Opinion

American Jewry’s Misplaced Loyalty

U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar during a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul, Minnesota, August 19, 2019.
\ STRINGER/ REUTERS

Donald Trump is right: The Jews really are disloyal. Donald Trump is wrong: Most of them are loyal to the wrong values.

When the president of the United States describes most American Jews, who vote Democratic, as showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” it is not clear if he means their loyalty to their country or people, to the United States or to Israel. One can assume he meant to say that those who vote for the party of congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are not loyal to Israel, the Jews and America.

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But sadly, only a very few American Jews support the two congresswomen’s positions. This is their lack of loyalty: Disloyalty to the principles of justice and morality, the traditional liberal spirit of the Jews in the United States, and also a lack of loyalty to the interests of their country, which are the opposite of what Trump intended. American Jews, in their support or in their silence, in blindness or ignorance, are more loyal to the Israeli occupation than any other value.

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It is easy to accuse minorities of anything – treason or ignorance – in Israel as in America. Israeli Arabs cannot dream of a status like that of the Jews in the United States; there is only one thing they have in common: The accusation of disloyalty is their most sensitive nerve.

There is evidence for this accusation in America. The automatic support of the Jewish establishment for every Israeli government and almost every one of its positions is the proof of dual loyalty. The choice of the Jewish establishment is clear and automatic: Israel first, Israel above all. The blind saluting of Israel, except if it involves internal Jewish affairs such as the status of Reform Jews and praying at the Western Wall.

This loyalty, if not worship, is disastrous. In the end it will harm everyone – Jews in the United States and in Israel, too. And Trump actually wants even more of it. No one expects him to understand the significance of the occupation, its crimes and damage, but it is possible and necessary to expect more from American Jewry, which is considered to be mostly liberal. To understand that Israel is not just what they are selling them on Birthright trips, with the armed escorts, who are meant to strengthen the feeling of danger and the victimization among the youths; and in the charity events of Friends of the IDF with the disabled soldiers who come on stage to the roar of the audience and its tears. Israel is also what congresswomen Tlaib and Omar wanted to see, and be seen. Israel has a very dark and evil side. Most American Jews support it, or ignore its existence.

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All this does not necessarily have to be. In South Africa, many from the Jewish community took a stand for justice and fought alongside the blacks, getting injured and arrested with them. In the United States too, many Jews supported the struggle of blacks for equal rights. Only in the struggle for equality in Israel has their voice gone silent. True, there are individuals and organizations among American Jewry, young and old, who are bravely fighting against Israeli apartheid, but they are few in number and they are exposed to harsh delegitimization. What was permitted and even admired in the identification with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. is forbidden in standing alongside Marwan Barghouti and Omar Barghouti, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who are battling for those same principles and the same justice.

The fact that most Jews still vote for the Democrats is encouraging. The fact that the Democratic Party is undergoing changes, for example the election of Tlaib and Omar to Congress, also gives hope. But the loyalty of most American Jews still is chained to the dark side of the moon, to the backyard of the only democracy.

This is a fateful matter: American Jewry has the power to become a “game changing” factor. A Jewish community that makes its voice heard clearly and with determination against the occupation will bring about change. No one can ignore its voice, not in Israel and not in the United States. This is how the Jewish community can truly be loyal: To its country, people and universal values. Values that are the exact opposite of those of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.