Last week, I watched John Oliver, one of America’s best-known comedy news hosts, take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’ve watched him many times before (the Joe Exotic episode is a favorite) and I’m a fan. But his maligning of Israel as a perpetrator of war crimes or his distortion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict horrified me.
Because that was when I realized that everything I’d learned about Jewish History was true.
I’m no expert on the subject, but after 15 years of self-study, I’ve drawn a few conclusions:
The 3,000-plus-year existence of the Jewish people is essentially a stretch of pogroms, expulsions, rapes, mutilations, public burnings, forced conversions, vandalization of property, demonization in the press, kangaroo courts, and the largest systematized genocide in the history of mankind. Sure, we’ve had our peaceful stretches, but they were commercial breaks, not the regularly scheduled program
The sequence repeats itself consistently: violence and discrimination push Jews from one society to a more “enlightened” one in which we integrate, assimilate, and advance in all aspects. We adopt their language, customs, and beliefs to the point where many of us identify with that culture first and our Jewish identities second. But at the first sign of instability, usually after a financial or civil crisis, the host country turns on their Jews. Sometimes it’s a quick process, sometimes it’s slower, more subtle and insidious. But it inevitably happens. Eventually, even the most assimilated Jews become the enemy – and the process begins again.
I once thought America was different. Then again, so did the Jews of Germany before 1933. Back then, it was impossible to believe that such a progressive society, which produced such minds as Goethe, Kant, and Mendelssohn, could embrace anti-Semitism – the most primitive and unoriginal of ideas. It was this disbelief that kept so many Jews in Europe until it was too late to leave.
I don’t know if I believe that another Holocaust is possible in America in 2021. But after what I’ve seen in the past few weeks, I do believe that at some point the Jews of the United States will no longer be welcome here. Even if our (very) fragile democracy manages to uphold its basic tenets of freedom for all citizens, it’s almost irrelevant; Americans no longer look to their government for what is true and right. They look to Facebook, to Instagram, to Bella Hadid and Jimmy Fallon. We are governed by public opinion, and the American opinion of Israel – and by turn, Jews – is darkening by the day.
This conclusion was a few years coming. Back in 2017, when Neo-Nazis with tiki torches marched on Charlottesville, I began to suspect something was afoot. Even more so after the shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway. Various stories about anti-Semitic injustices on college campuses and on social media stoked my concern. Then, in the last few weeks, I watched anti-Semitic violence, fueled by the tension in Israel, perpetrated in public spaces in New York and Los Angeles – followed by a resounding silence. All of those justice fighters ready to take to the streets in the name of racial justice – as they should have – were chillingly quiet when the victims were Jews.
And then John Oliver, a satirical news source for millions of Americans, told mainstream America that Israel is the villain. Which means that mainstream America – many, many of whom equate Israel with Jews – will believe him.
I was devastated to realize this, just I was devastated to watch armed militants storm the Capitol Building and realize that the America I’ve known it for 39 years is over. This time, I realized that America will soon be over for Jews.
As the tide turned on the Jews of Jerusalem, Rome, Medina, Spain, Bavaria, Paris, Naples, Portugal, Nuremberg, Haiti, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Poland, Russia, Germany, and almost every Arab country on the planet, so now is it turning for the Jews of the United States.
I will not wait to see what is to come. This summer, my family and I will be moving to Israel.
It should be said that this decision was made before the recent conflict, and even before COVID. But if I had any lingering notion that the liberty and convenience of America and the ties we have here were enough of a draw to stay, they have been laid to rest. I am going now while I have a choice, instead of when there is no choice.
This, I suppose, is what sets me apart from those Jews who were pulled in and cast out with the tides of history: they had no place to go.
But I do.
Israel is certainly not perfect. It has its dark underbelly, its troubled past, its unclear future, just like the United States. But it is the only place in the world where I feel safe to live as a Jew. It is the only place where my protection is paramount. It is the answer to that inevitable change of heart that every host culture has about its Jews. Herzl knew it, as did Ben-Gurion and Weizmann and Meir. They knew that for Jews anywhere but in Israel, it was only a matter of time.
And now, my time is up.