Opinion |

Despite the anti-Semitic Terror in Pittsburgh, I Can't Regard Israel as a Safe Place for American Jews

Netanyahu's concern after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting means nothing. His love for Charlottesville-apologetics, Soros-bashing Trump shows he doesn't really care about the safety of U.S. Jews

Talya Wintman
Talya Wintman
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Members and supporters of the Jewish community come together for a candlelight vigil for victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in front of the White House,  Washington, DC. October 27, 2018
The Jewish community and allies come together for a candlelight vigil for victims of the synagogue shooting at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. White House, D.C. October 27, 2018Credit: AFP
Talya Wintman
Talya Wintman

I don't have an Israeli passport. I have an American passport. I was not born in Israel, I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents attended services at Congregation Tree of Life during my infancy, while my father was completing a surgical fellowship.

Yesterday, a far-right white supremacist shot and murdered 11 people there, after posting on social media: "HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in."

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This fear and hatred of immigrants should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched a Trump rally. And, equally, that Jews are suddenly being accused as the people pulling the strings should come as no surprise. The blood libel is alive and well throughout the world: Look no further than the demonization of George Soros.

But in the wake of this atrocity in Pittsburgh, along with other violence stemming from hate sowed by President Donald Trump, I cannot help but think of all the support I hear for Trump in Israel, where I am currently studying.

At Jewish day school in the U.S., I identified Judaism with the Holocaust. My teachers reminded us of the vulnerability of life in the Diaspora. However, at any moment, my assimilation could be traded in for an Israeli passport. That was the greatest insurance plan we could have.

So how has it come to pass that the Jewish state now welcomes the same authoritarian movements contributing to the revival of age-old conspiratorial anti-Semitism that endanger those living outside of Israel?

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Jews in the Diaspora are dependent on a tolerant pluralistic society - that is where we thrive and where we are safe. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that the moment hardline nationalist movements begin to percolate and hate becomes a cheap ploy to consolidate power, Jews come under the gun.

It is this current of anti-Semitism, that conspires a secret Jewish world order, that festers under the surface waiting for the careful nurturing of opportunistic leaders.

Just two weeks ago in response to the Supreme Court hearings of Justice Kavanaugh, fliers with a picture of Soros and other figures, reading, "Every time some Anti-White, Anti-Freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it," appeared at the University of California campuses, Vassar, and Marist college, and around Iowa.

The Daily Stormer produced these. This is not an obscure group limited to small time American neo-Nazis. When President Trump defended white nationalists in Charlottesville by saying they included some "very fine people," he made room in our political sphere for neo-Nazis. The President of the United States did this.

Last summer, Yair Netanyahu re-tweeted an anti-Semitic caricature of George Soros that originated in far right online circles and ended up on the Stormer’s website. MK Miki Zohar utilized this anti-Semitic trope of world domination when he submitted "The Soros Law" for Knesset approval, aimed at banning the Soros Foundation in Israel, and Netanyahu himself has referred to Soros as someone who "continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments" - an enemy of the state.

Still Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who fueled his own campaign on accusations of Soros destroying Christian Hungary, was invited on an official visit to Israel and as a guest of honor to Yad Vashem, helping to elide his anti-Semitic ties. This is 21st century anti-Semitism legitimized by the leader of the Jewish state.

After the synagogue attack yesterday, Donald Trump suggested, "If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better," that the massacre could have been prevented. Earlier this week, a right-wing white supremacist targeted a black church in Kentucky; and when he could not get in due to security, he went to a local supermarket and killed two African American individuals there.

Security is not the issue; it is the discourse of our leaders that foment and use fear and hate. It is this kind of violence minority communities face that is a symptom of Trumpism.

When Israelis champion Donald Trump for his hardline Middle East foreign policy, it is important to understand the man and methods they are lauding.

When Benjamin Netanyahu promulgates anti-Semitic tropes through the figure of George Soros, supports and aligns with authoritarian regimes, and fuels racist sentiments in his own country, he is contributing to a rise of intolerance and danger in the world. When Netanyahu and others in his coalition target asylum seekers and lay blame at the feet of Soros and the New Israel Fund, they parallel the white supremacist criticism of Soros, HIAS and other refugee resettlement organizations in the U.S.

Netanyahu, in his embrace of Trump, makes it clear that while Israel is a Jewish state, it does not attend to the safety of Jews around the world. This is despite the new Jewish Nation State Law which posits that "The [Israeli] state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the bonds between the state and the Jewish people."

In a dangerous bargain, it appears Prime Minister Netanyahu has traded support for illiberal, authoritarian type rulers who attack tolerance and a free press, and promote conspiracy theories of Jewish world order, for protection of his administration’s wrongful settlement policies and his continued rule.

Prime Minister Netanyahu need not only look to corroding Israeli democracy or the occupation for Israel’s undoing, but also at his disregard for world Jewry.

While the Nation State Law may codify into law the hypervigilant ethno-state, it cannot protect us, both Diaspora and Israeli Jews, from nativist and deeply anti-Semitic forces that this type of law, and Netanyahu's close alignment with President Trump and other authoritarian leaders, help unleash.

Talya Wintman is a junior at Barnard College studying Middle Eastern Studies and currently attending the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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