During the 20th century, there were testing times for Jews. For many Jews who made the perilous trip by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States-America-was ‘Die Goldene Medina,’ meaning, the Golden Land [country]. Here, for a Jew who was disenfranchised and persecuted, all dreams could and would come to fruition.
It was seen as a Promised Land like no other. But it is becoming clear that the ‘Goldene Medina’ is losing its golden luster.
June 23. 2019
By Dr. Mordechai Kedar. Translated from the article in Hebrew by Nurit Greenger
I don’t see a way to put the anti-Jewish demon in the United States back into the bottle, whether it was ever locked up in it.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar’s Translated Story
This year, between the Holidays of Passover and Shavuot, I was on my annual lecture tour in the United States and Canada that lasted five weeks. The first such tour took place in 2009, and this one is my 11th tour.
I am invited by academic institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and houses of faith, community centers, and individuals.
My lecture subjects focus on my research material about the Middle East, including Israel, Islam in its birth countries and its cause and effect in the countries to where it migrated.
The inviting Jewish institutions span over North America’s entire Jewish cultural spectrum: Progressive and Liberal organizations, like Reform Judaism synagogues, Orthodox institutions and even ultra-Orthodox congregations. Also Israeli groups, like IAC (Israel-American Council) invite me and to them I speak in Hebrew.
Over the years, during each such tour, I have met people of different opinions, varied approaches, and attitudes, and with complex ideas.
In the past years, the topics I was asked to cover were the Middle East, Israel and the challenges it is facing, the peace process, “the Arab spring,” Islam, ISIS, and similar topics. All focus on the Middle East and its issues that spread to other countries.
North American Security
The situation in the United States, especially the state of the United States’ Jewish population, rarely came up in meetings with me. Because I am an Israeli, people who conversed with me did not see in me a person who has anything to say about Jewish affairs in the United States.
Once in a while, when Jewish affairs in North America did come up, I got the loud and clear impression that the US and Canadian Jews feel that they live in the promised and secured land: promised – because they live in peace in a land where there is no hatred of Jews, there is no discrimination against Jews, they are integrated into all the social and political circles, and thus, they have no reason to worry.
Secured – Because violence in the American public space is generally low, and in possible problematic places, such as synagogues and Jewish community centers, there is police protective security.
One reform rabbi went even further when he said to me: “exile” is not a place but a concept: every land where Jews can maintain full and safe Jewish life does not count as “exile” because “exile” is a land where Jews cannot conduct religious, cultural, and free and safe physical life.
His hint was clear: Israel is more the “exile” land than the United States, because in Israel, due to the security situation, life is much less safe than in America. Also, because Reform Judaism rabbis cannot conduct their communities’ way of practice in Israel with the same freedom that exists for them in the United States.
A Change This Year
This year, the atmosphere I faced during my lecture tour was completely different. Many Jews, of all the cultural spectrum shades, expressed clearly and openly their fear of two things: the increasing hatred of Jews and the deterioration in the security situation. (Note: here I am trying to avoid the term “Antisemitism” because the Arabs are also Semites.).
The reasons for the increase in Jew-hatred vary and are many: a European-Christian heritage that migrated to the new world; identifying the Jew with the establishment, the money, the media, the politics, the academy, the art and the film industry; Jews’ involvement in negative affairs: in the film industry – Harvey Weinstein – and the financial market – Bernie Madoff; joining Muslims in Jew hatred sentiments stemming from Islamic origins. Also due to the growing Islamic migrants’ population to the United States and the rise in the Muslims’ political weight, expressed in last election with first time in American history, electing two Muslim congresswomen; identifying Jews with Israel, and more.
It is important to remember that Jews are found to be serving in prominent, visible public positions: among the liberal Jews who surrounded President Obama, we note Ram Emmanuel, Dan Shapiro (who served as ambassador of the United States to Israel), Jeremy Ben Ami (head of J Street), Jonathan Greenblatt (today the head of ADL – “American Defense League”) and more.
Many of the Americans who objected to Obama, mainly from the Republican side, turned their arrows – the explicit and the hinted – toward those Jews. On the other hand, President Trump is also surrounded by Jews, conservative and even religious: his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his advisor Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman (USA Ambassador to Israel), Michael Cohen, Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury) and others. The American who does not like President Trump does not like the Jews who surround the President either.
It is important to note that Jews have served in senior positions in previous administrations: among the Republicans: Paul Wolfowitz (Vice Secretary of Defense in the days of President W Bush) and other Jews – Douglas Faith and Richard Pearl for example – served in government key roles. Among the Democrats: in the Clinton administration the Jews who served in key positions were- Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrook, and Martin Indyk, for example. So, the Jews – already for a long time – are found between the Republican hammer and the Democratic anvil.
Identifying the Jews with money is a widespread phenomenon in the United States and beyond, and there are many reasons for this: prominent investment banks – Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, for example – founded by Jews and until today they carry their names. During the 2008-2009 economic crisis, these banks stood in the center of the economic storm, the media, and the public sphere. Bernie Madoff, the Jewish “investor,” had bankrupted many thousands of American citizens.
Jews are prominent contributors to American general charity institutions: Hospitals, universities, funds that assist the needy and more. Jews contribute to these institutions from a sense of responsibility to the American society that has taken them in with such affection. The names of the donors are paraded on the fronts of these institutions’ buildings. Only that the ordinary American, the one who works and sweats to put food on the table at his home, when he/she sees the Jewish names being paraded on the front of a hospital building, or a university faculty building that charges more than $50,000 fee for to one school year, he/she identifies the Jew with money, and thus the donation works against the donor and the group to which he/she belongs. Not in vain Ilhan Omar – the Muslim congresswoman – repeated the libel when she connected the Jew to the “Benjamin,” a nickname for the American $100 bill due the image of President Benjamin Franklin printed on it.
Today, there are two Jewish billionaires, each belongs to a side of the American political spectrum who are in the front of the economic support for their side: Sheldon Adelson supports the “right” side and George Soros supports the “left” side. Both cause a lot of anger, each on the opposite side of the political map.
Many books and articles were written about the roots of the hatred of Jews and its cause. Here I will add two important factors that are shared by the Eastern Arab-Muslim world and the Western-European-Christian world: (1) both religions, Christianity and Islam, are religions that originated in Judaism – Abrahamic – and in both the “replacement theory” was developed, according to which each one claims that is came to be in lieu of Judaism and it is the only religion of truth, while Judaism is a null and void religion. Therefore, the Jews are destined to live as disenfranchised and humiliated minority under any of these two religions. (2) Jews lived between the nations of these two religions and cultures and because a Jew is in definition “the other,” there are many who will hate him/her. The proof that these two components – the religious and the reality – stand as the base of the hate for a Jew is the fact that in three other religions and cultures – the Chinese, Japanese and Indian, here used for our purpose as a “criticism group” – there is no hatred of Jews because (a) there is no connection between these religions and cultures to Judaism, and (b) Jews did not live among the Chinese, the Japanese and the Indians. Therefore, the Jew is not “the other living among us and on our account” and so there is no hatred of Jews.
In the past, the hatred of Jews migrated to America from Europe, and today the hatred of Jews stems from Islamic sources, and it is growing with the increasing Islamic presence in the American public and political space. Nowadays, the number of Muslims in the United States, exponentially increasing, outweighing the number of Jews their numbers are on a constant decline. Most of the Jews in the United States are liberal-Progressive in their opinions and more than 70% of them vote for the Democrat Party. Consequently, they are a target of hate by those who dislike and disapprove of the Democrats. In the middle of the last century Jews stood in the front of the struggle for equality and rights for the African-Americans. Today they are at the forefront of public activity for accepting, for instance, Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslims. American Right-wing elements see this Jewish activity in a negative light, and as a result, in their protests you hear the slogan, “Jews will not replace us.”
The increasing hatred of Jews finds its expression in worrisome reports about a dramatic increase in the number of events that express this hatred, headed by two recent murders. One occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during Sukkot of this year, when a murderer, named Robert Bowers, broke into the “Tree of Life” synagogue and murdered in cold blood eleven praying Jews and wounded six others. The other murderous event took place last Passover when a murderer, named John Earnest, broke into Chabad House in the city of Poway, in southern California. There, he murdered one lady congregant and injured three others, among them the rabbi. In both cases, the murderers related to the anti-Jewish book “The Turner Diaries,” written in 1978 by a Nazi American named William Luther Pierce, with a pen name Andrew Macdonald.
Another issue that is affecting the life of the Jews in the United States is the increasingly negative perception toward privileged groups: white, rich, healthy, by groups considered to be disenfranchised: dark-skinned, poor and disabled. The Jew is considered privileged, and therefore he/she is an integral part of the “suppressing and repressing system,” activated by “the privileged” against “the discriminated” groups who are excluded from the advantages the privileged groups enjoy.
Hence, with the increasing criticism of the actions of Israel required to defend herself, as well as the criticism of the establishment of the Jewish state at the expense of the “poor Palestinians,” Israel is also considered more and more of a burden for many American Jews. The challenge to the State of Israel’s right to exist, because it is a “colonialist creature,” exists in American academia, which, for many years has been educating generations of students who wholeheartedly now believe that Israel has no right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Jews who identify with Israel on campus are criticized and are hated by lecturers who jeopardize these students’ academic success and their colleagues endanger their well-being.
Here I must mention the involvement of quasi Jewish organizations in the fueling of the criticism and the hatred towards Israel: Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Peace Now, J Street and more, each in it is own way and style. These organizations’ activists think that if Israel only “behaves nicely,” according to their concepts, toward her ‘Palestinian’ neighbors, they – the liberal and progressive United States Jews – will be accepted better by the American society. They do not comprehend the simple fact that the hatred of Jews has no connection to Israel since the hatred of Jews was not born in 1948, with the birth of the modern Jewish state. It is embedded deep in Western culture just as it is deeply-embedded in Islamic culture.
For its Jews, for many years the United States has been “the promised land,” a land of immigrants where they were able to live in equality, with respect and be appreciated just as all other immigrant minorities. For the Jews America was also “the safe and secured land,” surely compared to the security situation in Israel. It has been a country where no one checks one’s belonging at the entrance to the mall, before embarking on a train or bus ride of entering the movie theater. Only that the increase in Jew-hatred over the last few years has undermined the perception of “the promised land,” while the murder cases aimed at Jews, in the last year alone way more than before, are severely challenging the perception of “the safe and secured land..” In front of many synagogues there is police security detail during Shabbat and holiday prayers and even during weekly activities.
Several Jews formed an organization called “Jews can shoot,” and on their skullcap they wear is the slogan: “Nothing Says Never Again Like an Armed Jew.” Inside the skullcap, the Jewish Sages’ slogan reads: “If someone is coming to kill you, rise and kill him first.” And indeed, there are Jews who are armed while they attend prayers at the synagogue. But is that what will solve the hate for Jews problem? And what will the armed Jew do if the murderer is armed with an automatic rifle? And what will happen if a group of gunmen, with automatic rifles, attack a synagogue where there is one man, armed with a pistol and the gun he keeps outside the sanctuary? Is this script cannot happen?
During my lectures’ tour between Passover and Shavuot, I realized the voluminous change in many American Jews’ world’s perception. The fear of Jew hatred and the fear of acts of terror against them has become real, realistic, and has a presence everywhere. As a result, there will be an increase in two conflicting trends. On the one hand, Jews whose sense of belonging to the Jewish collective is weak may see in their connection to Judaism, a burden that is going to be problematic. Therefore, they will aim to weaken every Jewish element that still exists in them toward full assimilation into the surrounding society with the hope to be rid of the fate of Jews.
On the other hand, those Jews, because of their dress code, their long sideburns and beards, and their faith, who do not wish or cannot hide their Jewish identity, will surround themselves with real or virtual walls to protect themselves and their community in their neighborhoods. This happened in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and congregate in separate communities, like Monsey, Monroe, in New York. Others will conclude that the French Jews have reached in the last few years. They will give up on life in the United States and will immigrate to Israel.
The political system in Israel clearly expresses the growing trends in the population, whereby the Right is increasingly growing stronger, and the Left is weakening in a long, continuous, and steady process. In contracts, the American political system is like a pendulum that at times brings to power the Democrats, like Carter, Clinton, and Obama, and at other times it is controlled by the Republican agenda of Reagan, Senior and son Bush and Trump. In America it appears possible that after President Trump – and as a reaction to his style of governing – the political pendulum will even give rise to a man like Bernie Sanders, a far-Left Jew with aggressive socialist agenda, and his supporters, and then the anti-Jewish sentiments among the American Right will skyrocket as well as, and God forbid, their actions against Jews.
Undermining a Key Concept
I don’t see a way to put the anti-Jewish demon back in the bottle – if it was ever locked up in it.
The history of the 20th century teaches us that the more the Jew was entrenched in the society in which he/she lived, the sense of emanating threats from this society was greater, and therefore the hatred for the Jew was also greater. In Weimar Germany, in Austria, and Holland of pre-World War Two, Jews gained the highest status, hence, the hatred of the Jews in those countries was even greater than in the eastern European countries.
Until recently, many of the United States’ Jews have lived with the sense that the USA is basically different from Europe, and “here it cannot happen.” This concept and sense is now being undermined.
Israel must prepare to absorb massive immigration from the United States. It will not be distress immigration, rather, immigration that came about from the clear conclusion that after Europe, the United States has ceased to be a safe place for Jews. Canadian Jews are not in a much better place, and what is happening in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, not to mention Venezuela, will encourage many Jews, also from these countries, to leave and emigrate to Israel.
In my estimation, the massive immigration from north, central and South America is only a matter of not that many years. The question Israel is already facing is, what it is going to do to successfully absorb these future and blessed waves of immigrating Jews?