Donald Trump’s actions since becoming the President-elect are dividing and weakening the American Jewish community. Whether he is doing it purposefully or he is being played by his Orthodox son-in-law, doesn’t really matter. His Alt-Right supporters are delighted. Under the guise of ‘strongly supporting’ Israel and its rightwing government and Orthodox religious establishment, President-elect Trump is promoting ‘religious’ or unassimilated American Jews whose weird clothing, odd and frequent religious holidays and segregationist philosophy mark them as “other”. Creating the perception that Jews at different, archaic and Oriental, less than fully human, is the first giant step toward intolerance and persecution – whether it is medieval Ferdinand and Isabella, Ligue Nationale Antisemitique de France or the National Socialists or the American ALT-Right.
Non-Jews reading this article may not be aware that the majority (more than 80%) of American Jews belong to Reform and Conservative congregations or are non-observant. These assimilated Jews have adopted core American values like the separation of church and state, freedom of the press, the monopoly of civil law, the equality of women, gay rights, a woman’s right to choose and free trade. They have abandon the dress code of the European ghetto and rejected kosher dietary laws as a misinterpretation of an obscure passage in Deuteronomy. An overwhelming majority voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, not for Donald Trump and the Republicans. Liberal Jews are the richest religious cohort by per capita income in the United States; Orthodox or religious Jews tend to be much poorer. The combination of “otherness” and envy are an explosive mixture that the ALT-Right like anti-Semites through the ages will exploit to increase their appeal to their base.
Under the Right of Return, the vast majority of American Jews could become Israeli citizens because they have at least one Jewish grandparent whose mother was a Jew – Israel has adopted Hitler’s genetic definition of a Jew. Yet few American Jews choose to emigrate to Israel. Why?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for retired Jews to settle in the Holy Land rather than in Florida? Or for young Jewish Americans like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com) to start companies and families in Tel Aviv?
The answer is that most American Jews are not considered Jewish in Israel by the religious establishment, an institution called the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate only acknowledges the Orthodox rites and tenets of Judaism – both Ashkenazi [ I have always found the ‘nazi’ in Ashkenazi very unsettling] or Sephardic. For example, Reform Jews are not officially allowed to pray at the Wailing Wall, though the prohibition was not enforced when I visited five years ago. Women are not seen as equal with men and must pray in a separate, roped-off area. Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel may not marry in a religious ceremony. In short, the Orthodox rabbis in Israel disrespect Reform and Conservative Jews. Every psychological study that I have read says that disrespect causes anger and anger causes alienation. The alienation that American Jews feel in Israel is why they don’t emigrate. They don’t feel welcome.
Donald Trump seems determined to drive a deeper wedge between American Jews and Israel. By surrounding himself with Orthodox Jews who do not represent the mainstream of the American Jewish community, he is getting distorted and destructive advice. His nomination of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel is particularly disturbing. Mr. Friedman does not represent the American Jewish community; he is the Jewish version of the ALT-Right.
Instead of building settlements for religious fanatics in Palestinian territory, Israel needs to reform its Jewish religious establishment and make it inclusive. Reform and Conservative rabbis need to be added to the Chief Rabbinate and given equal power to define what it means to be an observant Jew. Instead of alienating American Jews, the Israel Government should be courting them. Israel needs to encourage, not discourage. American Jews to migrate en masse. Demographically Israel cannot survive as a democracy without an influx of American immigrants. So. the last thing world Jewry needs right now is an ALT-Right President prompting policies via Tweet that make American Jews to feel even more alienated from the ‘promised land’. If Reform and Conservative Jews in America withdraw their support of Israel, the Jewish homeland will fail – and the Anti-Semites will have won.