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
And finally, Gorbachev was also great to the Jewish people. Over one million Jews were able to immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union thanks to his courage, his reforms, and his willingness to dismantle the totalitarian aspects of the Soviet state so embraced by its hardliners.
Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1990. He was rarely heard of thereafter.
And finally, the third remarkable leader is Donald Trump. Against all odds, this businessman and non-politician defeated 16 career politicians in the primary of the Republican Party to then defeat none other than Hillary Clinton in the General Election of 2016. I know of no one who was able to accomplish this beforehand.
Donald Trump made America and the world a much safer place at so many levels and we the Jewish people, despite our differences, must recognize where he stood with us and for us. Agreed, he was paradoxical, spoke differently than all other presidents, and the controversy surrounding the last election brought out his frustrations (Who would even make it to that point after all he was subjected to during four years?), but despite that, I trust that his many accomplishments will outshine his last week in office.
Trump’s treatment of and concern for the State of Israel set a new standard among Republicans and Democrats alike for what it means to be pro-Israel. With him in the White House, there was no undermining, no backstabbing, and no meddling in the internal affairs of an ally. Most importantly, Trump cured the anomaly by which the State of Israel was plagued by subsequent administrations and spineless Presidents, namely recognizing that Israel – like every other country in the world – has a right to choose its capital city and for the USA to recognize same. But Donald Trump did way more than that. He had the courage to back out of the Iran nuclear deal and to eliminate one of its top military leaders, which was crucial for Israel’s survival and deterrence. Moreover, Trump also recognized Israel’s legitimacy over Judea and Samaria. Despite the foregoing and his ban on incoming flights from seven Muslim countries deemed as dangerous for the US Homeland, the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords where four Muslim countries signed peace treaties with Israel. Donald Trump left office leaving the Middle East as a changed region, and this time not at Israel’s expense.
And lastly, Trump stepped up against the United Nations and their incredible bias against Israel. But more importantly, he, unlike his predecessor, did not use the venue of the UN to “throw Israel to the dogs.”
Let’s set Israel aside for a moment. Donald Trump fought for America and personally sacrificed tremendously. The press was against him from day one because he was an outsider, but nonetheless no one can argue against the fact that every day he did what is best for America and the free world.
We as Jews of all types and political affiliations living here in America may never forget that Trump also fought against anti-Semitism, unlike any of his predecessors. President Trump signed an executive order that made Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act apply to anti-Semitic acts. The executive order took indirect aim at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that has generated intense controversy on college campuses. The BDS movement made many Jewish students increasingly unsafe and feeling threatened on US college campuses. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs and activities – such as colleges and universities – that receive federal funding. The executive order has extended the ban to discrimination based on anti-Semitism. Moreover, the language in the executive order makes it clear that those charged with enforcing Title VI consider the definition of anti-Semitism as the one adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which states: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The above alone puts the case to rest that President Trump is going to go down in history as the most philo-Semitic US president. Those amongst us who were always quick to express their low opinion of President Trump and labeled him anti-Semitic or a Nazi sympathizer should think twice. They never lived under a regime hostile to Jews.
The above three leaders accomplished more than what was expected for them and kept their promises. History will never judge them based on their one-term service. Maybe it is upon us to examine if we deserved them, to serve us longer.
Donald, thank you; you will be missed.
Jacques R. Rothschild was born in Belgium and served as a unit commander in the IDF paratroopers. He graduated in Mathematics, Statistics, and International Affairs from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives currently with his family in New York City where he works as an advisor to the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Kuwait. He also writes and speaks publicly about current affairs and causes for which he cares deeply.