It has certainly been a strange and surreal week for the American Jewish community. As most of you undoubtedly know all too well by now, this past Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump would sign an Executive Order that would "interpret Judaism as a race or nationality" to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities that failed to protect Jewish students from the threat of BDS activism. This news caused an almost immediate upheaval, with vociferous protest emanating from a wide swath of the Jewish community concerned that this order could easily enable the antisemitic canard of Jewish "dual loyalties."
While I certainly shared the outrage upon hearing this news, I harbored a deeper concern that I shared on Tzedek's Facebook group page: that the Jewish community was making this issue exclusively about us, ignoring the fact that Trump's order was ultimately aimed silencing Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with them.
As it turned out, the New York Times report turned out to be false. The actual text of the Executive Order, which Trump signed at bizarre White House Hanukkah reception, did not explicitly define Jews as a nationality (though it did rely on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which has historically been applied to racial and ethnic, rather than religious groups). Upon hearing this news, many in the Jewish community seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Others dismissed the order itself, saying it was just a reaffirmation of the Obama administration's policy and that "it wouldn't change much at all."
I certainly realize that how events of this past week conjured up the the deepest fears of American Jews. And I know full well that we cannot and must not be sanguine about the threat of resurgent antisemitism. But I would also suggest that is critically important that we remember where this threat is actually coming from - and where it is not.
Indeed, it is critical to note that while the American Jewish community was tying itself up in knots around the issue of the so-called "antisemitic threat" of BDS on college campuses, two Jews and a third bystander were killed in a kosher market in Jersey City, an incident the police is now investigating as a hate crime.
In an age where Jews are being regularly targeted and murdered by extremists, it is not only disingenuous of our government to spend so much time, energy and resources on combatting BDS - a nonviolent movement rooted in human rights for all - it is downright dangerous. It is time to stand down the false and pernicious equation of antisemitism coming from both the "right and the left." We know full well where the most dangerous and deadly antisemitism is truly coming from - and we need to make this clear to the world in no uncertain terms.
In the end, I believe the most telling commentary on the events of this past week came from Kenneth Stern, one of the authors of the definition of antisemitism used in Trump's Executive Order. I'll let him have the last word:
Rather than champion the chilling of expressions that pro-Israel Jews find disturbing, or give the mildest criticism (if any) of a president who repeatedly uses antisemitic tropes, why weren’t those Jewish officials who were present when Trump signed the executive order reminding him that last year, when he demonized immigrants and called them “invaders”, Robert Bowers walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue because he believed Jews were behind this “invasion” of brown people as part of a plot to harm white people, and killed 11 of us?
May this Shabbat bring us all a measure of respite and renewal - and inspire us for the struggles ahead.
Rabbi Brant Rosen