Reflections on Antisemitism in the Trump Era

As we move into this new era, reflections from JVP’s Rabbi Alissa Wise on antisemitism in the age of Trump.

The other day I took my daughter to the playground. I was wearing my Stop Profiling Muslims shirt and was approached by a Black Muslim woman who wanted to thank me for it. My daughter offered to the woman that we were Jewish. The woman turned to me and said “you guys get the same crap we do, we have to stick together.”

That interaction has really stuck with me. I keep turning it over in my mind. Of course I believe that we need to stick together–all of us!–but that I get the same crap she gets? About that I am not so sure.

In the few weeks since Trump was elected there has been a horrifying spike in hate crimes, including some targeting Jews. These acts are undoubtedly fueled by the truly devastating slew of racist policies targeting Muslims, immigrants, and Black people that the Trump administration threaten intensify. With the appointment of white supremacists to his cabinet, Trump has brought antisemitism closer to power in the United States than it has been for decades.

For the past few years my main encounter with claims of antisemitism has been through defending and supporting Palestine solidarity activists–primarily Arab and Muslim– from the relentless gaslighting from the Zionist organizations (mostly Jewish)  that insist that critiquing Israel is akin to hatred of Jews.

On college campuses, Zionist Jewish institutions have been raising the alarm about antisemitism, both as a way to stifle criticism of Israel and as a justification for the necessity of a Jewish state. The accusation of antisemitism is most often deployed against Palestinian human rights advocates for their political beliefs, rather than against white supremacists for their hateful ideologies. This has produced a climate where Jewish institutions are more often using accusations of antisemitism against Arab and/or Muslim students to silence criticism of Israel than working with those communities to combat manifestations of white supremacy, including antisemitism, racism and Islamophobia, on campus.

Some of those same institutions, in the name of fighting BDS, have allied themselves with Christian Zionist groups who are interested in advocating for the Jewish state  because they believe it will bring about the Rapture, or to purify this country of Jews, rather than for the sake of the Jewish people. In our work with interfaith partners in churches, we have spoken out against the antisemitism of Christian Zionist theologies and groups like Christians United for Israel.

The truth is that mainstream Jews need these Jewish institutions now more than ever to care about the millions of Jews in the United States who are terrified. Individual instances of antisemitism are on the rise in a truly scary way, Trump’s election has emboldened white supremacists to freely vandalize property of Jews and express their hatred of Jews openly. The willingness of these Jewish institutions to accept and ignore these threats to Jewish safety in the U.S. in service of the State of Israel betrays their claim of Israel as a safe haven for Jews.

Stephen Bannon’s appointment as chief strategist to the Trump administration has demonstrated both that antisemitism is gaining proximity to power in this new era, and that when the antisemites are pro-Israel, our communal institutions are willing to  remain silent. In the wake of the election, many liberal Jews, even liberal Zionists, were awoken to an admittedly harsh reality: many Jewish institutions care more about the State of Israel than Jewish people.

Sadly, the truth is that it has always been that being a “true friend to Israel” has meant turning their backs not only on fellow Jews, but also turning their back on immigrants, Muslims and others whose livelihoods, families, and lives are truly on the line.

And that’s why that interaction in the playground struck me so deeply. Do Jews get the same crap Muslims do? From where I sit today solidarity is needed more from us, not for us–but maybe I am wrong. After all, it’s not tit for tat, nor zero sum. “We need to stick together.” We sure do.

Rabbi Alissa Wise is a deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, the founding co-chair of the JVP Rabbinical Council and the co-founder of the Nakba Education Project (NEP), which offers educational resources to an American audience about the history of the Nakba and its implications in Palestine/Israel today.

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