A View from the Bleachers: We must decry racism and bigotry

By Rabbi Steven Garten

When John Kennedy ran for president of the United States in 1960 he was accused of dual loyalty. His political opponents, and some in the media, wanted to suggest that as a Catholic he would have political allegiance to the Pope in Rome that would interfere with his loyalty to the constitution of the United States.

In the aftermath of the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence, Jacques Parizeau, premier of Quebec, told his supporters that 60 per cent of francophones voted for separation and that he would address French-speaking Quebecers as nous (we), and that they had clearly voted for separation. He then stated that the one thing that stopped the “yes” side was “money and the ethnic vote.”

He further suggested that a few less of them and a few more of us would guarantee independence. It was obvious that he was accusing certain ethnic and religious groups of disloyalty.

In 2000, senator Joe Lieberman was the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket with Al Gore. Though Gore and Lieberman won the popular vote, they lost in the Electoral College. During the campaign, Lieberman’s religious observance became an issue. He was also asked about whether his lifelong commitment to the State of Israel would place him in situations where his loyalty to the United States would be compromised. The charge of dual loyalty has not been relegated to waste heap of history. Not long after taking office in the U.S. Congress, first term Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib charged American Jews with being disloyal. Tlaib tweeted, “They forgot what country they represent.”

The litany of incidents where we Jews have been accused of not being sufficiently loyal to the country in which we live is lengthy. Likewise, the list of laws and behaviours which led to our isolation is unending.

Yet, since the emancipation of European Jews in the mid-18th century, and the granting of civil liberties to the Jews of Canada and the United States, our loyalty to the countries where we reside and make our homes has been unassailable. We see ourselves as loyal citizens of our homelands. In addition, here are multiple self-protection organizations which ensure our rights are not trampled upon. They are ever-vigilant at calling out those who would deny our place within Canada or the United States. We are ever so fortunate they exist.

Israeli elections are not for the faint of heart. They are an exciting amalgam of Western democracy and Middle Eastern hyperbole. This spring’s election is no different. The new Blue and White party led by retired general Benny Gantz and politician Yair Lapid are crafting a centralist party designed to end the decade-long reign of the Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As often happens during election campaigns, the rhetoric gets overheated. Recently Miri Regev, culture minister in the current government, accused Blue and White of secretly promising to form a government with the Arab parties in the Knesset. This is an anathema in Israeli politics.

The Arab parties have increasingly become extreme in their support for Palestinian rights, often ignoring the significant issues of discrimination and underfunded services which plague their constituents. In response to Regev, Israeli TV personality Rotem Sela wrote, “What is the problems with the Arabs? Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people are created equal – even the Arabs and Druze?”

This Instagram posting led to Netanyahu commenting, that Israel is “not a country of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivered a harsh attack on Netanyahu’s comments, as did the Anti-Defamation League and other liberal Jewish organizations. Yet, it seemed so muted. Perhaps the promise of an American Embassy in Jerusalem or great investment returns has clouded our perception of what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is the most ardent lovers of Israel who should protest the loudest. It is those who support the promise of a Jewish homeland who should decry racism and bigotry with the loudest voices. That is how those of us who do not serve in the IDF protect Israel.

Joshua Hammerman said it best: “This is our home, this is where we live our lives, and Israel is the canvas where our lives will have mattered a millennium from now.”