It’s a long running tradition: in the wake of any terrorist attack by Islamist extremists, talking heads will ask why American Muslim organizations aren’t loudly condemning the attack. Never mind that they are. There’s never a bad time – particularly not with an election coming – to demonize Islam in America. And there’s a practical problem for the American Muslim community: it’s highly decentralized and diverse, with no recognized voice to speak for the millions of American Muslims.
Though I don’t give a whit about God or Israel , I consider myself part of the American Jewish community. And we’re lucky — we do have a centralized voice, the abundantly named Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the “proven and effective voice of organized American Jewry for more than half a century.” The Conference represents 50 different Jewish organizations, from the AJC and the AJC (really, there are two different organizations) to the World Zionist Organization and the Zionist Organization of America (not to be confused with the American Zionist Movement, B’nai Zion, or Religious Zionists of America).
My grandmother came to this country as a German refugee in the 1930s. Most American Jews are descended from refugees – whether from Eastern Europe, Russia, or the Middle East. So yesterday, when the governors of 27 states said they were going to try and illegally close their borders to refugees from Syria, where were the official voices of American Judaism?
Absolutely nowhere. There isn’t a single word anywhere on the Conference site or anything I could find in the news condemning the racist, xenophobic pandering of these governors. So I visited the sites of each of the 50 organizations the Conference represents and checked the news for a full throated stance in support of refugees. Just two organizations had statements: the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Society. Two of the fifty.
If you spent 30 minutes combing the sites of 50 Jewish organizations, you would find two things: some God-awful web design, and in place of any moral outrage or courage, full throated support of Israel. Israel, which has a per capita GDP higher than Japan, South Korea or Italy. Israel, which is run by a race-baiting, anti-peace extremist, who shows nothing but contempt for the US administration.
An administration which – by the way – is still likely to grant Israel $4.5 billion in military aid, wholly supported by the organizations in the Conference. By the other way, that works out to $3 million for every Syrian refugee admitted to the US so far. That’s a lot of money per refugee — because the US has only admitted 1500 refugees since 2011. No really. America’s governors are threatening to turn back the population of Teutopolis, Illinois.
American Jewish organizations can’t be asked to do more for these refugees, because they aren’t doing anything. Not before the Paris attacks, and not as near as I can tell, on behalf of all the rest of the world’s refugees or migrants either.
It’s not as if Jews’ history as refugees and migrants is part of a lost and unknown past — the Holocaust is America’s #1 favorite point of historical comparison. Just ask Ben Carson. America’s reluctance to take in refugees in the 1930s and 40s is rightly seen as one of the 20th century’s biggest mistakes.
Why didn’t America want to take in a bunch of Jewish refugees? Jews were suspected of being enemy Communists and Anarchists. Also, they weren’t Christian. They might have taken jobs away from Americans during difficult economic times. Wow, it’s like we’ve been here before. I thought that the lesson of the Holocaust was “never again.” Not just never again to mass extermination, but never again to the indifference. You can make too much of a comparison between then and now – but you could also be a bit expansive with that lesson, so that it’s not properly read as”never again to us.”
Rather than vocally pointing out how wrong America was then and how wrong the governors and others are now, what are the Conference and its partners doing? Nothing. Are they afraid that if they remind everyone how close we are to a period of massive anti-Semitism, it will coming washing back? Better to sit back and focus on Israel – something younger Jews don’t care about much, but that is a convenient common cause with the Religious Right – people who used to want to keep us out of their country clubs, boardrooms, and universities.
Years ago, I brought my non-Jewish wife along to a talk I was giving to a group of mostly elderly Jews. Finding me after the talk, a woman from the audience asked if my wife was Jewish. Upon learning the answer, the woman said “Where did we go wrong?”
Back then, I’m pretty sure I said something about the horrors of Hebrew School, but I’ll say this now: American Jews are organized and well off. They’re in positions of power. I can’t figure out how organizations that claim to represent the Jewish community see a humanitarian crisis and creeping xenophobia, racism, and fear mongering and decide that their best course of action is cheerleading for Israel and holding gala dinners.
American Jews insult their co-religionists with the epithet “self-loathing“. I’ve been called self-loathing on more than one occasion, but I know it’s not myself I find loathsome.