It was predictable, I suppose. The president told the Israeli-American Council (IAC) National Summit this past weekend that some American Jews “don’t love Israel enough” — and many of the Jews to whom he was referring immediately accused him of “anti-Semitism.”
Trump: "We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more, I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more. Because you have people that are Jewish people that are great people — they don't love Israel enough." pic.twitter.com/i26RNDbCIO
— The Hill (@thehill) December 8, 2019
Let’s not be silly. Demonization is a way to avoid uncomfortable truths.
To say the least, the IAC provided a Jewish audience. Half of them were Israeli-Americans — the other half equally ardent, predominantly Jewish supporters of Israel. They roared their approval. Clearly, they did not find his comments remotely anti-Semitic.
So who is right? The Israelis, Israeli-Americans, and fervently pro-Israel American Jews in the audience, or the naysayers on Twitter?
If we look at history, the answer is not difficult to discern. Does anyone imagine that anti-Semitism is a new thing? Have we nothing to learn from what Persians, Greeks, Romans, Inquisitors, Cossacks, and yes, Nazis, said about Jews?
Yes, there is a classic and deeply destructive trope about Jewish “disloyalty.” That lie has always and exclusively referred to Jews placing Jewish interests ahead of their host countries and its other citizens.
It isn’t hard to find this slander in evidence today, on both sides of the political aisle. When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) implies that Jews are buying off her congressional colleagues to support Israel, and when so-called “groypers” say that Jewish neocons are instigating American wars for Israel’s benefit, that is precisely the disloyalty smear of which Jews have been accused for several millennia.
But saying that Jews are disloyal to Jewish interests? No anti-Semite has ever voiced such a complaint. It has literally never happened.
So how foolish is it to argue that the guy who moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sent Nikki Haley to confront anti-Semitism at the United Nations, and recognized Jewish rights in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Judea itself, “proved” his anti-Semitism by saying something no anti-Semite in history has ever said … before an applauding Jewish audience?
Let’s look at the reality. Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria, the area dismissively referred to by Jordan as the “West Bank” between 1948 and 1967, for more than 3,300 years. The only exceptions were brief periods after they were driven out: By the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple, by the Crusaders roughly 1000 years ago, … and by the Jordanian military in 1948.
Some American Jews seem to have forgotten this bit of Middle Eastern history. Arab rioters did not massacre the Jews of Hebron in 1929 because there was an “occupation.” And in 1948, the Jordanian army expelled every last Jew from the territory that Jordan illegally conquered.
To claim that it is wrong or illegal for Jews to move back onto land from which they were expelled at gunpoint is a moral inversion — and viciously hostile, to boot. The fact that some of those voicing this bigotry are Jews themselves simply makes it all the more shameful.
The president is proud to replace this hostility with outstanding friendship toward Israel and the Jewish people. As Jews, we should be proud to thank him for that, no matter our disagreements on any other agenda item. Yet some prefer to remain loyal partisans to those who have opposed his every friendly move, also tolerating open anti-Semitism in their midst.
Again, this is not a partisan battle. I have heard the president’s words from countless pro-Israel non-Jews over the past decade. “How can Jews care so little about Israel’s safety? Don’t they care about other Jews?”
That is the uncomfortable truth. According to an American Jewish Committee survey completed earlier this year, nearly 60% of American Jews regard being Jewish as more a matter of ethnicity and culture, rather than a matter of religion. Although the vast majority agree that Jews in America are less secure than we were just a year ago, that college campuses have turned increasingly hostile towards Israel, and even that “a thriving state of Israel is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people” — nonetheless, less than 40% strongly agree that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”
Part of the reason there are still Jews today is because no matter what country mistreated or expelled us, our forebears always prayed towards our one, true homeland. We always wanted to return. That is firmly ensconced in the thrice-daily prayers still voiced by observant Jews in every part of the globe. Clearly, that is a matter of religion, rather than a matter of ethnicity or culture.
Even secular Israelis hold a very different opinion than that of the American Left. The majority of Israeli Jews descend from families that were violently driven from their homes across the Arab world. They know that this had nothing to do with occupation, and everything to do with their being Jews. When American Jews endorse the idea that it is they who are perpetrating ethnic cleansing and occupation, rather than being its victims, these Israeli Jews take this slander personally — and appreciate an American president who supports their rights all the more.
Do not blame the president for simply saying what so many other Jews and non-Jews who value and cherish the right of Jews to live safely in their Holy Land are already thinking.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values.