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The Looming Revolution in Jewish American Politics

The election of Donald Trump is an earthquake shaking the foundations of American politics. Established leaders and advocates for change in both the Republican and Democratic parties will be dealing with the aftershocks for years to come.

So too this election foreshadows seismic change in Jewish America.

For decades, the established leadership of the Jewish community has been nearly single-minded in its political agenda: assuring unquestioning American support to the government of Israel, even as its policies veered away from core values cherished by Jewish Americans.

In service of an Israel-centric agenda, relationships were forged with Republican neoconservatives, right-wing evangelical Christians and even with the emerging “alt-right” and white nationalists that have now frighteningly burst onto the main stage of American politics.

These relationships and alliances run counter to the core values of mainstream Jewish America, which votes Democratic, self-identifies as liberal and progressive, reveres nondiscrimination and tolerance, and overwhelmingly rejects the politics of Trump associates from Stephen Bannon to Michael Flynn.

The ascension of these forces to unprecedented power in America represents a moment of truth for American Jewish politics.

Can the mainstream of Jewish America adequately and accurately be represented on the national stage by leaders and organizations that welcome or at minimum refuse to denounce and fight purveyors of bigotry, prejudice and hate?

The majority of American Jews define their political and social identity through the role Jews have played at the forefront of struggles for the rights of minorities and oppressed communities.

We pass to our children the understanding that once we were immigrants – ostracized, isolated and on the receiving end of discrimination and prejudice – and the lesson that now that we have “made it,” we stand up for those experiencing today what we went through yesterday.

When we think of Martin Luther King marching, we take pride in the rabbis who marched alongside him. When we think of the struggles for the rights of women, immigrants and the LGBT community – we proudly name the Jewish leaders at the forefront of those fights.

The disjuncture between the values and politics of Jewish Americans and the positions of our communal leadership in Israel has caused great tension in recent years. As Israel’s policies have drifted to the right and the occupation of the Palestinian people has become more entrenched, there have been growing calls for communal leaders to speak out and stand up for the values that define us as a people.

In the interest of unity among the Jewish people worldwide, those organizations and leaders have refused to speak out or tried avoid and suppress discussion of troubling issues related to Israel.

Now, the political winds in this country have shifted hard to the right. The lives and rights of Muslims, immigrants and refugees are suddenly at risk. Women, minorities and, yes, even Jews are feeling threatened in an atmosphere of prejudice and hate.

The time has come for Jewish Americans to decide whether those who purport to lead them and speak for them in the political arena adequately represent their community if they remain silent – and particularly if that silence is sold as being in the interests of supporting an Israel that itself has turned so hard to the right.

American Jews are among the most politically active and engaged communities in the United States today. Our spokespeople and leaders have meaningful influence in Washington and throughout the country in the halls of power.

When the ADL, the Reform Movement and other powerful leaders in the mainstream speak out, it matters. When others refuse, the silence is deafening.

If other major groups and leaders will not stand up for right and wrong at this critical moment, then there will be political upheaval in Jewish America.

The communal voices that embrace Donald Trump, welcome Steve Bannon and coddle the settler movement in Israel will shrink to a size and influence appropriate to the minority of Jewish Americans who agree with them.

And those that speak out boldly at this historic moment to oppose the politics and policies associated with the far right in both countries will emerge as the mainstream political voice of the American Jewish community.

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