I spent five of the weeks between Passover and Shavuot of this year on a lecture tour of the US and Canada, as I do every year. The first tour took place in 2009, making this one the eleventh. Among those inviting me to speak are academic institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish public organizations, community centers and individuals. The topics of my lectures center around my research on the Middle East, including Israel, as well as Islam in its indigenous states and in those to which it has migrated.
The Jewish institutions inviting me to lecture run the gamut of North American Jewish culture: from liberal progressive, as in Reform temples, to Orthodox and even haredi milieus. I am invited by Jewish organizations such as IAC and asked to speak to them in Hebrew. On every tour, I meet people with diverse opinions, hear varied approaches to issues and listen to complex ideas.
In previous years, I was always asked to talk about the Middle East, the challenges facing Israel, the peace process, the “Arab Spring,” Islam, ISIS and similar topics involving the region and how its problems spill over into other countries. The situation in the United States, and especially the subject of US Jewry, almost never came up in my lecture series because, in the audiences’ eyes, the fact that I am an Israeli precludes my having anything to say about American Jewish affairs.
When, here and there, the topic of North American Jewry did arise, I received the incontrovertible impression that the Jews of the US and Canada feel that they live safely and securely in a Promised Land. North America was seen as such because Jews there live tranquilly in a nation devoid of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish discrimination, where they are part of every political and social circle and thus have no cause for worry. They feel safe and secure because of the fact that the level of violence in American public space is generally low and where it is not, there is police protection for synagogues and Jewish community centers.
A Reform rabbi once made this feeling abundantly clear when he told me that “exile” is a concept, not a geographical construct. Any country in which Jews can live a secure and full life cannot be considered “exile,” he said, because that word refers to a land where Jews cannot maintain their religious, cultural and physical lives in free and secure fashion. The hidden message in his words was that Israel is more of an “exile” than is America, because of the security situation prevailing in the Jewish State and the fact that Reform rabbis do not have the freedom to lead their congregations as freely as they do in the United States.
This year, however, the atmosphere greeting me during my lecture tour was entirely different. A good many Jews of all cultural types spoke clearly and openly of their fears with regard to two things: the rise in Jew-hatred and the deteriorating security situation. (I am attempting to avoid the term “anti-Semitism” because Arabs, too, are Semites). The reasons for the rise in anti-Jewish feelings are many and varied: The Christian European legacy that emigrated to the New World; Jews identified as being movers in the establishment as well as in finance, media, politics, academia, arts and film-making; Jews involved in scandals in the movie world (e.g. Harvey Weinstein) and in financial scams (Bernie Madoff); increased Islamic immigration to the US leading to political clout as seen in the election of three Muslim members of Congress for the first time in US history; identifying Jews with Israel – and more.
It is important to remember that Jews are to be found in political positions that put them in the public eye. Among the liberal Jews who surrounded President Obama were Rahm Emanuel, Dan Shapiro (then US ambassador to Israel) Jeremy Ben Ami (J Street head), Jonathan Greenblatt (currently head of the ADL) and others. Many of the Americans who opposed Obama, especially Republicans, aimed their arrows – both the airborne and more subtle ones – at those Jews. On the other hand, President Trump is surrounded by Jews as well, conservative politically and even Orthodox religiously: his daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jerard Kushner, advisor Jason Greenblatt, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Michael Cohen, Steve Mnuchin (Sec. of the Treasury) and others. An anti-Trump American does not care for the Jews who are closely connected to the president.
It is worthwhile mentioning that Jews held high level positions in previous Republican administrations as well: Paul Wolfovitz was Deputy Sec. of Defense under President George W. Bush, and other Jews – Douglas Feith and Richard Perle come to mind – filled key positions in the US government. Clinton, the Democrat, put Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke and Martin Indyk in key positions as well. The Jews have found themselves between the Republican hammer and the Democrat anvil for a long time.
Identifying Jews with big money is a widespread phenomenon in the USA, and for many reasons: Prominent investment banks – Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, for example – were founded by Jews and still carry their names. During the 2008-2009 general financial crisis the two were in the epicenter of the period’s economic, media and public earthquake. Bernie Madoff, the Jewish “investor,” lost the assets of thousands of American citizens.
Jews are the most prominent donors to American charitable causes, such as hospitals, universities and organizations that aid the needy. Jews donate to these causes because they feel a responsibility towards the American society which accepted and included them with unlimited affection. The donors’ names are up there for all to see on plaques and above the entrances to these many institutions. The problem is that when the ordinary blue collar American who works hard to put bread on the table sees the Jewish names shining proudly on the entrances to hospitals and universities (many of which charge over $50,000 a year in tuition fees), he associates the Jews with money and so Jewish generosity acts against the donors and the group to which they belong. Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar knew what she was doing when she spoke of the connection between Jews and “Benjamins” – a term for the US $100 bill which has Benjamin Franklin’s portrait printed on it.
Currently, there are two Jewish billionaires clearly seen on the map of US politics, each providing significant financial backing to the party of his choice. One is Sheldon Adelson who supports the “Rght” and the other is George Soros who supports the “Left.” On opposite sides of the political map, both are the source of furious anger from those opposing the political party to whom each contributes.
The roots of Jew-hatred and its causes have been analyzed in myriads of articles and books. I will add only two important factors here, common to the Arab-Muslim-Eastern world and the Western-European-Christian one:
1. Two religions, Christianity and Islam, are both daughter religions of Judaism and both developed “replacement theories” according to which both consider themselves the true religions replacing the defunct Judaism whose adherents are to be subjugated and humiliated under Christian and Muslim rule.
2. Jews lived in both these cultures among the nations and since Jews are “different” by definition, there are always many who hate them. The proof that these two factors – the religious and the realistic – are the basis of Jew-hatred is the fact that in three other cultures – Chinese, Japanese and Indian – who for our purposes can be seen as a control group- there is no Jew-hatred because:
a. there is no connection between the local religions and Judaism and
b. Jews did not live among the Chinese, Japanese and Indian peoples. Jews are therefore not seen as the “other who lives among us at our expense”, and therefore are not hated.
Jew-hatred immigrated to the US from Europe long ago, but today its source is Islam and it is increasing as Islamic presence in public and political spheres becomes more pronounced. The number of Muslims in the US today is on the increase, while the number of US Jews is in constant decline. Most US Jews are liberals and over 70% vote Democrat, making them the target of those who hate the Democrats. Jews were at the center of the struggle for civil rights for Afro-Americans in the middle of the last century and can be found today in the forefront of public activisim for accepting Syrian migrants, mainly Muslims. The American Right sees this Jewish activity in a negative light and as a result their demonstrations include the slogan “Jews will not replace us.”
The growing hatred towards Jews is evident in worrying reports of a dramatic rise in the number of incidents where this hatred is expressed, the most shocking being shooting sprees: One, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the Succot hoiiday this year, was the work of a murderer named Robert Bowers who broke into the Tree of Life Synagogue murdering 11 worshippers in cold blood and wounding six. The second happened this past Passover when a murderer named John Ernest broke into the Poway, California Chabad House, killed a worshipper and wounded three others. In both cases the perpetrators cited the ant-Jewish Turner Diaries written in 1978 by an American Nazi named William Luther Pierce who also writes under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald.
Another factor casting a shadow on Jewish life in the USA is the strengthening of anti-capitalist concepts and negative opinions regarding “privileged,” rich, healthy whites held by groups seen as underprivileged: people of color, the poor and handicapped. Jews are considered privileged and therefore an inseparable part of the “oppression and exclusion” system operated by the “privileged” against those “discriminated against” and “excluded” from the advantages available to the privileged groups.
More and more, as criticism of the policies it employs for self-defense increases, Israel is considered a burden by many American Jews. The very establishment of the Jewish State at the cost of the “unfortunate Palestinians” is in question. The challenge to Israel’s right to exist because of it being a “colonialist entity” is prevalent in US Academic circles where for decades generations of students have been taught to believe with all their hearts that Jews have no right to a national home. Jews identifying with Israel on campus are subjected to criticism and hate speech from lecturers who threaten to affect their grades negatively and from peers who threaten their safety.
It is imperative to mention the involvement of Jewish organizations In fanning the flames of this criticism as well as hatred for Israel: Jewish Voice for Peace, Peace Now, J Street, each it its own way and with its own methods. Activists in these organizations think that if only Israel would “act nicely” – according to their definitions of what that entails – to its neighbors, they – that is, the Jewish liberals and progressives – would be accepted more easily by American society. They do not realize the simple fact that Jew-hatred has nothing to do with Israel, was not born in 1948 but is deeply rooted in western culture, just as it is in Islamic culture.
The US was the Promised Land for Jews for many years. It was a land of immigrants where they could enjoy equal rights, respect and appreciation just like the other immigrants to its shores. It was also a safe haven – certainly in comparison with the security situation in Israel – a country where no one checks the bags of those entering a shopping center, train or bus station as they do in the Jewish State. However, the increase in Jew-hatred over the last few years has cast a pall on that feeling of security, and the murderous attacks targeting Jews in the past year have made the safe haven concept a shaky one. Many synagogues now have police protection during Sabbath and holiday prayers or during other activities that take place during the week.
A number of Jews have established an organization called Jews Can Shoot. Their kippahs are embroidered with the words: “Norhing Says Never Again Like an Armed Jew.” Printed on the lining of the kippah is a saying by the Jewish Sages: “If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.” There are Jews who come to the synagogue with a firearm, but is that going to solve the problem of Jew-hatred? And what exactly is the armed Jew going to do if the murderer carries an automatic weapon? What is going to happen if a group armed with automatic weapons attacks a synagogue where a single guard carrying a pistol is stationed outside? Is this scenario impossible to imagine?
I became aware of the massive change in the worldview of many US Jews during my lecture tour between Passover and Shavuot. The fear of encountering Jew hatred and terror attacks became a real possibility, an all-embracing undercurrent. The result is going to be the strengthening of two opposing trends: one, that Jews who do not feel a real connection to the Jewish collective are going to see that connection as an increasingly troublesome burden which they will try to make less visible as long as they can safely integrate totally into the surrounding society and be rid of the destiny facing US Jewry. In contrast, those Jews who will not or can not hide their identity (due to their clothes, side locks, beards and faith) will surround themselves with real or virtual walls in order to protect themselves and their congregations in Jewish neighborhoods (such as Williamsburg, Brooklyn) or towns (such as Monsey and Munroe). Others will reach the conclusion that French Jews reached over the past few years, give up life in America and move to Israel.
Israel’s political system reflects the mindset of its population, with the right getting steadily stronger and the left weaker in a long term, continuous process. The political system in the United States, in contrast, is based on a kind of pendulum that sometimes grants the reins of power to Democrats like Carter, Clinton and Obama, and sometimes to the Republicans like Reagan, the Bush father and son and Trump. It is possible that after Trump – as a reaction to his way of thinking and behavior – the political pendulum will bring a radical leftist Jew like Bernie Sanders and his followers’ liberal progressive agenda.That will bring the anti-Jewish feelings on the part of the American Right to new heights, but hopefully not their anti-Jewish actions.I do not see a way to return the anti-Jewish genie back to the bottle – and I am not so sure he was ever imprisoned there.
Twentieth century history teaches that the more Jews were integrated into the society in which they lived, the greater the threat they were perceived to pose to that society, therefore the greater the hatred they inspire. In pre-WWII Weimar Germany, Austria and Holland, Jews were on the highest socio-economic level, causing the Jew-hatred in those countries to be worse than that of Eastern European countries. Until recently, most American Jews felt that the US is intrinsically different than Europe, that “it can’t happen here.” That feeling has begun to erode.
Israel must prepare itself to absorb massive aliya from the USA. This aliya will be the result of American Jewry reaching the conclusion that just as Europe, the USA has ceased to be a secure haven for Jews. Canada is not much better. And what is happening in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, let alone Venezuela, will encourage many of the Jews in those countries to leave them and move to Israel. I believe that massive aliya from North, Central and South America is a matter of a few years at most, and the question Israel faces is what steps to take in order to absorb these future and blessed waves of immigration successfully.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News