By ALAN SMASON
There is never a more obvious time for Jewish Americans to be cognizant they are different from the majority of other U.S. citizens than holiday time. Green and red ribbons and brightly festooned trees dotted with dazzling lights remind busy shoppers of the season and serve as reluctant reminders to us that we celebrate in a different way.
The question of loyalty to America has been troubling to Jews both within and without the community. Our motives have been questioned by outsiders and those who may be anti-Semites have often claimed that Jews could never be true and faithful citizens to their country because of allegiance to their religion.
Inside the Jewish community the debate has raged as well. Do we consider ourselves as American Jews? Or Jewish Americans?
Assimilation was the goal of the first Jewish refugees who came to America, but many in the later waves of immigrants were more resistant to change and kept many of their customs from the Old World. Outward signs of wearing yarmulkes or showing tzitzit became defiant symbols that showed they were still very much Jewish even as they gave up Yiddish as a spoken language and became more proficient in English.
While Hitler and the Nazis accused Jews of being duplicitous throughout Europe, closer to home Father Coughlin railed on the radio against Jews in America, basing many of his scurrilous charges on the apocryphal “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Assimilation, while a laudable goal, has never afforded protection for Jews in America or any country for that matter. The Holocaust was all about rooting out assimilated Jews from the masses.
It is little wonder, then, that many Jews have felt somewhat uncomfortable in American society. Even though we have been guaranteed the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have had to constantly be on guard that others would accuse us of being disloyal or un-American, strictly because we follow a different religion from the majority.
Indeed, Jews have never asked for special protections under the law and have been among the most tireless of fighters to ensure that equal treatment is enjoyed by all downtrodden racial and ethnic groups dispersed throughout the land. The records of influential Jews fighting for civil rights for African-Americans and to extend equal protections to women and to the LGBT community remain unqualified.
In recent weeks as Congress moved ever closer to voting to impeach President Trump, I began to notice a heightened sensitivity to the major leaders in the House leading the attack at the side of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA.). In addition to her fellow Californian, Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, there was New York Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Both were more than just a little Jewish.
Add that the newest entrant in the Democratic field of candidates is Jewish billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomfield. Financing his own campaign, Bloomfield joined a crowded field of others including veteran candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), another outspoken Trump opponent and another highly visible Jew.
This week two things occurred in Washington which should serve to heighten the Jewish community’s anxiety. The first was the two charges of impeachment leveled against President Trump over abuse of power and obstruction of the same Congressional inquiry.
The second was an executive order signed by the president on Dec. 11 that ostensibly offers protection on U.S. college campuses to Jewish students, who have been the targets of anti-Zionists and members of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel.
Threatened with the prospect of losing federal funding if they turn a wayward eye against acts targeting Jewish students by pro-BDS forces, colleges and universities must now protect their Jewish student populations.
While I applaud the intent of this executive order, similar measures failed to achieve Congressional approval because many members – both Jews and gentiles – understood passage of such a law would create a national class of Jews based on religion. It is a shame that such a measure had to be enforced, but given the climate on American college campuses today, there seems to be little choice other than to put Jewish students at risk from anti-Israel forces.
Jews have long fought the accusation and stigma that they are a nation within another nation harboring dual loyalty. With a stroke of the president’s pen, a new, protected class of American Jews now exists and the distinct lines separating church and state have thus become blurred.
Those who already harbor resentment of Jews are bound to take notice and those who are anti-Semites will seize the opportunity to hurl more invectives and level accusations at Jewish Americans.
In recent days, anti-Semitic voices within the Christian sphere of influence have begun to be heard more loudly, echoing the spurious charges of Father Coughlin in the 1930s and the more recent angry voices of white nationalists holding tiki torches in Charlottesville. Right wing Christian evangelist Rick Wiles called this a “Jew coup” and began to stir up rabid anti-Semitic fervor for Trump supporters with accusations of the nation being taken over by what he described as a Jewish cabal.
His “wake up call” could only have been more alarming if he were wearing a sheet or brandishing a swastika. “That’s the next thing that happens when Jews take over a country,” he spewed over his TV show. “They kill millions of Christians.”
Spreading fear about Jews and questioning their loyalty because they are different are among the most incessant and virulent practices of anti-Semites.
The ramifications of this new executive order which ostensibly installs a protected class of Jews is a new form of social protectionism, welcomed or not. Couple that with anti-Semitic fallout over Jewish involvement with the articles of impeachment and we have two gifts at this holiday time that many of us may eventually wish we could return.