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Welcome to the Jewish American dissonance

American Jews view a Muslim ban as a threat to the ideals they cherish, yet they also believe that too many Muslims in Israel is a direct threat to the Jewish people.

Hundreds fill New York City's Washington Square Park to protest President Trump's decision to ban Muslim refugees from entering the U.S., January 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds fill New York City’s Washington Square Park to protest President Trump’s decision to ban Muslim refugees from entering the U.S., January 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

In early December, just a month after the election of Donald Trump, American alt-right leader Richard Spencer sat down for an interview with Al Jazeera. Speaking to Kristen Saloomey, Spencer, who brought his white supremacist views along as he was catapulted into spotlight over the past year, railed against the “great erasure” of the “white world,” diversity, and the underrepresentation of American whites in corporate America, among other things.

Spencer has made a career out of adroitly tapping into the teeming rage of a white America after eight years of President Obama. He has successfully suffused public discourse with anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic sentiments that at least felt like they were in check under Obama. For years Spencer has been promoting a view of the world undergirded by the belief in both white, European supremacy and its negative: that people of color are not only inferior, they are dependent on the greatness of the master race for any success they may have found. And all this under the cloak of a genteel smile, an affable personality, and a hipster haircut.

The most interesting part of Spencer’s interview, however, focuses on his ideas regarding immigration. While he unsurprisingly opposes illegal immigration and supports Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, Spencer is actually far more interested in how “legal immigration” shapes the demographic makeup of the United States.


“The real issue is the demographic change that occurs through legal immigration,” Spencer tells Saloomey. “These people come, they’re here to stay — at least for a long time — they’re coming by the millions, they’re voting, they’re certainly integrated into the welfare system. That is the big problem. We just have to say: this is not your country.”

For liberals, Spencer’s obsession with demography is an affront to the very ideas that underlie their country. After all, they say, the United States was founded on the backs of immigrants. For the alt-right, this means a last-ditch effort at preserving white domination.

Spencer’s view of the world poses a challenge for mainstream American Jewry. The vast majority of American Jews, who lean left and vote Democrat, likely view him as their enemy, and for good reason. On Friday, Spencer retweeted two Gallup polls published at the height of the Nazi regime’s persecution and extermination of European Jewry. According to the first poll, from 1938, the vast majority of Americans at that time believed Jewish exiles from Germany should not have been allowed into the U.S. The second poll, published in 1944, showed that 44 percent of Americans believed Jews held too much power in the U.S. at the time. Just as Trump has effectively banned Muslims from entering the country, the impetus for the retweets cannot be made any more clear.

Yet when it comes to Israel, the demographic rhetoric we hear from American Jews is far closer to that which Spencer espouses. One of the founding tenets of the Zionist project was to provide Jews with a state of their own, where they would be safe after centuries of persecution, violence, and near-total annihilation. But along with that legitimate and understandable desire for safety came an obsession with maintaining a Jewish demographic majority — at all costs. As my colleague Amjad Iraqi wrote on these pages, the irony is that in its desire to escape persecution, Israeli Jews “became an oppressive majority obsessed with racial control. To this day, the Palestinian people — whether in refugee camps, under occupation, or minority citizens inside Israel — are viewed by the Israeli state as an existential challenge.”

Palestinians pray during a protest against the Israeli Separation Wall that also marks Nakba Day, Nil'in, West Bank, May 15, 2015.

Palestinians pray during a protest against the Israeli Separation Wall that also marks Nakba Day, Nil’in, West Bank, May 15, 2015.

The obsession with demographics in Israel, the idea of maintaining a Jewish majority through both legal means and brute force, has been promulgated by nearly all segments of Jewish Israeli society since before the state’s inception. It is the logical conclusion of the state’s guiding ideology — so much so that challenging it is interpreted by many as endangering Jews worldwide. It is a project that has taken a humanitarian need and transformed it into a colonial structure that constantly requires maintenance and reinvention.

Palestinians, meanwhile, look on as Israeli Jews on both sides of the political spectrum squabble over how best to demographically dominate and defeat them. Iraqi explains:

This obsession over the Palestinian ‘demographic threat’ has become so normalized in both Israeli and international discourse that people have forgotten that at its core, it is both a sinister and racist concept. A Palestinian’s personal character, their advancement in society, and even their indifference to politics mean little to the state – it is their blood that determines their status and defines them as a danger. This view has served to legitimize numerous laws and policies that attempt to manipulate the state’s demographic landscape, with the aim of minimizing and containing the non-Jewish population under its control.

The American Jewish establishment has, for the most part, bought into the idea that maintaining a demographic majority in Israel is the only way to secure the safety of Jews across the globe. Generations of American Jews have been raised not only on the notion of Israel’s inherent justness, they have never been asked to question the idea of ethnic and religious supremacy in the Jewish state. These are the same people who were raised on American ideals of civil liberties and equal rights for all.

Hundreds fill New York City's Washington Square Park to protest President Trump's decision to ban Muslim refugees from entering the U.S., January 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds fill New York City’s Washington Square Park to protest President Trump’s decision to ban Muslim refugees from entering the U.S., January 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

The dissonance becomes even more acute in the face of President Trump’s Muslim ban. Two prominent Jewish American organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Friday came out strongly against Trump’s new policies against Muslims and refugees, and their outrage is likely shared by the majority of American Jews.

In Israel, however, the government has banned family reunifications between Palestinian citizens with their spouses and children from the occupied territories — effectively tearing entire families apart. The law was was initially touted as a “security measure,” but is now viewed as a way of preventing Palestinians from entering and living in Israel. Meanwhile Israel’s draconian policy on refugees amounts to a simple religious test: if the person fleeing war is not Jewish, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for him or her to receive refugee status, legal residency, or citizenship.

What good is the moral outrage over Trump and Spencer when American Jews overwhelmingly support Trump-like policies in Israel? How can it be that a Muslim ban in the U.S. is seen as a threat to the democratic ideals so many American Jews cherish, while too many Muslims in Israel is interpreted as a threat to the Jewish people? American Jews will have to make a choice: maintaining a double standard or fighting for equality for everybody — and that means everybody.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman are two well known American Jews (by gosh, they have dual identities! – sort of like Palestinian-Israelis), and as an example of Jewish American dissidence I submit their editorial in the NYT today:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/opinion/whos-afraid-of-nonviolence.html?_r=0

      Issa Amro, a native of the city of Hebron and a prominent Palestinian advocate of nonviolent resistance, has been waiting now for nearly two months to find out when he can expect to face trial in an Israeli military courtroom. He has been accused of a series of offenses ranging from demonstrating without a permit to “insulting a soldier.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        ​”Through the organization he founded, Youth Against Settlements, he provides a space — a community center — and an outlet for young people to express their resistance to the occupation in nonviolent ways. Every week, up to a hundred kids gather at the center, where Mr. Amro screens inspirational films and instructs them in principles of political nonviolence.”

        Heaven forbid! Teach the youth non-violence? It is forbidden! What will they think of next?! How will we be able to blame the occupation on Palestinian violence and on that old time favorite, their “bloodthirstiness”? We must crack down on him most of all. These preachers of nonviolence are the worst. Can’t let that spread. Of course when it gets out of hand and we get a third intifada because we’ve meticulously frustrated all peaceful avenues of resistance, then we shift gears and loudly complain and act all helpless and schrei that “the Palestinians are inherently violent whatever can we do??!!”

        Reply to Comment
    2. “I’d be proud of a nations of conquerors.”

      Yep, he was doing some serious conquering when he got power-cracked in the jaw and “shuffled off” like a confused punk… Let’s everyone let these court-jesters know that this kind of hatred will not be tolerated, and will be met with “conquering” force. GOOD NIGHT ALT-RIGHT.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Trump and his cohorts disgust. Trump is a Holocaust denier. On Holocaust Remembrance Day Trump pointedly did not mention the Jewish people or the mass murder of the Jews. “Because other were killed too.” (Obviously, starkly different from Obama’s past statements.) This is a classic form of Holocaust denial, by the President of the United States. Sending a dog whistle to his anti-Semitic nativist followers. Where’s the outrage? Not a peep from Bibi or the Jewish right wing. Or mealy mouthed defenses of Trump by the Jewish right. Can you imagine the response if Obama did what Trump did? (It is inconceivable that Obama would, of course. But just imagine how he would be savaged.) But because Obama actually has principles about human rights and followed America’s longstanding policy on the settlements he was viciously slandered. It is hypocrisy and cynicism of the highest order.

      Trump bans Muslim refugees and immigrants. And Bibi, who would never fail to remind us, rightfully, of the turning away of Jews during WWII not only is not silent, he applauds it. Disgusting. A scandal. Listen to Chemi Shalev on this. Listen to how the rationalizations and the prejudice now match the rationalizations and the prejudice during WWII regarding turning away Jewish refugees:

      A Stain on America’s Conscience That Can Never Be Erased – and Should Never Be Forgotten
      With Trump’s barring refugees and immigrants, a look back at the bigotry that caused the U.S. to turn away thousands of Jews that escaped Nazi death camps
      Chemi Shalev
      http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.767951

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Trump’s muslim ban on immigration is a good idea. Countries like UK, France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands now have huge, growing muslim populations. The are many urban districts in these countries that are “no go areas” – where even the police is afraid to patrol. Alot of nasty events – multiple rapes, unsuccessful bombings, attempted beheadings etc, are simply not told to you in the mainstream media. Given the discrepancy between Muslim and Native birth rates, Western Europe is facing civil war.

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        He’s banning people based on religion. Like the u.s. did to the jews fleeing nazi germany on the st. louis.

        And you’re cheering him on. You shouldn’t.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          If France had imposed a Muslim Immigration ban over the last 20 years, there would be several hundred people now alive rather than being butchered in Toulouse, Paris, Nice and Normandy.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Idiot. Many more people would be dead from the exponentially greater ramifying consequences of such an indiscriminate, un-French ban. Were the lead levels in the water in Afula checked regularly when you were growing up there, Lewis?

            Reply to Comment
    5. AJew

      “He’s banning people based on religion. Like the u.s. did to the jews fleeing n..is germany on the st. louis.”

      Yea, since you want to talk about st. Louis (history) let me remind you about another bit of history:

      In the 1930s European Jews were fleeing from the extermination camps. Many of those Jews were trying to make their way to Palestine but, you the Palestinian people objected. You protested vehemently, you rioted and rebelled against the British who eventually gave in to your (the Palestinian Arabs) blackmail and the Brits restricted the intake of Jewish refugees to Palestine. Many of those Jews were sent back to Europe and subsequently died at German extermination camps. That too was done on the basis of religion. Based on Jewishness, Carmen. And it was done according to the will of the Palestinian Arab people.

      I bet we won’t be seeing you condemn that though, will we Carmen? 😡

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I see. Because the Brits restricted the intake of Jewish refugees to Palestine, you agree with Lewis that “Trump’s muslim ban on immigration is a good idea.” Got it. Superlative thinking.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Whooooaaaa there, Benny, not so fast. Where did you see me agree or disagree with Trumps policy.

          Please give us a quote where I said anything that suggests that I either agree or disagree.!!! Go for it Benny!!!!

          For the record. I neither agree. Nor disagree.

          Now on the other hand, why do I get the distinct impression that you are trying to avoid to answer the question which I put to your client (Carmen), Counsellor Benny?

          The question was this:

          Seeing you condemned Anerica for the St Lois incident, why don’t you also condemn the Palestinian Arabs for causing the same thing to happen?

          Oh but wait. You are acting as if the Brits are the sole party to be blamed for it. So according to you the riots of the Palestinians in which they specifically demanded that the Brits should return the Jewish refugees to the death camps, was not a cause?

          PS
          Not just rioting but open rebellion including murder, mayhem, arson and other assorted bits of violence as a result of which the Brits felt compelled to restrict the intake of Jewish refugees. Butv according to you, Benny, the Arabs were just innocents. Innocent babes in the wood and they were not culpable, right, Counsellor Benny? Wow!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is all distortions. I’m not trying to not deny anything or hiding from any coherent and meaningful question. This is a cheap rhetorical game you are playing. Arabs in Palestine demanded Jews be sent to death camps? The political, economic, social, and demographic situation in Palestine in the 1930s-40s was in any way similar to the United States? I am not, unlike Netanyahu, going to try to lay the responsibility for the destruction of the European Jews at the feet of the Palestinians. You with your coy, casual neutrality on Trump’s refugee ban have an odd two-facedness on this issue of refugees and death camps, haranguing me about distorted versions of the problem while being nonchalant about another aspect of it. Or at least you don’t sound one bit like Chemi Shalev. You need to listen to Shalev:

            http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.769191

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            And then you should listen to him here:
            Haaretz’s @ChemiShalev gets very personal about White House Holocaust denial, and Netanyahu’s deafening silence
            https://twitter.com/ChemiShalev

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “an odd two-facedness on this issue of refugees and death camps, haranguing me about distorted versions of the problem”

            Here we go again. Benny again tries to blur any Arab wrong doings against Jews. He is always most reluctant to admit wrongs which Arabs perpetrated against Jews.

            What did I distort, Benny? The white paper is a historical fact. Here, read all about it:

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Paper_of_1939

            “The White Paper of 1939[note 1] was a policy paperissued by the British government under Neville Chamberlain in response to the 1936–39 Arab Revolt, and approved by the House of Commons on 23 May 1939.[note 2][1] ”

            “During the debate, Lloyd George called the White Paper an “act of perfidy” while Winston Churchillvoted against the government of his party.[13] The Liberal MP James Rothschild stated during the parliamentary debate that “for the majority of the Jews who go to Palestine it is a question of migration or of physical extinction”

            “while being nonchalant about another aspect of it”

            Yea, I am guilty. I can’t help myself. I responded to Benny’s St Louis jibe by bringing up the culpability of Palestinian Arabs to force Jewish refugees to return to European death camps. And you Benny are true to form.

            You are happy to be critical of America for what they did with the St Louis. But you are coming up with all the excuses for the Palestinian Arabs who caused the same thing to happen. You really are a hypocrite Benny.

            Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        The Germans contemplated various solutions to the “Jewish Problem,” including forced emigration and transfer to Madagascar. For a time, they allowed Jews to leave for Palestine and to take a limited amount of their property with them under the Hesder. However, the British closed Palestine to Jewish immigration in 1939 (see White Paper). The Germans also found that other countries did not want Jews. At the Evian les Bains conference held in July 1938, country after country declared that they could not accept Jewish immigrants. The Evian conference convinced the Germans that they would not be able to rid themselves of the Jews by forced emigration. To prove to the world that nobody wanted Jews, the Nazi government organized a boatload of such emigrants. In 1939, the German liner St. Louis, carrying a cargo of Jewish refugees, found it was unable to land them in Cuba, owing to extortionate demands of the Cuban government. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Coast Guard to prevent the landing of the ship in the United States. The St. Louis ultimately disembarked its passengers in Europe, where most of them were subsequently killed in the Holocaust. Throughout the war, U.S. Consuls and those of other countries who were initially neutral played an active part in the massacre of European Jewry, by refusing emigration and transit visas to Jews. This policy continued even after it was known with certainty that the Jews were the victims of mass murder, and that refusal of visas meant certain death. Holocaust – Zionism & Israel
        http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Shoah.htm

        “The British 1939 White paper stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 a year for the first five years, and would subsequently be contingent on Arab consent. Restrictions were also placed on the rights of Jews to buy land from Arabs. After this Ben-Gurion changed his policy towards the British, stating: “Peace in Palestine is not the best situation for thwarting the policy of the White Paper”.[21] Ben-Gurion believed a peaceful solution with the Arabs had no chance and soon began preparing the Yishuv for war. According to Teveth ‘through his campaign to mobilize the Yishuv in support of the British war effort, he strove to build the nucleus of a “Hebrew Army”, and his success in this endeavor later brought victory to Zionism in the struggle to establish a Jewish state.'[22]

        During the Second World War, Ben-Gurion encouraged the Jewish population to volunteer for the British Army. He famously told Jews to “support the British as if there is no White Paper and oppose the White Paper as if there is no war”.[23] About 10% of the Jewish population of Palestine volunteered for the British Army, including many women. At the same time Ben-Gurion assisted the illegal immigration of thousands of European Jewish refugees to Palestine during a period when the British placed heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration.” David Ben-Gurion – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ben-Gurion

        So during the British mandate 1923-1948, you claim the palestinians turned away our fellow jews, that ben-gurion had nothing to do with it and his “Peace in Palestine is not the best situation for thwarting the policy of the White Paper” had nothing to do with palestinian resistance to increased jewish presence in palestine, now that ben gurion decided peace wasn’t an option? And you end your screed with the red-faced little emoji, representing the faux indignation and wrath of an idiot, who doesn’t give a damn that fearless leader netanyahooo has not had one word to say about the white house’s words on holocaust memorial day? You have no shame and no brains, iow, all the skills of a leader the alternative facts world we now inhabit.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Thank you Carmen. Most of your verbose post essentially confirms what I said:

          1. The Palestinian Arabs rioted and rebelled in the 1930s because they did not want to see more Jewish refugees arriving to Palestine.

          2. The Brits succumbed and produced the white paper which was an edict to limit the number of Jewish refugees to Palestine.

          3. Consequently thousands of Jews were returned by the Brits to the death camps of Europe.

          The rest of your post, Carmen, seems to take delight in the fact that no one wanted to take in Jewish refugees. But that just offers further proof as to why we need Israel to remain a Jewish majority state.

          Never again, Carmen, Israel as a Jewish state is needed as a haven to ensure that Jews will never again be treated the way we were treated not too long ago by virtually all nations. Now do you understand why we ignore the preachings of the very same nations who treated us in such an abominable way?

          Now do you also understand that we don’t owe anything to Palestinian Arabs who in addition to murdering us by their own hands whenever they could, they also caused tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters to be returned to the death camps of Europe?

          Reply to Comment
    6. Jamila Hasson

      I think it is critically important to get this or articles like this reprinted as Op-ed’s in the LA Times, NY Times, Jewish Journal in LA, etc. etc. We US Jews have hit a crisis of conscious in these times – This is a huge opportunity for education, action towards justice and human rights for Palestine, and steps towards healing generational trauma in the Jewish psyche.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        There is NO “fakestine”.
        These mountains were conquered from Jordan in a defensive war. This must be the first time in history that country A captures abit of country B in a defensive war and then instructed to create a country C in it (a fake entity that never existed in the history of the World) It is essentially an evil, despicable, antisemitic tactic and WILL NOT WASH!

        Reply to Comment
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