Rabbi: Trump’s Anti-Semitism Executive Order Is Anti-Semitic
Decades ago, when the USSR began allowing free travel, my mother invited a Russian cousin to visit us in Oklahoma. His father and my own great grandfather were brothers. It was an amazing visit. We’d never met, but in so many immeasurable ways, anyone could see we were related. But we’d been separated not only by an ocean. A wide cultural gulf existed in our own self-identities.
We were all Jews. However, American Jews do not see themselves as a race or nationality. We are Americans. When my cousin said his nationality was Jewish, Mom said no, you’re Russian. Your religion is Jewish. You identify as a Jew. But your nationality is Russian.
My cousin grew more and more insistent. I am not a Russian! I am a Jew!
We were all correct. Our passports identify us as Americans. My cousin’s passport? He was a Jew. Not a Russian. A Jew. And that definition in Europe served as a vehicle of oppression. Not an ordinary citizen. Something less. A Jew.
Another incident: in Green Bay, the city wanted to honor the immigrant heritage of our citizens. After all, the only non-immigrants are the Native Americans here. I received a phone call at my synagogue. What flag would represent the Jewish community?
I said it was a beautiful gesture, but there was no such flag for us. Many of our members fled Nazi Germany and Tsarist Russia. Those flags didn’t represent us, nor do they conjure warm memories. Israel has a flag, but we are not Israelis. For American Jews, the only flag is American.
The United States does not separate citizens into different camps. We are all Americans. Yes, I am Jewish. I am proud of that and devoted to my religion. But I am American by nationality. This is the nation-state to which I belong.
I am also a Jew who deeply loves Israel. It doesn’t mean I don’t criticize some of her policies. But I am an American who doesn’t hesitate to create my own country. In fact, that ability is the essence of freedom.
And this is what scares many of us about the presidential executive order on anti-Semitism.
This article doesn’t have room for President Trump’s many anti-Semitic statements and actions. Suffice it to say, those attitudes do not imbue us with trust in his recent order on Anti-Semitism
From the executive order:
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance. While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.’ “
Three criteria, none of which apply to most of us. We do have Jews of color, some of whom may be of different races. There is not a Jewish race as such. National origin is generally the United States. To claim otherwise is to set us on the road to discrimination and actually cause violations of our civil rights!
The government has no right to define Jewishness. Only Jews have that right. Among us, you’ll find many definitions, none of which should be inscribed in American law.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Title VI does not offer protection to religions. If it did, there would still be a problem. People may identify as Jewish but not necessarily as part of a religion. Jews have been around for millennia. We can’t expect an easy definition. More to the point, only Jews have a right to define who we are.
The President seems to believe that American Jews should be loyal to Israel: “ ‘You have people who are Jewish people, that are great people – they don’t love Israel enough. You know that. You know that.’ “
This is part of a wrong-headed attempt to address a serious problem: growing anti-Semitism on college campuses. In fact, anti-Semitism is not only spreading here, it is a global problem that is only getting worse.
Problems do arise on campuses in relationship to vehement feelings on the Palestinian – Israeli divide. I won’t sugar-coat this. Jewish parents are afraid when they send their kids to college. What I don’t know: are Muslim parents also afraid?
Colleges shouldn’t take away free speech. What they should do: insist on civility. Suppose the government does lump Jews with Israel. Does that mean the Jews would be expected to be lock-step with Israeli policy? Jews in Israel disagree with the government on a number of issues! Both American Jews and non-Jews should have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not mean: freedom to abuse, attack, demean, or threaten. But there are already rules and laws protecting citizens from this.
A Biblical verse rings in my head, and has ever since the dissemination of this executive order:
“Esther 8: 8 Haman said to king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are different from those of every other people; and they do not keep the king’s laws; therefore it is not for the king’s profit to tolerate them.”
Haman had risen in power to become the king’s viceroy. Haman’s anger at one Jew — Mordechai — led to his fury at all the Jews of Persia. Haman went on to suggest that all the Jews be murdered and their wealth plundered. Later in the Book of Esther, we see that the Jews foiled Haman’s plan.
But historically, when we were separated from the people with whom we lived, we didn’t always have happy endings. Haman’s words have echoed for millennia as they formed the basis of countless persecutions, plunders, murders.
The executive order may be well-meaning. Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law wrote it. But that doesn’t make it less dangerous. Jews are American citizens. We are not a different nationality with different loyalty. Further, in light of the President’s beliefs about Jewish loyalty, the order could become a wedge defining us as not American.
According to Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the head of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center:
“Throughout Jewish history, categorizing Jews into a separate group has led to othering and sometimes violence. So we’re just cautious,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the head of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, the denomination’s government relations arm. “Any good-faith attempt to protect any minority, including the Jewish minority, from anti-Semitism or violence is a good thing. … We’re just cautious about government defining who we are and government defining who is part of us.”
Making things still more difficult, President Trump sees Jewish loyalty as belonging to Israel, not the United States. He complains that American Jews ”don’t love Israel enough” and Jewish Democrats are disloyal to Israel. He sees our ”nationality” as Israeli, not American. That leaves us open to blanket charges of disloyalty to America! And if anti-Semitism is conflated with Israel, it is not protective at all. Most attacks against Jews have nothing to do with nationality or Israel. What the executive order does is create a separate class of Americans who are not loyal to America. The next step in the chain is distrust. And we become other and are shunned. We have traveled that road too many times in the past.
I love my country. I am a Jew. And I am a proud American. And the promise of America is that we come closer together in love and understanding, that we don’t keep finding ways to separate ourselves, that we move closer to that ideal.