NEW GEOGRAPHY--When Donald Trump was elected president, much of American Jewish leadership reacted with something close to hysteria. To some, Trump’s presidency reflected the traditional face of the anti-Semitic right — xenophobic, nationalist and culturally conservative.
Trump’s handling of certain events, notably the Charlottesville white nationalist rally, have revived earlier charges that the president winks at right-wing racist supporters, even considering them part of his base.
The disdain toward Trump in the rabbinical community — often more liberal than congregants — was reflected in its cancellation of the annual New Year (Rosh Hashanah) call with the president. Yet, for all of the justifiable worries about the extreme right, the more consequential threat may well come from the left side of the spectrum.
I first became aware of this shift almost 15 years ago, when my wife, Mandy, and I visited the famous Nazi hunters, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, at their offices in Paris. One would expect Serge, whose father died in the concentration camps, to focus his concern on aspiring brown shirts, but, instead, he suggested that the biggest long-term threats would come increasingly from the left and parts of Europe’s expanding Muslim immigrant communities.
Some Jewish groups seem slow to realize how much things have changed since 1940. To be sure, the rise of right-wing nationalism across Europe is frightening, but, increasingly, the primary locus of European anti-Semitism can be found in heavily Muslim communities around cities such as Paris, as well as in Europe’s universities, where anti-Israel sentiments are increasingly de rigueur.
Of course, one can question some Israeli policies — as I do regarding the expansion of settlements — without being an anti-Semite. But the anti-Israel focus of groups like those in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement clearly represents a new face of anti-Semitism. As the liberal French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy argues, this movement targets the Jewish state, but leaves totally unscathed far more brutal, homophobic and profoundly misogynist Muslim states. A double standard for Jews remains an enduring feature of anti-Semitic prejudice.
Some, like the chief rabbi of Barcelona, think it’s time for Europe’s Jews to move away, as many, particularly from France, are already doing. Overall, Europe’s Jewish population is less than half of what it was in 1960.
Nor is the immediate prospectus positive, as many leftist parties in Europe are increasingly dependent on Arab and other Muslim voters, many of whom come from places where over 80 percent of the public holds strongly anti-Jewish views. Even in the United Kingdom, opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has cavorted openly with leaders of vehemently, and openly, anti-Semitic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. If elevated to the prime minister’s post — which is no longer inconceivable, given his strong run in the last election — the consequences for Israel and Britain’s dwindling Jewish community could prove difficult.
Is America next?
Some Jewish progressives charge the president with anti-Semitism, despite the fact that his daughter, his son-in-law and their children are themselves observant Jews. And, to be sure, he and his inner circle have been too slow to denounce far-right groups, which, at the very least, reveals the president’s tin ear.
But, increasingly, as in Europe, the largest threat stems not from the isolated, and pathetically small, lunatic fringe of white supremacists. The most anti-Israel members of Congress come primarily from the left wing of the Democratic Party, not the right wing of the GOP. Democratic voters — as well as key constituencies like minorities and millennials — poll consistently less sympathetic to both Jews and Israel than older, generally white Republicans.
The most prominent leader of the anti-Trump Women’s March on Washington, Linda Sarsour, is a devoted anti-Israel activist and Hamas fan, who once tweeted that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.” Other march leaders celebrate noted anti-Semites, such as the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan.
Even among some gay activists there is frequently an anti-Jewish bias, as organizers for a march in Chicago this summer moved to exclude gays who dared to put the Star of David on their banners, which is curious, given that Israel is far more tolerant regarding homosexuality than its Muslim neighbors.
Realignment or rededication?
For a generation, Jewish Republicans have been hoping for a shift to the right among Jews, prompted by such things as having the United States, at the end of President Barack Obama’s term, speak out against Israel at the United Nations Security Council — something that was not done by his recent predecessors in either party. But only 30 percent of Jews voted for Trump, not much better performance than most other recent GOP candidates.
Overall, more religious Jews were more likely to vote for Trump, much as was the case with their Christian counterparts, while the most secular and unaffiliated strongly favored Hillary Clinton.
Yet, there’s little reason to expect most Jews to turn to the GOP, particularly given their general distaste for both xenophobes and the cultural agenda of the religious right. But Jewish Democrats eventually could lose ground if they continue to ignore growing anti-Israel sentiment in their party.
Ultimately, Jewish survival, as well as that of Israel, depends not on mindlessly following progressive fashion, but rather on embracing the pluralist traditions that led our ancestors to this country. America’s values, not those of the campus left or the lunatic right, remain our safest harbor in these troubled times.
(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. This piece appeared most recently in NewGeography.com.)
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