The US President has divided Jewish citizens of the US into two camps: loyal and disloyal. Trump's statement employs a dangerous anti-Semitic trope that puts the minority in danger.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said American Jews who vote for the Democratic party do so out of “ignorance or great disloyalty,” although it was not clear to what he was referring.
Did he mean loyalty to Israel, America, or Trump?
Then on Wednesday, Trump tried to clarify his statement by saying he questioned their loyalty to Israel. His comments come in the aftermath of Israel barring a visit from Democratic US congressional representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s justification for the decision—loudly hailed and even encouraged by Trump—was that Tlaib and Omar support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to exert economic pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians under military occupation. BDS supporters are routinely turned away from Israel, and now their numbers include members of congress.
The US president, whose racist administration operates a network of concentration camps for migrants across the country, trafficked in one of the deadliest forms of anti-Semitic tropes. It is a deeper and older one than anything we would even recognise as a nation-state.
Trump was suggesting that Jews cannot be trusted.
He did so by dividing them into “loyal” and “disloyal” camps, under the absurd terms of US partisan politics, and the even more absurdly dysfunctional relationship between the US and Israel.
Suggesting Jews cannot be trusted is the molten reactor core of anti-Semitism around the world. It derives from anti-Semitic retellings of the story of Jesus that blame his crucifixion on Jews themselves. Some were “loyal” to Jesus, but some were not. Either way, anti-semites and bigots conclude, Jews are not to be trusted.
This notion is the deadly ooze that animates anti-semitism in its religious and nationalistic forms, from pogroms and inquisitions to Nazi genocide. Trump this week projectile vomited this brain poison across every crevice of American politics.
For a president transparently and cynically hoping to gain a sliver of votes from Jewish Americans in Florida to secure a second term, this was a mistake from Trump, bigly. Already, 80 percent of American Jews vote for Democrats.
Israeli commentator Chemi Shalev, writing in Haaretz, described Trump’s mistake in blunt terms:
“In the eyes of many if not most U.S. Jews, Trump has now evolved from a suspect accused of anti-Semitism into a felon convicted beyond any reasonable doubt. Their anger and frustration are compounded by the widespread perception that in their hour of need, the prime minister of Israel is siding with their defamer,” Shalev writes, referring to Netanyahu, who has yet to denounce Trump for suggesting that Jews owe Israel “loyalty”.
In Trump’s mind, Shalev observes, Jews who vote against his party must be “ungrateful,” given all that he has done for Israel. The president’s imagines Jews owing loyalty to Israel. The more he does for Israel, the more of that loyalty he should get, too. That thought process depends on a cartoonish caricature of Jewish human beings as caring more about Israel than the US, a fundamentally anti-Semitic thought.
“In Trump’s eyes, gestures such as moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan were supposed to overshadow and eclipse the liberal worldview of U.S. Jews, which has made them into harsh opponents of his policies on immigration, minorities, abortions, freedom of the press, the rule of law and ethics in government, to name but a few,” Shalev adds.
All of this is enormously dismal, and Trump is putting Jewish lives at risk by fanning the flames of anti-Semitism, as he has put Muslim lives at risk with his years of Islamophobic remarks. The long term consequence of this and Netanyahu’s silence could result in a significant shift in how the US relates to Israel and how US politicians talk about the country.
There is evidence that Trump’s distaste for Muslim and Jewish leftists and liberals is bringing these two American religious minority groups closer, united by a distaste and outrage at Trump and Netanyahu.
White nationalism, embodied by Trump and abetted by Bibi, is evermore the common foe of Jews and Muslims.
As an example, Tlaib spent Saturday marking Shabbat with a group called If Not Now, a Jewish-led activist group in the US that denounces Israeli human rights violations. This kind of public interfaith dialogue about Israel between left-wing Muslims and Jews in the US offers hope for any future for peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians - as tragically impossible as that effort seems today.
The status quo in America, until now, has kept these two groups more or less apart, as they did not face a common threat from the presidency itself. Such a concept would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The laws of American political physics have altered since then, forcing these two minority groups together as though by force of cold nuclear fusion.
American Muslims, at 3.45 million, mostly vote for Democrats already, as do American Jews, at 5.3 million. What they also have in common is how small their numbers are compared to the overall population of the US, at 330 million.
This new political alliance should worry Netanyahu if it doesn’t already. American Muslims and Jews meddling in Israel’s politics would only serve to encourage Netanyahu’s political enemies, who happen to be leftist Israelis and leftist Palestinian citizens of Israel. Their counterparts in the US have lacked leadership. The leader they need might be an American.
One American Jewish politician, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in 2020, has plainly called Netanyahu a racist. He speaks with the authority of no other presidential contender.
Sanders has also thrown consistent, resolute support for Omar and Tlaib under threat of Islamophobic attacks and false charges of anti-Semitism from Trump and even their party.
American Muslims and Jews working together would set an example for Israeli Muslims and Jews to find a common ground of their own. That common ground has no room for politicians like Netanyahu who have made common cause with white nationalists for short-term political gain.
Bringing the Israel-Palestine peace process back from the dead demands both American Muslims and American Jews take an active role in it.
Nothing about all this is guaranteed, and the moment now seems almost impossibly grim. If we as a planet can survive these years, and bonds forged now remain lasting, there is a reason for hope.
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