Restraining the genie of prejudice and hatred

The right-wingers in Israel may be correct in believing that the new administration in Washington will be more tolerant of Israel’s settlement policies than the current administration.

November 28, 2016 21:56
4 minute read.
Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One of the most disturbing results of the recent American election was the fact that for the first time in many decades Americans felt free to openly voice anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish sentiments.

This has included personal attacks against Jews in colleges and in social media. It is obvious that such sentiments have always existed, but until this campaign, they were considered unacceptable. Suddenly it was as if the genie of prejudice and hatred had been released from the bottle and given free reign, and once let out it is difficult if not impossible to call it back.

Radical white, Christian Americans suddenly were empowered to voice their feelings that their country was being taken away from them by non-whites and that they had a champion who would return America to its racially and religiously pure roots. It may well be that President- elect Trump himself does not share these feelings, but neither did he do enough to stem the tide in a timely fashion. It is important for him to vigorously denounce these groups now in terms that are unmistakable.

Jewish organizations have remarked on this anti-Jewish phenomenon and have shown the way in which incidents of harassment are increasing dramatically. If before the radical Left demonstrated anti-Israel sentiments which were really antisemitic in disguise, now the radical Right feels free to demonstrate prejudice against Jews and others.

Hopefully this will not result in a return to the kind of virulent antisemitism that was prevalent before the Second World War in such figures as Henry Ford, Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, but the recent meeting in Washington, DC, of a neo-Nazi group which calls itself the “Alt Right” and brazenly made use of the Nazi salute and “heil!” terminology indicates that that is indeed already happening.

Ironically, one of the first reactions to the election of Donald Trump in Israel was a similar display of public prejudice and hatred on the part of Israeli political figures. Shas Party leader Arye Deri, hardly one of the shining lights of ethics and morality, immediately issued a hate-filled statement in which he rejoiced that the triumph of the American Right would put an end to the power of non-Orthodox movements in American Judaism and to their ability to influence Israeli life and would eliminate these movements from the Israeli scene.

It was a statement so filled with vicious lies it should have aroused the fury of the other political parties – Right, Left and Center – but it did not seem to do so. He wrote: “Last week someone said that the Reform are our brothers, but we completely disagree with them. We reject their ways, etc. The truth is that they are not our brothers and we do not want such brothers. Those that stick a knife in the back of the Jewish people cannot be our brothers. Those who are the cause of the assimilation of millions of Jews cannot be our brothers. No how, no way! Such a person is an adversary and an enemy.

“One who mocks and prostitutes our tradition, that is to say, all of the holy Torah of the Jewish people for which we have sacrificed our lives from generation to generation for thousands of years, is not a brother. One who is a traitor and betrays his parents, grandparents and all of the generations that came before, is not a brother. Not even a lost brother. He has thrown off the yoke and one must fight against him with all means available, and never give any sort of recognition nor any foothold.”

Similar sentiments were uttered by the Sephardi chief rabbi.

That words such as these have influence can be seen by the recent graffiti on the Reform synagogue in Ra’anana which echoed these words.

Deri obviously has no understanding of American Jewry or of American life in general if he thinks that the results of the election will have any influence whatsoever on the influence of non-Orthodox movements in America, nor does he understand the modern world in which we live. The vast majority of American Jews identify with non-Orthodoxy and the major of organizations of American Jews, including those who support the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency, are overwhelmingly run and supported by members of these movements.

That will continue to be the case in the future. It is high time that these organizations make it clear to this government and to its leader that it is intolerable for government ministers to make such statements.

And it is intolerable for the government to remain silent at such times.

The right-wingers in Israel may be correct in believing that the new administration in Washington will be more tolerant of Israel’s settlement policies than the current administration.

Only time will tell. But if they or anyone else here thinks that this will diminish the influence of the Conservative or Reform movements in American Jewish life, they are sadly mistaken. The struggle against religious intolerance and in favor of pluralistic Judaism in the Jewish state has nothing to do with Right and Left in Israel regarding the Palestinian problem and negotiations for peace.

American Jewry will have to deal with this new openness to antisemitism which will affect all Jews, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular alike. Israel will have to deal with the struggle for religious freedom here, without which the words of the national anthem “to be a free people in our land” remain an unrealized dream.

The writer, a Jerusalem author and lecturer, is a former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly and a member of its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. The opinions expressed are his own.

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