President Trump went “there” again, with the Jews and Israel, today. This time he was more explicit.
“If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel,” the president said Wednesday, following up on his statement from Tuesday when he said a Jewish person voting Democrat shows “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
This raises a very thorny question for American Jews. What loyalty should American Jews have for Israel? The corollary: What does Israel owe the world’s Jews, and vice versa?
In purely political terms, the answer is simple: Nothing. Americans are Americans and Israelis are Israelis. Given the chance, Israel has spied on America. During the 2014 missile war with Hamas, the FAA briefly banned flights to Tel Aviv. When Israelis come to the U.S., they have to show their passports and clear customs like everyone else.
When Americans go to Israel, they are subject to the same draconian security requirements other travelers experience. Americans in Israel are, in fact, foreigners. Flashing a blue U.S. passport will get you precisely nothing, not even a cup of coffee (there are no Starbucks in Israel). Though most Israelis speak English, and quite well, Israel is not a Middle Eastern version of America.
American Jews, as citizens here, don’t owe Israel anything, and Israel doesn’t ask of them anything, as citizens.
However, Israel very much owes its existence to American Jews.
Jews lobbied President Harry Truman very hard after World War II to work with the Jewish Agency and the U.N. to make a homeland for the Jews happen. In fact, Truman became frustrated with all the efforts, and practically banned many of the rabbis from the White House. If it wasn’t for Truman’s longtime best friend and business partner Edward Jacobson, who had almost unlimited access to the Oval Office, it’s possible the anti-Semites in the State Department would have dissuaded Truman from recognizing the newly-proclaimed State of Israel.
During Israel’s bloody two-year war of independence, it was largely American Jews who financed and armed the fledgling IDF. In 1948, Golda Mier (then Meyerson), one of two American citizens who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, raised in today’s dollars about three quarters of a billion dollars for Israel.
Despite bans on sending weapons overseas, American Jews smuggled weapons, including B-17 bombers, to Israel. Without American (and Canadian) support, it’s much more likely Israel would have capitulated under the massive assault of five Arab armies.
In those heady and dangerous days, it was cool to support Israel, and America was settling down for a rest and a consumer boom, while the Cold War swung into focus. Israel stood as a beacon against the darkness of the Iron Curtain, so patriotic Americans wanted it to succeed. But even then, the specter of “loyalty” cast its shadow.
Part of the reticence to support Israel stemmed from the ethos of 1950s America, with its focus on suburban growth, the “melting pot” and assimilation. Against that backdrop, American Jews were trying to prove they belonged as social and cultural equals in American society. So again they were fearful of “dual loyalty” charges that could stem from vocal support for a Jewish state.
In a watershed moment in that debate, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent a letter in 1950 to Jacob Blaustein, president of the American Jewish Committee, which for many years had been hesitant to throw its support behind the Jewish national movement. Ben-Gurion pledged not to speak for American Jewry or intervene in its affairs, and to dial down his insistence that American Jews move to Israel. In exchange, Blaustein recognized “the necessity and desirability” of supporting Israel in its nation building.“Israel at 70: How 1948 changed American Jews,” April 2, 2018, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Israel has mainly stayed out of the business of speaking for American Jews since then. Not so much the other way around, as American Jews presume to speak for “what’s best for Israel.” Though American Jews love to speak up about what Israel can do better (for them, or for a variety of causes, including relations with the Palestinians), relatively few today view Israelis as “brothers.”
Grossman concluded his analysis in somber terms after noting that when “Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond: ‘not part of my family’ about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews ‘siblings’ – and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way. Pluralities of about 40% in both groups responded, ‘extended family.’”“2018 AJC Survey of American and Israeli Jewish Public Opinion,” American Jewish Committee
Yet Israel as a state and a Jewish homeland still offers an amazing deal for American Jews. Israel’s Basic Law–their version of the Constitution–declares the State of Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish People.” Jews around the world have a right to emigrate to Israel as citizens (with certain restrictions).
Not only a Jew born elsewhere, but: “4A. (a) The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952***, as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.”
Anywhere Jews live and are persecuted, if these can get to Israel, they have a place to live, prosper and be a full citizen. This is what the American “open borders” crowd lives to see here. Israel is a land of opportunity, but specifically open to (but not only and not exclusively to) Jews.
Do American Jews owe any thanks, gratitude, or, shall we say it, “loyalty” for this spectacular privilege–this get out of Holocaust card? Or should American Jews simply shrug and demand the dismantling of the State of Israel, the one place they can flee should actual neo-Nazis (which Democrats have consistently accused Republicans in the White House of coddling, or being) gain a footing in America?
Is the culture and the identity of “being Jewish” one that should honor the State of Israel and therefore condemn those who would see it destroyed? Of course, American Jews are free to turn to whatever political flavor they like. Republicans are not necessarily any better at keeping the flames of anti-Semitism snuffed than Democrats. But the latest crop of Democrats seem to openly want to engulf Israel in fire. Do Jews owe it to “Jewishness” to speak out–or vote out–those who share Rep. Rashida Tlaib or Rep. Ilhan Omar’s views?
President Trump, as a political opportunist and big mouth extraordinaire, spoke a strident “yes,” that Jews owe Israel loyalty. Even if American Jews don’t like him–even despise him–the question must be asked and answered.
Many Jews might find their personal answer to this question confounding–they may find that the president they despise does more for Jews worldwide, by supporting the one nation in the world where Jews can find freedom from persecution, than they themselves can, or even want, to do.
American Jews may not owe Israel anything, but Israel certainly knows that it owes a debt of gratitude to President Donald Trump. That in itself may be the most galling fact facing Jewish Democrats, who may have been fed up with President Obama’s constant carping and sniping and snubbing of Israel, but now must swallow whole a man they believe to be the modern embodiment of Hitler gaining accolades from their Jewish family in Israel.
It’s quite a time to be Jewish in America.