Walking past the local Reform temple with my daughter this Shabbat, I felt a wave of fear that I haven’t felt since living in Israel during the height of the Second Intifada. There were no specific threats, but the temple is prominent, and outspoken in its liberalism—a prime target for another white supremacist, Trumpist, anti-Semitic attack.
And then I felt betrayed. “Mainstream” American Jewish institutions, which are actually far to the right of the American Jewish mainstream, have abandoned American Jews in the wake of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh shooter was exquisitely clear about his intentions: He was a right-wing, anti-immigration zealot, enraged by right-wing hysteria over the so-called “migrant caravan” and the Tree of Life synagogue’s participation in a pro-refugee event run by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
So what does American Jewish leadership do in response? Blame the left.
Not only did the “Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,” an umbrella group that purports to speak for the American Jewish community, fail to mention any of the root causes of the Pittsburgh massacre, they pivoted to issues that did not contribute to it in the least: left-wing anti-Israel sentiment.
In a statement, the CoP called for “a standardized definition of anti-Semitism for all government agencies and universities [which would include judging Israel by a ‘double-standard’], the passage of the anti-BDS legislation, and greater efforts to counter the anti-Semitism rising on college campuses across the country.”
This boggles the mind. Again, the shooter was a right-winger, a white nationalist, and, while not a Trump supporter (because Trump is, in his view, insufficiently anti-Semitic), a creature of the same right-wing swamp that is the president’s base. He said nothing about Israel, Palestine, or BDS.
But the American Jewish establishment isn’t based on logic. It’s based on money. And the money that funds it comes from the right—people like Sheldon Adelson, whose wife, Miriam, is now, unconscionably, due to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Thanks to them, the American Jewish establishment has lost its mind. Pittsburgh now has something to do with 21-year-old campus activists protesting the bombing of Gaza. The nonviolent Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement is a form of anti-Semitism. And anyone who has anything to do with them is forbidden from receiving a dime of Jewish communal funding or meeting in Jewish communal spaces (especially on campus).
Even J Street, the avowedly Zionist, “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, has been denied a seat in the so-called conference of presidents due to right-wing pressure.
Indeed, after Shabbat ended and I checked the news online, it was as if Trump had spit in my face. This is the family that has warped the American Jewish establishment more than any others (though, to be sure, there are others). They are the ones responsible for that establishment failing to address the worst massacre of Jews in American history. And now one of them is getting a medal.
Of course, the medal is likely more in response to the Adelsons’ donating $21 million to Trump’s campaign (out of $100 million initially pledged) and $30 million to the Republican Party’s 2018 “Congressional Leadership Fund” than their $200 million given annually to Jewish causes. But it is in the American Jewish world and in Israel that the Adelsons have had their most sustained impact, funding the Israeli right in numerous elections and transforming the Jewish establishment into a nationalistic, even jingoistic, supporter of the Israeli right wing.
Needless to say, the vast majority of Jews do not agree with the Jewish establishment’s party line. A recent poll showed that 72 percent hold Trump partly responsible for the Pittsburgh massacre.
As well we should. It’s Trump who lied about the “‘migrant caravan.” It’s Trump who lied about George Soros, the noted Jewish philanthropist, being somehow behind it. And it’s Trump who has spread conspiracy theories against “coastal elites,” Hollywood, and the media—all of which are associated, in anti-Semitic imagination, with Jews.
More broadly, when the president of the United States’ minions circulate a doctored video, created by a right-wing conspiracy monger, in order to discredit a member of the press, American Jews know that this kind of mass deception and conspiratorial thinking will eventually come around to hurt us.
How could it not? The same people who doctored that video are also spreading lies about Jews. And if there’s no truth anymore, if conspiracies are true and the free press is the enemy of the people, then why not believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the Bloomberg-Soros-Yellen alliance, or whatever overheated right-wing conspiracy someone cooks up next?
A rational response to this reality would involve cracking down on conspiracy-mongering, providing security for synagogues while training security officers not to marginalize Jews of color; combating and monitoring hate online (rather than eliminating programs to do so, as Trump has done);
But the Israeli right and the Jewish establishment have now coalesced around a very different narrative. The day after the massacre, Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer said on MSNBC that “to simply say that this is because of one person, it only comes on one side, is to not understand the history of anti-Semitism or the reality of anti-Semitism. One of the big forces in college campuses today is anti-Semitism. And those anti-Semites are usually not neo-Nazis on college campuses. They’re coming from the radical left.”
That would be ridiculous if it weren’t offensive. No campus leftist has ever shot up a synagogue. No “radical left” ideas inspired a radical right-wing racist.
And perhaps most importantly, the “anti-Semitism” which Ambassador Dermer was referring to isn’t even anti-Semitism; it’s criticism of Israel, which alone among all nations in the world receives $4.5 billion in American aid per year and denies a population of 6.4 million people the right to vote, to move freely, or to determine their own future in their own state. Israel isn’t being singled out by anti-Semitic activists, as its apologists claim; it is singling itself out by its shocking actions across a half century of occupation, alone among American allies, let alone recipients of American foreign aid. Campus activists, many of them Jews, are responding to that reality.
Thanks to people like Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the American Jewish establishment no longer speaks for American Jews. While there are exceptions, the establishment as a whole has, over the last several years, lost any semblance of credibility and legitimacy. It is an instrument of the Jewish-Israeli nationalist right, unable to acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism in 2018 even after innocent Jews are murdered.