Jarrod Tanny
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Anti-Semitism and white supremacy: They are not about Israel

Every US Jew has the right to stand up to resurgent anti-Semitism without participating in a discussion about Israel

I am going to state the obvious. American Jews, particularly at the political extremes, have an obsession with Israel. We all know this. We have seen how time and time again whenever something politically volatile happens, somebody immediately says “but Israel…”:

“But Israel is a white supremacist state; we need to attack it when we attack Trump.”

“But Trump has Israel’s back.”

“But if it is OK for the Alt-Left to bully white supremacists carrying swastikas then it is OK to bully people carrying Stars of David in parades. The Magen David is a supremacist symbol to millions of Americans of color. They find it triggering.”

“But the Alt-Right admires Israel, they won’t hurt us.”

“But Israel trains America cops and is complicit in the killing of black Americans. You can’t be anti-Trump and pro-Israel, that makes you a hypocrite.”

“But Trump has Jews in his family and his administration. He can’t be anti-Semitic.”

“But most American Jews are white. White Jews need to defer to People of Color on all questions relating to race relations, and that includes the oppression of Palestinians.”

“But Bibi is pro-Trump, we need to always remember that.”

* * *

I am going to state the obvious again. We have a growing problem with fascism in this country. There are neo-Nazis carrying swastikas and AK47s and chanting “Jew will not replace us.” There is a man in the Oval Office who, by all indications, is OK with this. There may not be an existential threat to American Jewry at present, but that does not mean there will not be one in the future. American Jewry has largely been safe and privileged since World War II because we have white skin; because the horrors of the Holocaust delegitimized anti-Semitism in respectable political circles; because fascism was relegated to the fringe of the political spectrum; because it seemed unthinkable that an American president would ever offer fascists implicit support. But anyone who knows Jewish history and who has monitored with alarm the burgeoning of anti-Semitism across Europe, France in particular, knows that Jewish security is tenuous. To put it in the language of American racial discourse, our whiteness (and hence our inclusion) is conditional. Having white skin privileges Jews until the moment that the men with guns, the men with power, start looking for Jews. The racial laws passed by many states in inter-War Europe — Nazi Germany, but also Poland, Hungary, Romania — suggest that Jewish inclusion can be revoked quite easily. If America succumbs further to fascism (and I am saying if, not when, at least for now), will someone named Cohen, someone named Moscowitz, someone named Rosenblatt, be able to disappear into gentile society? If the fascists come looking for the Jews, will the president of a Reform temple be able to hide his Jewish affiliation even if he has blond hair, blue eyes, and his name is Smith? If the fascists come looking for the Jews, will the Hasids in New York be able to disguise themselves as Christians, if they shave their beards and toss their outfits into the dustbin of discarded Jewish identity? For Ashkenazi Jews, white privilege is just that: a privilege. And privileges can be rescinded.

I am going to state the obvious yet again. Most American Jews do not live in Israel. And it follows that their primary concern should be with the safety of American Jews (and other minorities) without even having to consider what this means for their relationship with Israel. The Zionist Organization of America has thrown American Jewry under the bus because they consider Trump’s support for Israel far more important than the implications of his administration for American Jewry. Jewish Voice for Peace has thrown American Jewry under the bus because they consider any Jew who supports Israel to be complicit in colonialism and white supremacy. At both ends of the political spectrum, Jewish organizations in America are using Israel advocacy to define their domestic agenda. This puts the majority of politically conscious American Jews in a bind, because wherever they look for activism and engagement they are forced to articulate their position on Israel.

Finally, I am going to state what should be obvious but apparently is not. The conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in the Middle East has existed for over a century, under different names and with changing power dynamics. It has existed in its current iteration at least since the Oslo Accords if not the 1967 Six Day War. It is a multilayered conflict that has, unfortunately, proved to be intractable. Because Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, most American Jews will at some point in their lives contemplate their relationship to Israel, and, by extension, cultivate an attitude toward the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The conclusions they draw are not uniform. Nor should they be. But one’s relationship with Israel should never be a litmus test, an obstacle, or a ticket of admission to domestic political activism. Every American Jew has an inherent right to be Jewish in public without fear. And today, this includes standing up to the resurgence of anti-Semitism without being forced into a conversation about Israel.

About the Author
Jarrod Tanny is an Associate Professor and Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History in the Department of History, University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is the author of City of Rogues and Schnorrers: Russia's Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa. He is also the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network,
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