Opinion

For American Jews, Zionism Died When Israel's Government and People Embraced Donald Trump

U.S. Jews like me were always taught Israel would be our ultimate refuge from anti-Semitism. But Netanyahu's Israel is now proudly in bed with the very people who threaten our future

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

All my life I was taught, as I think most American Jews were taught, that the ultimate reason we needed to stand with Israel was because it was our potential refuge in case anti-Semitism became rampant here. 

No, that wasn’t the only justification for Israel’s existence and importance to us but it was the ultimate one, the argument for which there was no other answer. If, God forbid, "it happened here," we had Israel, unlike the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.

Of course, that was not just the justification only offered by our parents, teachers and rabbis. It was also the original justification for the creation of the state, offered by Theodor Herzl himself in his manifesto "The Jewish State" which kicked off the modern Zionist movement in 1897. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara Netanyahu, Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner, U.S. President's daughter Ivanka Trump, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, attend the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

He went even further, stating that if Palestine was not immediately attainable Jews needed to seek a nachtasyl, literally a '"shelter for the night, or a temporary place of asylum, somewhere else - a place where we could survive until the anti-Semitic storm blew over and then, having survived it, Jews could renew the battle to attain Palestine.

That justification for a Jewish state, for the Jewish State, survived until 2017, when events in the United States and in Israel utterly disproved it in a way neither Herzl nor any Israeli prime minister before Netanyahu could have inagined.

In 2017 Donald Trump became president of the United States, elected in no small part because he ran a racist campaign. Jews, like other minority groups, overwhelmingly rejected Trump not only because they are liberals and despised his attacks on other minority groups, but because there were so many anti-Semitic undercurrents to his campaign.

Jews saw these, starting with his open alliance with the anti-Semitic alt-right, his refusal to repudiate the support of various hatemongers and his whole campaign’s emphasis on nativist xenophobia, as a prelude to attacks on Jews which, as the Anti-Defamation League reported, skyrocketed during Trump’s campaign and since. Perhaps the most telling and frightening moment came last summer when, after neo-Nazis clashed with anti-Nazis in Charlottesville, Trump said there were "good people" on "both sides."

This would seem to be a good time for Israel to make the case that the only safe home for Jews is Israel itself. But it can’t and won’t. 

That is because the current Israeli government - and apparently, the Israeli people - are proudly in bed with Trump.

An ultra-Orthodox man passes by a billboard welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of his visit, Jerusalem, May 19, 2017.
Oded Balilty/AP

In fact, Israel is among the very few countries in the world (along with Russia and Saudi Arabia) that has openly welcomed the Trump presidency since day one. The rest of the world may still be drying their tears over Obama’s departure - as most Americans Jews are - but not Netanyahu’s Israel which, for a host of reasons (some quite ugly), never could stand the first African American U.S. president.

So, as the largest diaspora Jewish community in the world worries that Trump’s America is bad for our children and grandchildren, there is absolutely no way Israel can say "Come home to Israel," because Israel is allied with our potential oppressors. 

Could Herzl have imagined that? Most American Jews can hardly bear looking at Trump on television but in Jerusalem his postered face is festooned everywhere. How can anyone suggest Israel as our potential refuge, when it has slipped even deeper into the right-wing morass than America has - and it is likely the US will get itself out of it long before Israel does?

So we will stay here, although more than a few are trying to figure out if German, Polish or French ancestry can wangle them citizenship in an EU country and hence a second passport if one needs one.

But Israel, no. It is not our escape hatch, not our asylum in the night, as Herzl would say. It is rather allied with the very people who threaten our future.

Who said that Zionism is dead? I am afraid that it was the current Israeli government and people when they embraced Trump. 

M.J. Rosenberg worked at AIPAC from 1982 to 1986 and the Israel Policy Forum from 1998 to 2009. He was as a Congressional aide in the House and Senate for 15 years on Capitol Hill for 15 years.