Listening to LBC this week, an astute point was made by a Jewish caller.
While the world erupts over Donald Trump’s ban on people from seven countries entering the US, he noted that nobody bats an eyelid over the fact that anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passports is disallowed from entering at least this many countries. Not to mention the 16 nations that bar entry to Israelis.
But before we bemoan the unfairness and declare yet more anti-Semitism, it is worth considering what comes next.
What came next on LBC was a caller insisting that the situation for Israelis was totally different, and justified, because Israelis are war criminals – he said.
Nick Ferrari did a good job at unpacking this absurd stance.
But within it is a revelation about why so many Americans support Trump’s hard line. Why even within our own Jewish community in the UK, there are many who back it.
The revelation, is that whether declared overtly, or held quietly, a lot of people believe that just as the LBC caller thought Jews deserve to be barred, this ban is justified too.
Because it is Muslims who are terrorists, isn’t it? And they do come from those countries, don’t they?
Without even delving into the political quagmire of why Saudi Arabia and Egypt were left off Trump’s list – despite most of the 9/11 hijackers coming from the former, and the leader from the latter – such reactions force us to analyse why some of us – Jews – hesitate not only to condemn the ban, but also to dismiss the comparison between it and what happened to our own community during the Holocaust. ‘But the Jews weren’t terrorists,’ is something I’ve heard many espouse.
Perhaps not, but Jews were just as despised and feared and blamed as many immigrants, especially Muslims are today.
And, though it is absurd that it needs to be said, being Muslim does not make somebody a terrorist.
It is past time that we address our own prejudices. As Trump rapidly dismantles the liberty and tolerance that has been so highly valued in the Land of the Free, within our own circles there has been misplaced pleasure in the expectation that at least Trump will be good for Israel. For us.
Firstly, I don’t believe that he will, because it is not helpful to Israel in the long run to blindly support wrong policies, such as the expansion of illegal settlements. A far better friend, would support Israel’s security needs, while strongly pushing Netanyahu towards a more ethical and productive general strategy.
But even if Trump will be good for Israel, this is not enough. It is not enough to justify us ignoring his absolute disregard for the environment, for civil liberties, and for humanity. His recent words stressing the special concern that might be shown to Christian refugees of Syria, above any others, is further testimony to the clear prejudice and Islamaphobia being exercised by the White House, and as a consequence being cultivated and validated across America.
Countless normal Americans have earnestly told news cameras this week that Trump is doing what needs to be done to keep America safe.
Nobody seems to have told them that in 2014 while there were indeed 32 US deaths home and abroad caused by terrorism, there were 33,599 deaths caused by gun violence on US soil.
Whether Donald Trump is playing to a rising populist tide of nationalism, fear, and prejudice, whether he believes these things himself, or whether he is exploiting such volatile sentiments for his own purposes, it is up to the rest of us to oppose him.
We, more than any others, should understand the power and danger of scape-goating.
We, more than any others, should remember the consequences of refusing refugees, or of judging people by their religion.
And so we, even more than others, must resist the prejudices that exist within ourselves, and stand firmly against any we encounter.
When such fundamental principles are threatened, it is good for nobody. And this may be only the start.