Anti-Semitism hovered like a ghost, especially after the Pittsburgh massacre, on the U.S. midterm elections, and it has unexpectedly become a key word for all of November. Perhaps a community still haunted by the murder of 6 million Jews explains the irrational fear of why American Jews continue to prefer voting Democratic, even when some of the candidates are moving more and more to the left, and expressing anti-Israel views.
It’s a preference linked to the liberal tradition of the American Jewish community. But it has assumed a clearly paradoxical character after the substantial pro-Israel positions taken by U.S. President Donald Trump in favor of Israel, which includes pulling the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal, transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and cutting off aid to the Palestinians.
Trump also happens to have family ties with the Jewish world (his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner are both Jewish, as are his grandchildren). It’s quite paradoxical, but it expresses a phenomenon that is hard to elaborate: the new, widespread, dangerous divisions between the Jews of that Diaspora and Israel.
We still don’t know the exact figures in relation to how American Jews voted in the midterm elections, but 71 percent chose Hillary Clinton in 2016, and today at least 75 percent identify themselves as Democrats. The deep divisions with Israel about Trump are evident: According to a survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, 77 percent of Israelis approve of Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, while only 34 percent of Americans do. Moreover, 59 percent of Americans favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, but only 44 percent of Israelis, after so many failed attempts, now support the idea.
Immediately following the murderous attack on Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, Trump was essentially blamed for causing it. We have heard that he is responsible for creating a climate of violence, encouraging white supremacy, in addition to the widespread use of weapons. Liberal American Jews have postulated this interpretation, but they have seemingly forgotten the anti-Semitic reality in America, including the left-wing brand espoused by the continuous, violent propaganda of Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, who compares Jews to “termites.”
No local dignitaries went to greet Trump upon his arrival at the Pittsburgh airport in order to pay his respects to the 11 victims of the synagogue massacre. And more than 82,000 signed a letter of reproach penned by Bend the Arc, a national organization of Progressive Jews: “President Trump, your words, your policies, and your Party have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. The violence against Jews in Pittsburgh is the direct culmination of your influence.”
This irrational, hysteric attitude is linked to the growing divide between American Jews and Israel. The American Jewish world, focused on its social and cultural old rituals of liberalism and kindness, cannot accept the Middle Eastern conflict. The Obama period has Europeanized it. It doesn’t seem to care if their president is the friendliest ever seen towards Israel, which today is besieged by Iran on the Syrian border, threatened by Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in the north and Hamas in the south, daily tortured by terrorism against its citizens.
American Jews show their lack of interest for a real possibility of a Middle Eastern-U.S. guided new balance when they show their dismissal towards Trump’s foreign policy. They are jeopardizing a future Mideast peace plan in a way that could meld the Sunni Arab world to Israeli interests and also those of the Palestinians.
The Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib—initially endorsed by J Street, the nonprofit advocacy group of American left-wing Jews—became the first Palestinian American to be elected to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, despite being openly anti-Israel. Others also newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives have shown animosity towards Israel or a misunderstanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
This is a peculiar situation. Trump may be suddenly wondering if the Jews are his friends or foes, and well, if Israel is the Jewish state. The Jews have always enjoyed, all over the world, the national respect for its young state. But lately, it seems as though they are just watching on opposite shores while the rest of the world shows biases against it. The United Nations. The Obama administration. And now, some who are making their way to Washington.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.