Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington , DC on Feb. 15, 2017 with an Israeli flag in the background.
(photo credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP)
Bomb threats at dozens of JCCs across the US, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and other antisemitic incidents will not trigger a mass immigration of American Jewry to Israel any time soon.
Anyone who says otherwise, such as opposition leader Isaac Herzog, has a fundamental misunderstanding of the deep ties connecting American Jews to the “Goldene Medina.” They also underestimate the extent of the pushback within American society to any and all forms of antisemitism.
But this does not mean that enough is being done by the Trump administration to combat all forms of bigotry, racism and xenophobia. Israel, a refuge to Jews worldwide who face persecution, should also be an advocate for Diaspora Jews who have no intention of leaving their host countries for the promised land.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government leaders, who were quick to denounce expressions of antisemitism in France – and call on French Jewry to come to Israel – have been mostly on the wave of bomb threats and cemetery desecrations in the US.
Herzog might have been wrong about his prediction that American Jews would be soon packing their bags for Israel. But he was right to note Wednesday during a Jewish People Policy Institute Conference that some Israeli and Jewish leaders were walking on thin ice, not wanting to embarrass the American administration.
We would go one step further and say that some Israelis and US Jews have become sycophants and apologists for President Donald Trump simply because of his positions on the Iran nuclear deal and on settlement policy in Judea and Samaria.
It is refreshing to see a US president assert what Israel has been arguing for years – that settlements are not the source of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but Palestinian incitement and intransigence. It is also reassuring to see the Trump administration take a stronger position against Iranian belligerence.
But support for Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Iran and the Palestinians should not be confused with philosemitism, just as criticism of Israeli policies should not be conflated with antisemitism. American Jews are often attacked not because they support Israel, but because they are pro-immigration and overwhelmingly liberal.
After remaining silent for weeks, Trump finally spoke out against the rise in antisemitic incidents in the US. He should be commended for doing so. Last week in an interview with NBC News, he said, “antisemitism is horrible and it’s gonna stop and it’s got to stop.” And in this week’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Trump said that “recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hatred and evil in all its forms.”
This is a clear improvement on previous responses by Trump to questions about antisemitism. When asked by a visibly ultra-Orthodox reporter last month about “an uptick in antisemitism” during a press conference, the US president answered by denying he is an antisemite and called the question “insulting.” He ordered the reporter to sit down and did not answer the question.
Yet, even as Trump publicly spoke out against antisemitism, he reportedly sent out a very different message during a meeting at the White House with state attorneys general. According to reports, Trump suggested the recent threats against the Jewish community might have been committed “to make others look bad.” An identical message was sent out by Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, who said threats against the JCCs might have been made by those attempting to smear the Trump administration.
Understandably, Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have a desire to remain on good terms with Trump out of appreciation for his support for Israel – under the assumption Trump will follow through on his initial policy statements.
Nevertheless, they must not refrain from adding their voices to the chorus of US Jewish leaders demanding that the Trump administration take steps to combat antisemitism and other hate crimes directed against minorities.
Herzog might have been wrong about the immigration trends of US Jewry in coming years, but he was right to call attention to the tendency of our government leaders to be sycophants and apologists for the Trump administration.