June 13, 2024
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Do Jews Have a Future in the United States? A Pessimistic View

In the 1930s as antisemitic rhetoric and violence against Jews all over Europe was increasing, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the fiery Zionist revisionist leader, took widely unpopular positions predicting that European Jewry was approaching a terrible fate. He talked about mass killings and organized persecutions to the then well-established European communities. In a speech he delivered in Warsaw in July 1938, he offered a doomsday prophecy telling his listeners, “ I see a terrible picture … the volcano that will soon spew out its flames of extermination.” He was seen as an alarmist, his warmings ignored, and the European Holocaust did come.

In my view, while the America situation is not identical to pre-Holocaust Europe, America’s Jews also refuse to recognize the increasing hostility to Jews and to the Jewish state of Israel. The current knifings, arsons and violent attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions all over the United Sates are not merely criminal acts, but an integral element of organized and “acceptable” antisemitism legitimized and encouraged both by the progressive political establishment and the extremist white supremacist neo-Nazi affiliated Christian Identity movements, which view Jews and Judaism as the greatest danger to American civilization.

The progressive left today, including influential establishment leaders of the Democratic Party, have turned against Jews and the State of Israel, claiming that it is a colonialist entity illegally occupying Arab lands, aided by American Jews who use their wealth and political influence to support, in their view, the racist State of Israel. Leftist progressives make no distinction: All Jews—conservative, liberal or even progressive—are guilty of racism and white privilege. Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, put this bluntly when she said that Jews are unwelcome and unworthy to join a protest against prejudice since they support a fascist and racist state. This is particularly painful to leftist Jews, for they too are stigmatized for their Jewishness. In a moving New York Times op-ed, Bruce Flaton, a sophomore at George Washington University and a self-proclaimed progressive and supporter of Palestinian rights, bemoaned that his leftist colleagues still viewed him as an enemy of the left:“I am a left-wing Jew. Yet I am called ‘baby killer’ and ‘apartheid enabler’.” To the progressive left all Jews are guilty.

This perception is not limited to progressive individuals or groups but extends to the centers of the American government and elements of the Democratic Party. The well-known Islamic congresswoman Ilhan Omar gave voice to this view when she tweeted that for Jews, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” meaning Jews are not loyal citizens but only interested in amassing wealth. Sadly, there was no censure of her statement by progressive groups nor by any of her Democrat colleagues.

This new progressive antisemitism flourishes in academia, indoctrinating students with the view that the Jewish state is occupying and persecuting the Palestinian population. Jewish college students known as advocates for Israel are harassed and physically threatened at some of America’s most prestigious universities. Ofir Danon, the daughter of former Israeli ambassador Danny Danon, a student at Columbia University, was regularly bullied and called ‘baby killer’ and ‘terrorist,’ Israeli speakers are frequently interrupted to the point where their appearances are cancelled. Alan Dershowitz, a former professor of law at Harvard University who is known as a civil libertarian and strong supporter of free speech. is now regularly harassed, booed and threatened during his appearances on college campuses.

To those outside academia this may appear difficult to imagine, but in many university settings, to advocate for Israeli and Jewish interests is to invite scorn and derision. I myself experienced this at an academic conference where in the midst of my scholarly comments, one rather well known leftist political scientist shouted, “How many Palestinian babies did you people kill today?” Fortunately he was shouted down by other participants. But my discomfort and anger continued. The comments I made were not political, but that did not matter. To be known as an identifying Jew was grounds for harassment and rejection.

Perhaps less well known and acknowledged is the continued rise and importance of virulently violent antisemitic groups associated with the Christian Identity movement and the neo-Nazi movements. For these groups, there is a war going on in the United States between the forces of good represented by Christian Identity believers and the forces of evil represented by a “satanic” Jewish world conspiracy, which is an arch enemy of white Christians. Individuals associated with these groups have been responsible for dozens of attacks on synagogues and Jewish community centers all over the United States. John Ernest, a 20-year-old follower of these groups, killed 11 people in a synagogue shooting in Pennsylvania. When he was apprehended, he told police officers that his attack was justified because the “Jews were trying to destroy white people.” Coverage of these acts often portray them as actions of disturbed people. This is entirely untrue. These movements have tens of thousands of followers and have a highly developed ideological program which encourages and legitimates violence against Jews.

The Christian Identity groups are opposed to racial minorities as well, but view the Jewish people and Zionism as the greatest danger to white Christians and their program for world domination. In their view, Jews and Judaism must be eliminated if Christians are to achieve their rightful world superiority. Many of these groups convene in secret and are often unnoticed by the public and the police. A search on the internet will illustrate their popularity and importance. Jews must pay more attention to the violent rhetoric and violent plans against Jews and Jewish institutions enunciated by the groups. True, they are a fringe group at the moment, but researchers have shown they have a large population of sympathizers and followers who in time can be mobilized for violent attacks.

Given the rise of these new forms of virulent antisemitism and the growing attacks on Jews all over the United States, many secular and unaffiliated Jews, particularly young millennials, will consciously leave the Jewish community and sever any connection to Judaism. As older Jews pass away, the Jewish population will diminish and mainly consist of committed Orthodox Jews. Over time this group will find life in the United States untenable and the now-increasing pull of aliyah will intensify, leaving the remaining Jews little political or social standing. This scenario has already occurred in parts of Europe—in Belgium, France and England—where younger committed Jews leave for Israel and a shrinking older generation remains. Perhaps as galut communities come to an end, Jews may no longer be the wandering people but will now return to their own homeland.


Charles Selengut is a professor of religion at Drew University and author of “Sacred: Understanding Religious Violence.”

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