The Orthodox View of Peoplehood and President Trump

I’ve been speaking about Antisemitism quite often of late, both the right wing traditional types and the newer left wing variants. At the heart of both are conspiracy theories about Jews. Lately, the focus has been on malign manipulation through “Jewish money” and on dual-loyalty.

The Antisemitic trope is not that Jews also care for or have a deep connection to Israel. The Antisemitic trope is that Jews will side with Israel, the Jewish state, over the interests of the nation in which they live. There is a big difference in those ideas.

So one politician could say, “You care about Israel!” as an accusation arguing that Jews only or primarily do so. Another could say, “You care about Israel!” as a statement of fact or even a complement. One could say, “You have allegiance to a foreign country!” arguing that Jews do not have allegiance to America, while another could refer to Israel as “Your nation,” meaning the nation intended to be a homeland for all of the Jewish people, including Jews who are citizens of another country, while meaning nothing ill.

This is doubly confused because progressive Jews have a history of seeing Jews as people who practice the religion of Judaism, but are not a people. They would argue that American Jews are not represented by the Israeli government in any way. Orthodox Jews and the nation of Israel consider Jews to be a people who may or may not practice the religion of Judaism and for all of whom Israel is their homeland.

Christian Zionists generally agree with Orthodox Jews on this. They see Israel in the way the government of Israel does, as the homeland of the Jewish people, all Jews, wherever they are. They do not automatically believe that all Jews must live there, nor that all Jews are as loyal or perhaps more loyal to Israel than they are to the nation in which they live. In other words, they believe that Israel is the homeland of all of the world’s Jews, including American Jewish citizens sitting in the Republican Jewish Coalition conference, but in no way assume that the Antisemitic trope is applicable, much less true.

This all brings us to a statement made by President Trump to the Republican Jewish Coalition that some have seen as problematic. The President referred to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as “your Prime Minister,” which has been interpreted to mean that he was acting as if the American Jews in front of him were Israelis and connecting to the dual-loyalty charge. In fact, neither of these is necessarily true, as I explained above.

It is true that all American Jews are not Israelis, though some do have dual citizenship. It also definitely the case that many Jews would not choose PM Netanyahu to be their Prime Minister. Yet, we call ourselves the Children of Israel, the Jewish people, “Am Yisrael.” If Israel is indeed the state for the Jewish people, then one could in fact argue that its government is indeed a government for Jewish people wherever they are, whether or not they are citizens of the state.

The Antisemitic Trope is that:

Jews are equally loyal to Israel in addition to the country in which they live or perhaps are more loyal to Israel.

Criticizing US Congresspersons and other American Jews who support Israel as having allegiance to Israel and prioritizing Israel’s wants over America’s is Antisemitic. Saying that the recognized leader of the state for the Jewish people is the Prime Minister of the state of the Jewish people, including Jewish American citizens sitting in a conference in Las Vegas, does not meet the requirement of the dual loyalty accusation. Instead, it can be seen as a statement of fact based upon the assumptions of both Orthodox Jews and the Israeli government, even though American progressive Jews would generally disagree.

As President Trump’s Jewish advisers tend to be Orthodox Jews and his Jewish family members are Orthodox Jews, it would be reasonable to assume that his understanding and views on this topic would be in line with Orthodox Jews.

Progressive Jews like me indeed have issues with this idea. We believe that American Jews who support Israel are exactly that, not essentially Israelis who live in America. That concept long led to dual loyalty charges in Europe and remains problematic. It’s why many have reacted as they have to the President’s comments. The separation of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith was among the reasons that Reform Judaism began, that was a response to dual loyalty accusations. We were citizens of our country who practiced the faith of Judaism, instead of Jewish people who are citizens and practicing the religion of the Jewish people, both/and.

It may well be that the President indeed meant what other have accused him of meaning. It would be best if he would clarify what he meant as well as perhaps conferring with his adviser to Combat Antisemitism on this issue.

All this having been said, from my perspective, the President’s comments about America being full and closed to immigration for which he received little applause at the RJC Conference were much more problematic. I hope that those comments are not lost in the fray because it is more politically expedient to attempt to equate President Trump’s and Congresswoman Omar’s statements.

**********

Here are two important references.

  1. The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism with Examples.
  2. The video  of the President’s speech. The relevant statement occurs just after 1:33:00 into the speech.
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1 Response to The Orthodox View of Peoplehood and President Trump

  1. collin237 says:

    Whether American Orthodox Jews consider Netanyahu “their” Prime Minister is beside the point. The point is that Netanyahu himself does not honestly identify with such a role. For that matter, Trump doesn’t accept the expected role of a President either; but in his case, the claim is unfortunately a fiat.

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