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Anti-Semitism in the U.S. doesn’t make me want to move to Israel

Why would American Jews be any less repulsed by the ultra-nationalist tendencies rampant in Israel than they are by those taking hold in America?

By Sarah Stern

A burned first-grade classroom at Jerusalem’s bilingual school after it was the target of an arson attack, November 30, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A teacher surveys the damage of an arson attack against the first-grade classroom of one of Israel’s few integrated schools where Jews and Arabs study together, November 30, 2014. Ultra-nationalist Jewish extremists were later convicted for the attack. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Jewish day school in Rockville, MD where I spent six years as a student received a bomb threat this week. There have been over 100 threats like this at Jewish institutions across the United States since January. When I was nudged and shown an article during a conference panel this weekend, however, the news hardly made me flinch. It had not jarred me, I realized, because I recently moved back from Jerusalem, where no space ever felt completely safe.

My nervous system has adapted to handle this moment. Variations of news alerts — stabbings, demolitions, bombings, rockets, car rammings — flashed constantly over there. This was normal. My employer had installed a sophisticated security tracking system on my phone to make it feel normal. I felt prepared for this moment, but I also felt my lack of fear to be disconcerting.

I moved back to the U.S. largely because this didn’t have to be normal for me — I could leave. Israelis will tell you that it’s not so bad; Netanyahu will tell you that they’re “managing it.” Palestinians won’t tell you that, because it’s worse for them and most can’t leave. The root cause of the violence both here and there is much more than anti-Semitism. Ultra-nationalism is core to our shared story.

So I find it strange when people ask me whether I wish I were in Israel now that Trump is in charge and anti-Semitism is rampant. Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union, Israel’s second-largest political party, has urged the Israeli government to prepare for a mass influx of American Jews. The idea is that I would be safer there, you know, as a Jew. After all, in Jewish day school they taught us that Israel is the safe-haven for all Jews. That it is a place for me to express my full identity.

I have never felt more unsafe — as a leftist, as a Palestinian ally, as a Jew — than I felt in Jerusalem.

Jewish nationalist activists from anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest in Rishon Lezion, August 17, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Jewish ultra-nationalist activists from anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman who converted to Islam, August 17, 2014. (Activestills.org)

There were days of protest when I would feel nervous carrying signs in Arabic on the street in sight of right-wing Israelis. There were other days of stabbings, when I would think twice about the Israeliness of my boots before I wore them to work in East Jerusalem. Locals, especially Palestinians, face real bodily risk in their everyday lives – much more than I did. But that didn’t make me any less afraid.

I come from an America that wasn’t ultra-nationalist, that wasn’t authoritarian, whose patriots were those who welcomed immigrants and where diversity was valued. In the America that I knew, I could wear anything and hold any sign. I would never wake up with the fear that my Jewish day school could be bombed.

Of course anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. did happen before Trump rose to power. But it is clear that the most bigoted of tribalists have been emboldened by his election to the White House. Trump ran on a platform to ban Muslims and wall out Mexicans. He refused to name Jews as the primary target of the Holocaust. He dismisses anti-Semitic attacks as potentially fake and political stunts.

Let’s talk seriously about political stunts.

Trump and Netanyahu use the same tactics to gain supporters. Just as Trump was elected on a campaign of hate, Netanyahu preyed on fears of “droves of Arabs” participating in democracy, challenging his vision of ethnocracy. Trump and Bibi are both ultra-nationalists who have stoked the most base and tribal instincts of our societies in Israel and America.

Why does Isaac Herzog assume that American Jews aren’t repulsed by these ultra-nationalist tendencies in Israel just as they are in America? I am back in the U.S. to join with other marginalized groups here, because the power and privilege I held in Israel never really made me feel free. I will fight for the type of country that I once knew, and that I know Israel can be too – a democracy that allows me to express my full identity and welcomes everyone to do the same.

Sarah Stern is a D.C. native who recently returned to her hometown after three years in Jerusalem. She is the Storytelling and Communications Associate at the New Israel Fund.

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    1. Firentis

      Dear Sarah,

      Israel isn’t a great place for Jews that think of themselves as “Palestinian allies” given that this the Palestinians are where much of the danger to Jews in Israel comes from. Pretty ironic that a “Palestinian ally” couldn’t handle the danger that she herself was encouraging. My usual reaction to these kinds of people is one of pity and disgust. Other people might have even stronger reactions towards traitors that support our enemies.

      Enjoy America. If the anti-Semitism ever actually reaches the point where you are afraid as a Jew, there is a free ticket waiting for you. Until then, that is, until Jews, with their well-developed sense of paranoia, start leaving the US I’ll consider the current shrieks of anti-Semitism to be politically useful spin that is being used to batter the current moron sitting in the White House.

      I must say though, that the “resistance” against Trump is a pretty darn comfortable and popular pursuit these days, one that can be crammed as an activity between soulcycle and frozen yoghurt. Have fun!

      Stam Ish

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        An ultra-nationalist blast addressed to a writer who identifies ultra-nationalism as the problem. One could infer, Firentis, that you rather like the idea of this anti-Semite-promoting authoritarian moron in the White House. You hated having a smart guy in the White House because, though he was a true friend and excellent protector of Israel, he couldn’t be manipulated to your satisfaction on either Iran or the settlement “enterprise.” Enjoy Israel. If the going gets tough we know you’ll call us. Meanwhile you’ll treat us and American values with contempt.

        ‘Pretty ironic that a “Palestinian ally” couldn’t handle the danger that she herself was encouraging’? Just amazingly perverse to say that. You’ll keep promoting the right wing extremists on both sides. Because, in the language of fascism,* that’s what people who aren’t “traitors” do.

        * Signs of Fascism in Israel…Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar Zeev Sternhell fears the collapse of Israeli democracy, and compares the current atmosphere with that of 1940s’ France.
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.610368?v=7B60DE6547A1792616257F8808841B08

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Not an ultra-nationalist blast, but rather a dose of sanity to a person driven insane by progressive brainwashing over years. Only brainwashing can make sense of someone leaving Israel because of how dangerous it felt while at the same time siding with the people that would have stabbed her for wearing boots that were too ‘Israeli’. All this while talking about how Palestinians were “especially” in danger and while protesting against Israeli measures taken to defend Israelis from such attacks. People who justify Palestinian violence while denouncing Israeli security measures are encouraging such violence. When such people belong to the group that is being targeted by the violence it is accurate and legitimate to call them traitors.

          Trump is a moron. We have yet to see what he will do. What we have seen from Obama is on display every time we look at the horrible state of the Middle East. If that is the end result of having a smart guy who is a protector and true friend of Israel in the White House, I’ll take the other guy just to see whether he can do a better job. American values at this point are deporting millions of people while discriminating against Muslims and persecuting trans people. So, go on, preach to me about American values.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The “traitor” talk is the common thread of the rightists. Lewis from Afula, however, in applying this also to Odeh, is more honest about what they are up to: “The best thing Odeh can do is to change his nonsensical fake identity. His continual existence as a PLO traitor helps nobody – and that includes himself.” The Right hates the idea of an Arab Palestinian moderate or peacemaker, they just loathe it, and want to strengthen the right on both sides and weaken the left on both sides. They need Odeh to be a “traitor” to the joined-at-the-hip Arab and Jewish right wings. Their worst nightmare is a smiling, friendly, successful Palestinian Left that makes peace and seeks co-existence. Odeh is “nonsensical” to them in this sense. They just can’t get their mind around the idea that this does not have to be a war to the death over a maximal land grab.

            Pure baloney about Obama: False causation attributed, Obama’s predecessors’ causation ignored, Obama’s cleanup of predecessors’ mess ignored.

            “I’ll take the other guy just to see whether he can do a better job. American values at this point are deporting millions of people while discriminating against Muslims and persecuting trans people. So, go on, preach to me about American values.”

            Apparently you missed Stern’s point about appealing to base instincts: “Trump and Netanyahu use the same tactics to gain supporters. Just as Trump was elected on a campaign of hate, Netanyahu preyed on fears of “droves of Arabs” participating in democracy, challenging his vision of ethnocracy. Trump and Bibi are both ultra-nationalists who have stoked the most base and tribal instincts of our societies in Israel and America. Why does Isaac Herzog assume that American Jews aren’t repulsed by these ultra-nationalist tendencies in Israel just as they are in America?”

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            When the traitor shoe fits, for example by encouraging attacks against your own people, wear it.

            I think Odeh is a positive force in Israeli politics. He is a good representative and expresses reasonably well the conflicting motivations and identities of Israeli Arabs. He doesn’t represent Palestinians and I presume his willingness to serve as a member of the Knesset probably marks him a traitor in the eyes of many Palestinians around the world. Odeh doesn’t frighten me in the slightest. I am perfectly happy to have him achieve additional protections and advancements for the rights of Israeli Arabs as citizens though I expect and hope that he will fail miserably in any attempt to achieve collective national rights.

            Obama was president for eight years. He leaves the Middle East and much of the rest of the world in a worse place than he found it. I find it rather amazing that people blame a president that left office in 2008 for everything that happened since. It is almost as ridiculous when the same people blamed Trump when Aleppo fell to the Syrian regime… before Trump was even inaugurated. Obama was a terrible foreign policy president in all parts of the world. Specifically in the Middle East he caused Israel’s enemies on every front to grow stronger politically and militarily – Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Palestinians. Most of those groups are hostile to both Israel and the United States, but hey, “protector” of Israel, right? With friends like Obama…

            Trump is the elected president of the United States. The Republicans control the Senate and the House. They control two thirds of the governorships. Trump’s values are American values. Now preach to me again about American values.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is one long ludicrous exercise in false causation, from “encouraging attacks” to “marks him as a traitor” to “caused Israel’s enemies” to “American values.”
            Cheap talk about Obama shows Israelis like you to be appallingly ungrateful, amazingly spoiled coddled brats. Soley on account of Obama not kowtowing on settlements.

            “Collective national rights” is a slippery euphemism for just what? As opposed to what “collective national rights” you enjoy?

            “Odeh doesn’t frighten me in the slightest. I am perfectly happy to have him achieve additional protections and advancements for the rights of Israeli Arabs as citizens….”

            But you’re also perfectly happy to see him shot in the face point blank because he dared to stand up for the rights of some of those Arab citizens. And no one gets called to account. We see how your concept of “achieving additional protections and advancements for the rights” works.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Obama was a terrible foreign policy president. I have already pointed out who he strengthened and it is pretty obvious around the world that the US is weaker while the enemies of the US are stronger than they were when he became president. You can pretend all you want that I am basing this on Obama’s attitude towards the settlements, but the only problem is that outside of the small circle of Obama fanboys the consensus is that the US and the West in general have gotten weaker while those that view the US as the enemy or as the competition have gotten stronger. Europe is weaker and more fragile, much of the Middle East is in ruins, Al Qaeda and ISIS got stronger, Iran got stronger, China got stronger, Russia got stronger, illiberal nationalists in much of the West got stronger. Everything Obama claimed he wanted to accomplish on the world stage lies in ruins. And the most common reaction of Obama fanboys is ‘Bush did it’. When I hear that one I know that you have lost the argument.

            Odeh and Israeli Arabs should have equal rights and responsibilities in the state of Israel as full and equal citizens. They will not be granted any collective rights such as allowing them to autonomously determine school curriculum or the distribution of cultural budgets. They will not be granted disproportionate representation in the Knesset or elsewhere which would grant them veto power over legislation. Those were just some of the demands raised in a document put out in 2007 called “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel”. If you want to read more, look it up and find the rest under the heading of: “2. The collective –national rights”. It is a long list of demands that shall not be met.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​Yes, I am certain that had Obama given you carte blanche in the territories you’d be singing a quite different song. And it’s even crazier than that because Obama’s policies were actually minimally different from his predecessors on settlements. So I think part of it is the appalling Israeli racism. You guys paint yourselves as racist in reaction to “being at war,” but your treatment of Obama and your treatment of black Africans says otherwise.

            One of the problems with this exercise in false causation of yours is that somehow, the answer always lies in more American soldiers dying in disastrous, poorly thought out campaigns. It is easy for you to so casually armchair quarterback this thing, you, who come from a country that has an absolutely exquisite sensitivity to casualties, who high tailed it out of Lebanon because you could not tolerate the casualties, who resort to massive civilian bombardment from 30,000 feet rather than risk casualties. But American casualties, in far flung campaigns with no exit plan? Not such a big deal to you is it? As long as the Americans do your work for you. You give the impression of two things: Of a disdainful grader of people who carried far more on their shoulders than you can imagine, and had to balance things you haven’t even thought of. And of a person who expects America to simply carry water for you.

            And that is not all, with respect to people carrying water for you. “They will not be granted….” You are fond of this. “They will not. They will leave.” With respect to Arabs and with respect to non-Jewish Africans. It’s the imperious language of an overlord and it is instructive, it is an education, to listen to you and your tone of voice. You have gotten quite used to this overlord thing. The demeanor of the master. The world sees this. You think it will work out for you. I think there are plenty of sane Israelis, these +972 writers among them, but not just them, warning you it will not work out well. But you cannot in the end say your own countrymen did not warn you.

            Read the March 6th edition of the New Yorker. The one with the cover that has a Kremlin shaped spaceship beaming down a sinister connecting ray on the White House. If you’re so very concerned about the Russians and presidents strengthening them, Firentis, then it is not Obama you should be attacking at all but the appallingly unpresidential Trump, who with his latest “Obama wiretapped me” lies and rejection of Comey’s statement on same is playing right into the Russians’ strategy of sowing distrust in American and other western institutions by creating fake news and dezinformatsiya. As if he were the Manchurian candidate. Maybe he is. And it casts your slant on Obama in this sinister light. You and I will disagree but I actually care that American presidents serve American interests. How about that novel concept?

            Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “…a true friend…”

          That just conjures up the old saying:

          “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

          One of Obama’s first acts as Mr President was to embolden Abbas by blaming the settlements for the stalled peace process. And the consequence was predictable.

          Abbas immediately climbed to the top of the tree and refused to come down ever since. He still insists that the issue of settlements must be resolved as a precondition to him negotiating general peace terms.

          Moreover, the Obama administration allowed Abbas to sit on top of that tree for 8 long years. Not only that, but they encouraged that latest infamous recent security council resolution which is designed to keep Abbas on top of his tree.

          Way to go… single handedly Obama’s administration encouraged Abbas not to even negotiate. How will we get peace without negotiations? How will the occupation end without peace?

          Oh but then again, maybe that’s what Benny meant when he called Obama our friend. He obviously thinks that Israelis don’t want to live in peace.

          Reply to Comment
    2. AJew

      “Why would American Jews be any less repulsed by the ultra-nationalist tendencies rampant in Israel than they are by those taking hold in America?”

      Fine. So where else would American Jews go if antisemitism gets bad in America?

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      It is interesting how some prominent “progressive” Jews like the writer responded to Trump’s victory . Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she would move to New Zealand. Barbra Streisand said she would move to Canada (neither has actually done so). Why did Ginsburg say New Zealand? Far away from the US. However, she could have said South Africa or Zambia or Angola? How about Streisand. She wanted to stay closer to home, so she wanted to pick some place in North America. But why didn’t she pick Mexico or Guatemala. Why not? Apparently, for these “anti-racist progressives” the other countries I mention weren’t white enough.
      As I said, Ginsburg and Streisand are big talkers, but they didn’t do anything in the end.
      Why did the writer of the piece run away? If she feels so strongly about what Israel and the Palestinians are doing, why didn’t she stay in Israel to fight for her beliefs? Is this writer any different than them? Anyway, unlike other “Progressives” she apparently doesn’t think that Trump is all that bad, if she is willing to go back to the US. Maybe she should tell Ginsburg or Streisand that, in case they really are still considering white New Zealand or Canada.
      BTW-The writer is stating a falsehood when she said that Trump tried to ban Muslims, he tried to ban people of all religions who came from a short list of failed states. Regarding Trump’s failure to mention Jews as the primary victims of the Holocaust, good “progressives” like Canada’s Justin Trudeau and various EU people do the same all the time, and that doesn’t bother the “progressives”. In fact if a “right-winger” DOES mention it, they will be accused by these same “progressives” of unfairly prioritizing the Jews as victims.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You gotta be Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway in disguise. You just gotta be. Or else you do a fantastic imitation.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Left wing assimilationist losers like Stern should just quietly intermarry & assimilate away.
      Nobody wants to hear their distorted, twisted interpretations on the direction of Jewish history.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      My sons and myself made aliyah from Switzerland and we live in Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem. We are happy here and feel really secure. I really do not understand the fears of Mrs Stern.
      It would be better that she stays in the USA. We really do not need assimilated Jews here in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joshua Fisher

        “We really do not need assimilated Jews here in Israel.”
        Oh yeah, you only want the pure race breed, rein and arisch, Oh wait, that was the other ones, Rein and jüdisch is your motto

        Reply to Comment
      • duh

        “We really do not need assimilated Jews here in Israel.”

        So I take it you’re gonna dig up Herzl’s remains and jettison him back to Budapest?

        Reply to Comment
    6. R5

      The real reason you won’t move to Israel is that anti-Semitism in the United States hasn’t reached dangerous levels. If it does (which is unlikely), you’ll quickly forget your mushy brained SJW talking points about allies and lived experiences, and run for higher ground. Separately, it is disgraceful that you’re content to draw moral equivalence between the most important Jewish institution on planet earth and Trump’s alt-right fan club. Most American Jews, including the nominally liberal ones, are genuinely disgusted with your way of thinking. Don’t get it wrong.

      Reply to Comment
      • duh

        If Jewish Americans had to flee the US like it was 1930’s Germany, there’s too many variables to safely say Israel would be able to take in more than a select handful.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          We would take every single one. There are no variables. None.

          The conditions for the new immigrants would likely be pretty spartan for the first 5-10 years while we build new infrastructure and cities to house them. It would take quite a while to absorb them into Israeli society and into the Israeli economy, yet I have absolutely no doubt that every single Jew that needed shelter in Israel would find it.

          It would be the single biggest project the State of Israel had ever undertaken, but it is unlikely that there would be much political opposition to devoting vast resources to completing it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It is this contrast, between your willingness to move mountains for your own ethnicity, and your utterly stingy, niggardly, begrudging and downright mean attitude towards black + non-Jewish refugees–you will give them absolutely nothing—and “they will leave”–that makes Jews and non-Jews outside Israel see you as a people who have lost your soul.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Hey Benny, why do you focus your attention always on Israel only? On a very small country of 8 million people which has not known a day of peace since it’s birth? A country with limited natural resources and which already has a minority population of 20%, many of who are hostile to the country. A country surrounded by 300 million hostile neighbors who are backed up by over 1 billion Muslims and more who slavishly agree with every claim of Israel’s enemies. Why do you expect tiny Israel to take responsibility for more refugees? Here is a suggestion instead:

            Get the Arab countries to assume responsibility for more refugees and take care of them properly. Why aren’t you being as niggardly towards Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states, all of who have vast oil wealth and huge territories at their disposal? Why aren’t they pulling their weight, Benny?

            I’ll tell you what. If you show me a willingness spend as much time on deriding and being niggardly towards the Arab states and Iran, as you do against Israel, I may join you and criticise all parties who don’t help refugees. But while you spend all your life on sites like these Benny, picking ONLY on tiny Israel, I’ll just spend an equal time here to criticise the critics. That’s you and people like you, Benny, for being incredibly niggardly, carpy, biased and hypocritical.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I’m trying to understand how you think that Eli Ben-Dahan and most of the settler establishment and people like Lewis from Afula are all that distinguishable from Trump’s alt-right fan club?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Sweetling

      Thank you for this, Sarah.

      The truth is that it would take actual widespread, sustained pogroms, or worse, for most American Jews to want to emigrate to Israel.

      They talk a good game when it comes to unconditional support — in spite of the human rights abuses and all-but-official state of apartheid — yet, at bottom, most are Americans through and through. They have no interest in making Aliyah.

      What they enjoy is the sense of exceptionalism and entitlement to prized real estate that goes hand-in-hand with Holocaust fetishizing, as if Zionism was not a thing before 1948.

      We were carefully taught to love, revere, and endlessly fund our militarized Jewish cousins who somehow keep beating the odds, no matter what. We are the little Arab-Hating Engine That Could.

      Well, this nice middle-aged Jewish American girl will only go to Israel to help the Palestinians.


      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Good. I want someone like you to stay at the Goldeneh Medineh even if there would be sustained pogroms which I don’t wish to see but not thanks to sweetlings like you but for the sake of other good Jewish people who don’t deserve it.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Jaames Ron

      Well said. Very compelling article.

      Reply to Comment
    9. David

      Face reality.

      As with France and Algeria, Britain and Rhodesia, Belgium and the Congo, etc., the U.S. will inevitably cast Israel adrift, albeit in a “nice way.” The handwriting is on the wall. Israel is America’s major geopolitical liability, a millstone around its neck, a useless and fascistic ally, a belligerent/illegal/brutal occupier, a continuous and accelerating violator of hard won international humanitarian law that feeds hatred of America around the world. Israel is rotting within and Zionism is headed for history’s dust bin. It could only be thus.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Face reality, stop thinking that your wet dream is reality. Israel is here to stay with or without American support.

        FACT: during the 1948 war, America instituted an arms embargo on the region. Tell us o’ wise one, what was the outcome?

        Now don’t get me wrong. I’d be the last one to belittle American support but let’s not over value it either.

        Reply to Comment
    10. i_like_ike52

      I suspect that this is a case another Jew who leaves Israel simply because they prefer the higher standard of living in America, but they dress it up as some sort of “ideological”
      statement because that sounds less egocentric. It wouldn’t be the first time.

      Reply to Comment
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