Liberal Jews And Israelis Must Stand Together Against Trump And Netanyahu
As the saying goes, with friends like these, you don’t need enemies.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump systematically work to dismantle liberal democracy in Israel and the United States, the two men have also forged a dangerous alliance with each other.
It’s time for progressive activists in our two countries to double down on an alliance of our own.
With a hechsher from Trump, Netanyahu feels free to pursue policies that lead Israel toward ethnocracy, entrench the military occupation, and de facto annex the West Bank without granting equal rights to its Palestinian residents.
At the same time, some American Jews justify Trump’s attacks on democratic institutions, and his draconian approach to immigrants and asylum seekers, out of a belief that he will be “good for Israel.”
This love affair endangers both countries, as well as Jews around the world.
Jews have historically been safest under governments committed to protecting individual liberties, and that have self-defined through civic — rather than racial or ethnic — national identities.
In the nineteenth century, political liberalism led to the emancipation of the Jews across Western and Central Europe. In the United States, Jews have enjoyed a level of safety almost unprecedented in Jewish history. In contrast, autocratic states grounded in ethno-nationalism have proven time and time again to encourage anti-Semitism and, and in the twentieth century, they have even led to genocide.
Netanyahu, in his quest to remake Israel as an authoritarian national-religious state, has been willing to ignore even blatant anti-Semitism in order to embrace anti-democratic nationalists in other countries. This has included welcoming Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Israel, despite the latter winning reelection on a campaign based in classic anti-Semitic tropes. And this summer, Netanyahu provoked criticism from Yad Vashem when he and Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued a joint statement papering over Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust.
Trump famously declared that there were “fine people on both sides” of last year’s Nazi march in Charlottesville, and has opened the floodgates for white nationalists to air their anti-Semitism in public.
At the UN this week, he attacked the “ideology of globalism,” a phrase often used as code for invoking fears of a global Jewish conspiracy.
Both leaders have made common cause with anti-Semitic Christian fundamentalists in the US, thus showing contempt for American Jewry’s liberal majority.
By fanning the flames of anti-Semitism around the world, Trump and Netanyahu are playing a dangerous game. Beliefs in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy spread fast, especially in times of fear of an economic downturn, and when majority white cultures feel themselves to be at risk of losing power. In putting Jews around the world at risk, Netanyahu betrays the foundations of Zionism, which always believed that the creation of a Jewish state would make Jews everywhere safer.
Facing crises in both Israel and the US, it would be easy for the two of us — an Israel Jew and an American Jew — to focus inward, on the countries where we live. Indeed, many of our fellow citizens have done just that. In the US, more and more progressive Jews are disengaging from Israel, either because of despair over the ongoing occupation and dismantling of democracy there or because the separation of families and the Russian threat demand urgent attention.
Israelis, too, may feel that the pressing matters at home overshadow anything happening abroad. In what has traditionally been an uneven relationship, it would take a major recalibration of roles for Israelis to speak out on political matters in the US.
But focusing inward would be a mistake. The alliance between Netanyahu and Trump threatens both Israelis and American Jews, as well as Jews around the world.
If we are to counter the wave of autocracy, and the attendant growth in anti-Semitism around the world, we need to fight together for democracy and human rights in both countries. The Jewish belief in collective responsibility for one another is grounded in our historical experience, that a threat to Jews anywhere is a threat to Jews everywhere. And an assault on minorities in our countries is an assault on our values as Jews.
This is a time to build bridges between our two communities, to learn from one another and from our shared history, and to partner in our shared struggle.
For Israeli and American Jewish progressive leaders, this means refusing to disengage from one another. It means speaking out about attacks on democracy and human rights abuses in both countries. And it means publicly rejecting any language that suggests that being pro-Israel or pro-America requires falling in line behind the Trump-Netanyahu ethno-nationalist vision.
For our two organizations, this has included T’ruah digging in deeper to a partnership with Breaking the Silence to bring rabbinical students and rabbis to learn about the situation in the West Bank, even as Netanyahu’s incitement against Breaking the Silence intensifies and scares some US groups from working with them. And it meant Breaking the Silence being the first Israeli organization to issue a statement standing with the American Jewish community following last year’s Nazi march in Charlottesville, days before the Prime Minister responded.
Partnerships such as these are the only way to preserve the democratic values and human rights commitments that will protect both Jews throughout the world and all people in the United States and in Israel.
Avner Gvaryahu is the Executive Director of Breaking the Silence. Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.