Obama, Trump and the unintended validation of antisemitism

Two paths to a single outcome.

By DOV BECK
January 30, 2017 21:29
3 minute read.
U.S. President Obama greets President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

U.S. President Obama greets President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

 
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There is a unique experience shared by many Jews of my generation. We have grown up and come of age empowered by all of the freedoms North America has provided us, but at the same time, we have been reminded daily by our parents and grandparents that we are only two generations removed from slavery and genocide. We have been raised with a cautious optimism that encourages us to zestfully pursue whatever lifestyle we see fit but one that also warns of the possibilities that may lurk just around the corner. Fortunately, and I use that term in its loosest sense possible, we are mostly comfortably aware that those horrors that befell our people are two generations behind us and not ahead, despite warnings to be mindful.

Before you dismiss this submission as fear mongering please hear me out.

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It is entirely possible that two recent and conflicting milestones might cause a severe escalation of intolerance toward Jews in North America. These two events are 1) The US abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli construction in territories captured in 1967, and 2) President Donald Trump’s pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Barack Obama is a hero to millions of Americans, many of whom are neutral when it comes to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Samantha Power, ambassador to the UN during the Obama administration, stated that in abstaining from vetoing the Security Council resolution, the intent was to keep in line with official state policy opposing settlement construction, but there is no denying that the abstention caused a big enough media storm that many of Obama’s supporters will remember it as his last, loudest act as president.

Citizens who previously had no opinion on the matter have now been given all the information they require to choose sides. WWOD – What Would Obama Do? I do not believe being critical of Israel is commensurate with being antisemitic, although I certainly believe that the latter is thriving under the guise of the former. Just as Trump’s campaign has no doubt empowered racist elements within our society, it is not a reach to wonder whether Obama’s parting jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will further empower antisemites, however unintentionally.

On the first weekend of Trump’s presidency, millions of impassioned American citizens marched primarily in support of women’s rights, and secondarily in opposition to his inauguration. For as many Americans as there are who believe that Obama could do no wrong, it seems there are significantly more who think Trump can do no right. And it is obvious that there is substantial overlap between these two groups.

There is much discussion as to whether Trump will carry out his pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the apparent purpose behind such a move, which is to show support for Israel, it could have an effect similar to the one I fear Obama’s UN abstention will cause. To millions of Americans who believe every move Trump makes is coming from a place of hatred and intolerance, the fact that he is the one moving the embassy is all the information required for many to figure that it must be a terrible idea. It is not unreasonable to expect that such a move would turn up the volume on the anti-Israel rhetoric often heard within social-justice circles, which would in turn further empower those who hide their Jew-hatred beneath banners proclaiming Israel to be an apartheid state at pro-boycott protests.

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The 44th president left office on bad terms with Israel as the 45th enters office promising stronger ties than ever before. Irrespective of intent, two drastically different policies have the potential to cross the aisle and work together to profoundly affect American Jewry. For the first time in my life I find myself seriously considering that my grandparents and their immediate families lived as freely as I do today in a liberal society much like ours. It didn’t take long for all that to change.

The author lives in Toronto, where he works in the commercial real estate industry.

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