Jews around the country are scared. There have been threats of violence against Jewish organizations across the country, unprecedented waves of online harassment against individual Jews, targetings of Jewish journalists and a president whose behavior and rhetoric echoes those of authoritarian dictators throughout history.
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In times like this, it's natural to look for signs of hope, and many in the American Jewish community may point to Jared Kushner’s appointment as senior advisor to President Trump as a sign that America will remain safe for us. But that’s a false hope. Make no mistake: The status of the United States as a haven for Jews is more endangered now than it has been for generations.
Trump has flanked himself with an Orthodox Jew (Kushner) on one side and a purveyor of white supremacist rhetoric (chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon), on the other. In this arrangement, Kushner plays the classic historical role of the figurehead Jewish adviser. As author Jonathan Levi wrote for the Forward last July, Kushner’s relationship to Trump eerily parallels the story of Charlemagne, the 8th century King of the Franks. According to Levi, “Charlemagne was keen to marry his daughter to a Jew who wouldcement the support of the Jewish people.”
There are other examples of such Jewish advisers throughout world history, and many of these individuals share common characteristics: their power is precarious, and their interests are frequently aligned with their patrons rather than with their community. Most ominously, the failures of the rulers they serve are often laid at the feet of the Jewish scapegoat and his brethren by the rulers’ anti-Semitic followers. All of these traits perfectly describe the role Kushner has played in an attempt to soften, rationalize, and put a friendly Jewish face on the vile hatred of his father-in-law. These characteristics foreshadow the cyclical choreography of anti-Semitism.
Donald Trump and his incoming administration represent the antithesis of the core Jewish values of recognizing the inherent human dignity of all people and protecting the most vulnerable in society. He ran a campaign that scapegoated racial and religious minorities, and will undoubtedly run the country the same way. Jews must remember the hard lessons we’ve learned before: White supremacy and white nationalism - philosophies that frequently guide the politics of Steve Bannon and even Trump himself - are inextricably linked with anti-Semitism. When Trump advocates for policies that threaten Muslims or immigrants, it is entirely possible that Jews are not far behind.
It’s worth noting that Kushner is an Orthodox Jew, and as such a member of a group whose political views are deeply out of step with the American Jewish community as a whole. We saw this trend play out in the 2016 election, with 76 percent of the Jewish community rejecting and voting against Trump, while segments of the Orthodox community embraced him. Orthodox Jews comprise only 10 percent of the American Jewish community, yet Kushner’s appointment will contribute to a dangerous distortion of what our community stands for and believes in.
The reality is simple: Jared Kushner is not interested in upholding the values that the vast majority of American Jews share. If he were, he would have distanced himself from the Trump campaign many months ago, just as most American Jews opposed Trump when he threatened American ideals with a Muslim registry, called Mexicans rapists and murders and began to intimidate the press. Kushner didn’t act as a representative of the majority of our community then, and he cannot be counted on to protect or represent Jews now.
While being fearful is justified, ingratiating ourselves to an incoming president who has shown nothing but disdain, intolerance and bullying behavior to other minority communities will make us complicit in his bigotry. Rather, the way to create safety for the Jewish community is to join in solidarity with the other likely targets of a Trump Administration: Muslims, immigrants, women, people of color, and those living in poverty. In forming bonds of mutual support and protection, an alliance of American Jews and historically oppressed people is our strongest line of collective defense against the threats to come.
Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc, an organization that brings progressive Jews together to advocate and organize for a more just and equal society.