What is American Jewry thinking about antisemitism?

The majority of American Jews who vote Democratic blame Trump for the rise in antisemitism, which is viewed primarily as coming from the “white nationalist fringe.”

 Antisemitism What America jery thinking? (photo credit: REUTERS)
Antisemitism What America jery thinking?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
My friend in New Jersey, Barbara, usually phones me when she can’t sleep. I recently received a call from her at 4:24 a.m. her time – 11:25 a.m. here. We tend to speak about our countries’ respective political challenges.
Barbara, like most American Jews, has always voted for the Democrats. Since President Donald Trump was elected, she has consistently expressed her strong antagonism toward him.
For my part, I always maintained that while Trump was no polished diplomat (understatement of the year), he has been a good friend of Israel – moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan.
However, when he removed American troops from Syria, leaving the Kurds as cannon fodder for the invading Turkish army and then stood at the side of Turkey’s president and called him his best friend, my unease with him grew. I began anew to wonder why most US Jews continue to support the Democrats, even though former Democratic president Barack Obama chose to deliver his inaugural foreign address in Cairo, with overtures to the Iranians.
On the morning of the phone call from my insomniac friend, The Jerusalem Post carried an editorial about Trump’s antisemitic rhetoric at the Israeli American Council in Hollywood. Of the 4,000 gathered at this event, there were those who heard positivity in Trump’s condemnations of the BDS Campaign and of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet against AIPAC (“It’s all about Benjamins baby”). Others were shocked at his rhetoric that at one point seemed to imply that the Jews’ prime concern is making money – a well-used antisemitic trope.
To gain insight into the thinking of American Jews, Barbara put me in touch with her friend, a long-time leader in the American Jewish community. I asked Judy (as we shall call her) several questions.
Does the Anti-Defamation League’s recognition of the BDS campaign as antisemitic prove that anti-Zionism has evolved into antisemitism?
“I worry about BDS on campus. Its roots come from a shadow movement designed to deny Israel’s right to exist. They have effectively targeted students pushing their rhetoric with false concepts of colonialism and comparisons to apartheid. However, the rise in antisemitism – showing itself through verbal harassment, physical violence, murder, defacement of cemeteries and houses of worship – comes strictly from the rise in nationalism as spouted by leaders including Trump.”
What does the attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket where ultra-Orthodox Jews were targeted and six people were killed show us?
“I was at an interfaith vigil (subsequent to the attack) where almost half of the participants were not Jewish; they just wanted to show solidarity. People brought their young children to show them how community comes together. This is the strength of America.”
With 2017 and 2018 showing the highest annual rate in antisemitic incidents in 40 years, could this be a wake- up call for American Jews to consider making aliyah?
“The situation is not to be compared to that of French Jewry or what might have materialized should Jeremy Corbyn have been elected in Great Britain. American Jews do not wish to leave the country. They want it to be a better country.”
How much do American Jews identify with Israel?
“With the exception of the Orthodox community, American Jews generally do not wish to be associated with the policies of the Netanyahu government, especially its refusal to deal with the ultra-Orthodox control over marriage, divorce and the Kotel. Conservative and Reform Jews feel disenfranchised and disrespected. Jews who do not identify with any movement (more than 50% of American Jews) are even more disaffected.
On a positive note, the Birthright (Taglit) scheme – bringing young adults to Israel for an intensive visit – has proven to be a great way of increasing Jewish identity and a meaningful comprehension of Israel sorely lacking among the younger generation. The opportunity the participants have of spending time with IDF soldiers – they travel with them on the tour buses – has proven to be of enormous significance.”
What do you make of Trump’s new executive order adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism?
“While this is positive, it is yet another case of Trump doing something that is ‘good for the Jews’ for which he can claim credit, when Congress was on its way to doing the same thing. Trump needed to find something to counter his terrible speech to the Israel American Conference.”
MY FRIENDS appear to represent the majority of American Jews who vote Democratic. They blame Trump for the rise in antisemitism, which is viewed primarily as coming from the “white nationalist fringe.” There is a marked division between Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jews. From my interaction with Judy, it would appear that support for Trump comes mainly from the Orthodox. It is also Orthodox young families that are choosing to come and live in Israel.
While appreciating the reason for the distancing of Reform and Conservative Jews from Israel – namely our government’s non-acceptance of these branches of Judaism – the figures quoted of more than 50% of US Jewry not identifying as Jews or showing an interest in Israel is shocking and bodes ill for the future.
Antisemitism is once again rearing its ugly head worldwide. The reality that it has now reached the US, once perceived as “The Goldener Medinah,” should be a source of anxiety not only for Jews in America but also for us in Israel. There was time when antisemitism brought Jews closer to their Jewish identity. This does not appear to be the case today.
As we face a third election here within a year, we can hope that finally we will have a government that will recognize – among all its other challenges – the urgency of reawakening Jewish identity in a Diaspora where remaining Jewish appears to be of accelerated insignificance.
Perhaps we might hear from our party leaders what they intend to do for those of us here, as well as the fast-diminishing Diaspora Jewry, rather than the mudslinging that dominated the previous two elections. We could be lucky – this is the land of miracles and it is Hanukkah.
The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.