Joshua Teitelbaum
Historian of the modern Middle East, activist, Jew, Israeli, American

Democrats: Get Your House in Order on Jew Hate

I’m an old-school liberal Democrat. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1958, I marched against the War (yes, that war), saw my own father arrested on TV by truncheon-wielding Alabama State troopers as he marched with MLK in Selma (mom called Brown’s Chapel to make sure he was alright), and read Black Like Me and Manchild in the Promised Land. Later I was to attend Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto in an attempt to integrate the Sequoia Union High School District.

Then our father took my mother and my brother to Israel in October 1967 for his first rabbinical sabbatical. In June, before our trip, I lay in my bed, eyes closed, praying that the Holy One, blessed be He, would protect Israel. Thank God my prayers were heard, and Israel had a tremendous victory against overwhelming odds. As we all declared, “Kol HaKavod leTzahal!” (‘Way to Go Israel Defense Forces!” – it sounds better in Hebrew). Israel was a formative experience for me, and I fell in love. I was so proud. Back home in the US, ethnicity was in – La Raza, Black is Beautiful – and in Israel we had our own home! Unfortunately, in the US, Jewish identity was so conflicted, so riddled with angst. In Israel, it was just natural, it was us – it was me.

I was smitten, and I knew at the age of nine that I would make my home here. During later trips, I studied and developed a classical Zionist ideological infrastructure for my emotions (shout out to the Jewish Agency’s Institute for Jewish Youth Leaders from Abroad). I understood, through an American lens (thank you Encinal School, Menlo Park, CA), that the Jews in Israel, indigenous in the land of their ancestors, had adopted a “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality, in the way America’s Founding Fathers had meant it. We had finally taken control of our own destiny after being at the mercy of others for millennia.

I immigrated to Israel in 1981, and have never, ever, regretted it. I love it here. But I have always been proud of my American (Californian!) roots. I love America. The Star-Spangled Banner still brings a tear. I’m grateful that Israel and the US permit dual citizenship. That says a lot about both countries, about shared values of individualism, fairness, tolerance and freedom. That one could have complex identities; they were respected and that was great. I visit my brother and parents all the time, travel for work and follow American politics obsessively (check out the NPR One app while driving to Jerusalem).

When the House passed H.Res.183 on March 7, something happened to me. Rep. Ilhan Omar had tweeted several statements infused with Jew hate. Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke loved them. It was so clear. This was overt anti-Semitism by a member of the United States Congress in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! Yet the House resolution was a mealy-mouthed condemnation of every prejudice in the world, and it did not name Rep. Omar. It was as if condemning anti-Semitism was conditional upon condemning other evils. It simply was not evil enough in itself, even after the mass slaughter of the Holocaust, to merit its own condemnation.  “If a Jewish congressman made a series of anti-Muslim statements, tweeted Rabbi David Wolpe,  do you suppose they would pass a resolution opposing anti-Semitism?”Weren’t those who diluted the resolution doing what the #AllLivesMatter hash tag did to #BlackLivesMatter?

Let this be a wake-up call to the Democratic Party. Get your house in order. There is no place for anti-Semitism in your Party, and you can say that without diluting the message. Want to pass a resolution against anti-Muslim attacks? Right on! Against homophobia? Long overdue. But don’t soft-peddle Jew hate, as you did with H.Res.183.

(N.B. To my Republican friends: No, the Republican Party, currently led by Donald “there are very fine people on both sides” Trump is no political home for this Jew either.)


About the Author
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches modern Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University. He has held several visiting positions at Stanford University, including this past year as Visiting Scholar at the Center for International and Strategic Cooperation. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he moved to Israel in 1981.
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