“Never again.” These two words haunt the moral imaginations of many American Jews who grew up on the survival stories of our elders. In particular, Ashkenazi Jewish institutions have invested millions of dollars into Nazi Holocaust education, making sure this phrase is imprinted in our brains.
And so in the past few weeks, as we process the election of a man who has promised mass deportation and religious bans while rising to power on a juggernaut of white nationalist propaganda, we recommit to never again letting fascism rule.
We have learned the warning signs of fascism all our lives. And yet, the very same Jewish institutions that taught us about our genocide are utterly failing to take a stand, opting instead to normalize dangerous choices, stifle dissent and, in the process, expose their own hypocrisy.
When the Jewish Federations of North America told Donald Trump in an open letter that “we very much look forward to working closely with you and your administration,” we were disgusted — but not surprised. Many of the repressive approaches to governing that we fear in a Trump presidency have long been tacitly accepted by Jewish institutions that promote a defend-Israel-at-all-costs philosophy.
Our local Jewish Federation recently released an admirable community statement on behalf of 20 local Jewish organizations calling for tolerance and understanding:
“Together we pledge that our organizations and congregations will continue to be places of safety, protecting the vulnerable, reaching out to those who are under threat and offering them our allegiance and support.” Why, then, have the Jewish Federations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, failed to oppose the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor?
Bannon has long used his platform as leader of Breitbart News to incite violence towards Muslims, people of color, women, immigrants, Jews, and people with disabilities. He openly claims that his website is an intellectual home for the movement that calls itself the “alt-right,” a far-right fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist and anti-immigrant positions. Self-proclaimed alt-right members were recently captured on film saluting Nazi-style and shouting “Hail Victory!” — a translation of the Nazi battle cry, “Sieg Heil!”
Bannon has a documented history of anti-Jewish rhetoric, including trying to stop his children from attending school with Jewish kids. His appointment confirms Trump’s commitment to make his repulsive campaign promises reality.
In order to protect Israel, too many Jewish organizations, among them the Jewish Federations of North America, have welcomed Trump to the White House and remained silent about the appointment of Bannon. Consistent with its anti-Muslim agenda, Bannon’s Breitbart News Network regularly publishes articles that pander to right-wing Israeli political elements while simultaneously trafficking in anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Jewish organizations should be ashamed to put their pro-Israel interests above the security of Muslims, people of color, women, immigrants, Jews, and people with disabilities. Jewish Americans should not stand for this hypocrisy any longer.
- It is time to end our unconditional support for Israel, a state that routinely violates human rights — incarcerating and murdering Palestinians, while occupying and demolishing their homes.
- It is time for us to see that the State of Israel engages in the same militaristic and racist practices that Bannon’s rhetoric encourages in the United States.
- It is time for American Jews to recognize the systemic racism practiced in our name by the state of Israel and by our own leaders.
Instead of standing up to Trump and his cabinet of billionaires and bigots, our own leaders in the Jewish Federations — as well as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — have won Senate passage of a bill that aims to suppress pro-Palestinian campus activism by labeling criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism, allowing punitive intervention by the the U.S. Department of Education.
The so-called “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” is a far cry from our local Federation’s claim to “offer our neighbors, especially those who are at greatest risk, our pledge to embrace, guard, support and protect them.”
Jewish Voice for Peace stands against just this kind of unconditional support for Israel. We urge our fellow Jews to stand with us as we strongly condemn the appointment of Bannon and publicly oppose bills like the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
Surely when we say “never again” we are referring to men like Bannon. Surely when we say “never again” we are referring to dangerous legislation restricting our civil liberties. It is the moral duty of Jewish people to stand up not only for our own safety, but for the security of millions more endangered by Bannon and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
The truth is that “never again” is already happening at home and abroad. When hundreds of protesters in Baton Rouge are arrested for standing on the sidewalk, it’s happening again. When water protectors fighting the oil pipeline at Standing Rock are blasted with water canons in sub-zero temperatures, it’s happening again. When Palestinian children are bombed while playing on the beach in Gaza, it’s happening again.
State violence is an ongoing reality that will likely increase dramatically under the Trump/Bannon administration. The time to stand on the right side of history is now. We hope and pray that our Jewish institutions will join us.
Hannah Wolfman-Arent and Rachel Lee live in New Orleans and are leaders of the local Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, JVP-NOLA. They can be contacted at email@example.com
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