With the rise of antisemitism on both sides of the political aisle, good people on both sides have been wondering what the American government is going to do about it. Enter Donald Trump, President of the United States, who will be making an executive order declaring the Jews a nationality. The goal of this is to allow Jews to fall under Title VI, which prevents discrimination based on gender, race, and nationality.
The goal of this is to punish universities that allow the BDS movement (and other anti-Jewish hate groups) to run around and harass Jews on American college campuses by taking away federal funding. Anyone who has been following campus news knows that BDS has gotten more brazen in its antisemitism, and Jews feel less and less safe to go to class, wear Stars of David, and be openly pro-Israel. There are numerous stories from the past week about Jews being punished for being pro-Israel. Feel free to look them up.
While some on the left have decried the move, the fact is that as long as Title VI exists, Jews should fall under its protection. However, what a lot of the President’s critics are saying is simply incorrect. Not only is it not a “Naziesque” move to define Jews as nationality, it is actually a correction of one of modern history’s greatest injustices against the Jews, and might even demonstrate that Trump has a better understanding of Judaism than many Jews.
I like to say that you can judge a revolution by its fruits. One example is the French Revolution. The French Revolution was one of the bloodiest revolutions throughout history. It also resulted in the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was one the most bellicose leaders in France’s history.
One of the things he did that he is praised for today is his emancipation of the Jews. Before Napoleon, Jews and Protestants were forced to live in ghettos, away from the Catholic population. He gave them full citizenship and even attempted to build a Sanhedrin. However, one of the things he wanted to do was blur the differences between his different subjects. He said “I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them.” While it might seem like a pretty progressive thing to say (indeed, I like to think that this statement was made with at least some noble intentions), there was an issue with it.
Unlike nowadays, where the significance of citizenship has been watered down to mean nothing, back in those days only certain people got citizenship. Jews did not get citizenship in Europe; no matter how long the Jews lived in Europe, they were outsiders. They belonged to a long lost kingdom in the Middle East, and were roaming the Earth as a testament to God’s anger at them for rejecting Christ. By giving citizenship to the Jews, Napoleon was saying that the Jews were simply Frenchmen with a different religion. That attitude, whether he believed in it or is simply conjecture, has become the prevailing attitude of many people, Jew and Gentile alike.
Many of the people I saw criticizing this move said things along the lines of “I am an American who happens to believe in the Jewish religion. I am not anything but American.” That criticism of the law is generally made because these people are afraid of Trump defining the Jews as a separate race, therefore giving permission for another Holocaust. The leap in logic is ridiculous to say the least, but the first statement ignores a very important historical reality, which is that Jews are a nation.
Throughout the Torah, God implores us to be a Goy Kadosh (a holy nation). A goy, in the classical sense of the word, means nation, as opposed to the modern parlance, which is simply a way to identify small-minded Jews and Gentiles. But the point is, as early as the Hebrew Bible we are told of our national status. We are not Frenchmen or Englishmen or Arabs or Africans. We are Jews. Hebrews. Israelis. But we are a distinct nation. And while it is possible to be an American Jew (because American says nothing about your ethnicity, but rather what passport you have), we are only as American as African-Americans are. Or Irish-Americans. Or Italian-Americans. We are Jewish-Americans. Or American Jews. Or Hebrew-Americans. Or Israeli-Americans. And we deserve the same protection under Title VI as anybody else.
Which brings us to a broader point, which is that while many American Jews do not like Trump, I think part of the reason for that is that whether he realizes it or not, Trump gets to the heart of what it means to be Jewish. Yes, America’s embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem, because that is the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Yes, Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are legal, because you can’t occupy your own land. Yes, Jews should have some loyalty to their fellow Jews, and part of an American Jew’s political calculations should be on which candidates will treat their own properly, within America and abroad. And yes, the Hebrews are a distinct nation and not simply another esoteric religious group, and are therefore entitled to the same legal protections offered to women, African-Americans, and other minority group on campus. And people who wave Palestinian flags and harass Jewish students are violating American law. But since Trump speaks these fundamental truths, the largely secular, leftist, assimilated Jewish population of the United States does not want to hear about it. I’m almost curious as to what Trump thinks about Jews like these, who seem to spit on him no matter what he does for them. The fact that he continues to do good by us demonstrates to us his real character, after you cut through all the tweets and noise.
While the vitriolic reaction by leftist Jews to this announcement demonstrates that Napoleon really did assimilate us, the fact that Trump is recognizing our national status is at least a vindication of a greater truth, which is that no, we Jews are not simply a religious group; we are a nation. Maybe one day my fellow Jews will recognize how right Trump was.