Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the heart of the Jewish existence for more than 3,000 years.
Jews embrace Israel in our most sacred daily prayer: “Hear: O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And with the psalmist we say, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I should forget thee, O Jerusalem.” However, that does not diminish an American Jew’s love or loyalty to the United States. To suggest otherwise is to engage in the same anti-Semitic trope that Haman whispered in the ear of King Ahasuerus: that Jews have a “dual loyalty” and, therefore, cannot be good citizens of the nation in which they reside. That trope has haunted Jews and been responsible for 3,000 years of anti-Semitism.
That is why so many Jews resented Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet suggesting that those who support Israel have a dual allegiance when it comes to their national loyalties. She apologized, saying, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” But that apology was not enough for President Donald Trump. Because of Omar’s tweet, he told the Republican Jewish Coalition that the Democratic Party has allowed anti-Semitism to “take root in their party and their country.” On Tuesday, Trump doubled down by saying, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Disloyalty to whom or to what? He could not have been talking about disloyalty to Judaism — even Trump would not have the effrontery to tell Jews how to practice their religion in the voting booth. Later, he clarified he was talking about Israel. So does he believe American Jews owe some loyalty to Israel over their allegiance to America? If so, that sounds like the dual loyalty suggested by Omar’s tweet.
A Trump TV ad late in the 2016 election featured sinister grainy images of billionaire George Soros and two other recognizable Jewish financiers with the message, “It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”
Such messages, loaded with anti-Semitic vocabulary, could have been taken from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a document fabricated in the early 1900s that accused Jews of seeking global hegemony by controlling the press and the world’s economy. It even sounded familiar to Adolf Hitler’s message: “Through control of finance and the press, by inciting the workers, by promoting class conflict, by destroying the rights of property owners . . . the world will be replaced by Jewish world domination.” Hence, the Nazi slogan “Jews will not replace us,” which we heard neo-Nazis recite in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In October, before the 2018 midterm elections, and very recently, several Republican candidates for Congress accused Soros of buying the election for their opponents. At the same time, a new video from the American Association of Evangelicals revealed how Soros “through his many funding ventures, has been busily infiltrating the Christian base in America to divide, and ultimately conquer, the religious minded within the Republican Party.” This was followed by a fiercely pro-Trump man sending a pipe bomb to Soros’ home and, shortly thereafter, a gunman shouting anti-Semitic epithets while he killed 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a scene repeated shortly thereafter by another gunman at Chabad of Poway in California.
As an American, I was bothered when the president told members of Congress to “go back” to the countries they came from — the kind of rhetoric used by the Klan. As a Zionist, I was disturbed that Israel in July welcomed a visit from Viktor Orbán — the president of Hungary who praised the “excellence” of Nazi leaders responsible for sending 400,000 Jews to Auschwitz — but turned away a visit from two of those same members of Congress. And as a Republican who is a grandchild of an immigrant who fled persecution, I was ashamed when members of the Republican Jewish Coalition gave Trump a standing ovation when he degraded immigrants and promised to tell those seeking asylum, “Our country is full; can’t come in.”
Anti-Semitism, like all oppression — whether from racism or anti-immigration nativism — manifests itself in some form of hatred. It sometimes appears in people whose “best friends are Jews” and even those who profess strong support for Israel. The fact that anti-Semitism endures and continues to grow is not a Republican or Democratic problem; it is an American and international problem that should not be politicized.
Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge of New York State, is distinguished adjunct professor at Touro Law School.