On Monday, the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America launched the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a group of religious and business leaders from both communities who will help draft domestic policy legislation and advocate on issues of shared concern.
The ADL is planning to increase its efforts to provide support for legal and legislative efforts in the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry.
And the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, which educates young Muslim leaders about Judaism and Israel, held a retreat over the weekend titled “Living in Trump’s America: Muslim Vulnerability and Jewish Echoes.”
“What’s happened as a result of the poisonous atmosphere that Trump has created is that American Muslims are desperate for allies,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, the Muslim Leadership Initiative’s co-director. “And the argument that MLI has made to the Muslim community — which is that the Jews are, at least in theory, natural allies for embattled Muslims — now has become compelling.”
This isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a terrible one. Here’s why:
- Although there certainly are cases of “anti-Muslim bigotry” (still far fewer than anti-Jewish ones), organizations like ISNA tend to characterize any criticism of Islamic ideology as “bigotry,” and lump it together with aggression against Muslims, vandalism of mosques, and so forth. This undercuts arguments against Islam as an ideology, and delegitimizes those that make such arguments. The islamophobia.org website, for example, lists Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, Zuhdi Jasser and many more who are critical of the ideology (but do not hate Muslims) as “well-known Islamophobes.” Insofar as this cooperation lends authority to this characterization, it weakens our ability to describe and combat the anti-Western jihad.
- Today’s Jew-hatred, especially that which comes from the Left and on college campuses, has metamorphosed into anti-Zionism, where the Jew Among Nations replaces the individual Jew as the target. Insofar as anti-Zionism is almost universal among Muslims, it will become harder for the Jewish partners to oppose what is called “the new antisemitism.”
- Most importantly, as Halevi makes explicit (but is certainly implicit in the AJC-ISNA initiative), it is highly partisan. It is clearly a reaction to Trump, and will be perceived as anti-Trump. It’s part of the “resistance” to Trump that the disappointed Left is already engaged in. Is it really a good idea for the American Jewish community as such to place itself in direct opposition to the administration before it even takes office?
I’ve written a lot about American Jews, specifically the liberal non-Orthodox community. The majority have always been ambivalent about Zionism and Israel. Until recently, they fiercely held to the belief that they are not discriminated against in America and are perfectly safe from anti-Jewish violence. J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami, said back in 2009 that his young staff is “baffled by the notion of ‘Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.’” Ben Ami and staff are still doing their best to force Israel into an indefensible corner, but I wonder if they would still be “baffled” today if asked whether they worry about someone coming to get them.
Anti-Jewish expression has exploded since Ben Ami made his remark, both from the Left where Students for Justice in Palestine and similar groups have tried to intimidate Jewish students, and the Right, where the so-called “alt-right” has waged a vicious (but entirely virtual) social media campaign aimed at Jewish journalists and others, putatively in support of Donald Trump, but becoming an end in itself.
So far there has been very little actual anti-Jewish violence in the US. But especially with the advent of the alt-right, many liberal Jews are fearful (or at least saying that they are fearful) of violent anti-Jewish behavior. Some have taken to heart the accusations of Trump’s opponents that he is too tolerant of anti-Jewish elements among his supporters, that he will elevate them to positions of power, or even that he is anti-Jewish himself. Those that are panicking to the point of thinking about fleeing the country tend to think more about Canada than Israel.
These Jews, as my wife put it, have long since decided what tribe they belong to, and it is the Tribe of Barack [Obama], not the Tribe of Jacob. So it is natural that they find common ground with Muslims, who have been trying for some time to be seen as a persecuted minority and who now may actually be becoming one. The arrangement benefits the Jews, who can now congratulate themselves on their tolerance (even for those who hate their homeland), and the Muslims, who can raise the profile of “Islamophobia” in order to attain their objective of making it impossible for anyone to criticize their ideology.
Liberal Jews will fight “Islamophobia” tooth and nail even when it doesn’t exist, as the ADL has been doing for some time. But I doubt the Jewish members of the Advisory Council will find the Muslims there for them when it comes to anti-Jewish (and especially anti-Israel) activity from Muslim sources.
The crunch will come the next time Israel finds it necessary to defend herself from aggression, either from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, or the PLO. The Muslims will demand that their Jewish allies join them in condemning Israel as a criminal state that should never have been established, and the liberal Jews will have to choose between their new friends and the tiresome Israelis, who as usual have brought it all on themselves by not surrendering to their enemies. Does anyone doubt where the members of the Tribe of Barack will stand? I don’t.
But the Tribe is making a mistake. As a Diaspora community, safety lies in keeping a low profile and getting along with the people who hold the real power. Jews in America have fooled themselves into thinking that they are like anybody else. That they have a right to speak out. That they have a right to become prosperous and even to obtain some power for themselves. That they have a right to be left alone.
It’s an illusion. American Jews are caught between an increasingly anti-Jewish Left and an openly Jew-hating alt-right. The golden age of American Jewry is over, and the tenuous existence that Jews have known for centuries, living as guests in someone else’s home, has returned. Living in the Diaspora means always being dependent on the good will of your hosts. It means that Jewish prosperity and safety are contingent. The structures in Diaspora society that have protected individual rights (at least those of middle-class whites) will continue to work until they don’t, and when they stop working, the Jews will be the first to find out. A tiny minority (less than 2%) of Americans are Jewish, and a tiny minority can’t dictate to the majority. Muslims are even fewer. Best to avoid the “resistance” and try to be on the side of the majority.
Does this sound like living in the Diaspora implies that you must compromise your self-respect? That is exactly what it means. Liberal Jews backed and admired Obama despite the Occupy movement’s anti-Jewish slant. Now discretion would call for them to back Trump despite his alt-right supporters. Will they? Probably not, but it would be the safest strategy.
There is actually another solution. Why continue living in the Diaspora where your existence is contingent, you lose your self-respect, and you end up making coalitions with the enemies of your people? This was the argument of the 19th century Zionists, and it’s an even better one today when there is a Jewish state.