August 29, 2019 at 1:37 pm PDT | by Rabbi Denise Eger
No, Mr. Trump, we are not disloyal

Rabbi Denise Eger is founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue and a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. (Photo courtesy Eger)

Once again, President Trump uses anti-Semitic tropes and dog whistles. Recently, Trump questioned Jewish Americans’ loyalty to this country as if Jews are not Americans. His latest round of insults is deeply offensive.   

The Jewish community overwhelmingly votes Democratic in the United States.  In the 2016 presidential election, 71 percent of Jewish voters cast their ballots for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. In 2008, Jews voted 78 percent for Barack Obama. Trump, in comments to the press, suggested that Jews are disloyal because they vote Democratic—disloyal to America, to Israel and yes, to him. It is shocking.

The president is trafficking in anti-Semitism. It wasn’t enough to bless Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville or demand that the Jewish community be grateful to him for his policies toward Israel. Trump’s words and policies are filled with anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia.

The anti-Semitic trope that Jews are disloyal is an old one dating back centuries. It became the excuse for stirring up violence against the Jewish community in many places.  Whether in 15th century Spain leading to the Inquisition or ancient Rome, or Germany in the mid-20th century, the charge of disloyalty is a serious one.

Jews were always seen as “other.”  Napoleon’s France was the first time Jews were permitted the rights of citizenship. The Jews exiled from our homeland, the Land of Israel, by the Romans in the year 70 were never seen as native Italians, or Russians or Poles. Jews were “Other.”

One of the most vivid examples of the charge of disloyalty was the case of French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus. He was accused and convicted of treason in 1894 for passing army secrets and weapons to the Germans, even though he maintained his innocence. There was ample evidence that anti-Semitic officers concocted the story and that it was someone else who betrayed the country, not Dreyfus. And yet he was found guilty a second time, in 1899, and sentenced to life on Devil’s Island. His case and his cause became symbolic for all the Jews of France who endured great anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

We, too, must not and cannot let Trump’s trope about Jewish American loyalty slide by.  We must assert our position that Jews in America are not “other.” We are proud American citizens who bring our Jewish values to our political outlook. We are not disloyal because we vote. Rather, we are patriots because we vote our conscience and our values.  Our loyalty is not to a party or to person. Our loyalty is to our country, the United States of America, and to our God.

Like many groups, the Jewish community has issues that are important to us. We are worried deeply by the attack on immigrants and refugees—having been both in recent memory.  We are worried deeply about climate change and the erosion of protections for wildlife and the earth because our religious teachings demand that we care for God’s creation. We are worried deeply about the homeless and the failing safety net in this country because our tradition is to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and stranger in our midst. 

Judaism teaches that it is the community that must help the poor and impoverished and sets up a system to do so.  We are worried about the security of our elections and the targeting of our free press as our tradition teaches that the word “truth” is one of God’s names.  And yes, we are worried that our love for our ancient homeland, Israel, has been jeopardized by Trump and the GOP making it a political football, chipping away at the bipartisan support so necessary for America’s strongest ally because of the shared values that we have with one another.

Mr. Trump, the Jewish community will continue to vote, continue to lift up our values and to call out your bigotry whenever it shows. And we will, as a Jewish community, unite more strongly in resisting your political tactics that seek to make Israel and the Jewish people a wedge issue in the upcoming political season.

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