One of the greatest slanders against Jews has been that we are disloyal to the country we live in - that we owe allegiance to some secret Jewish cabal rather than to the United States, or to Germany, or to France. It was that slander that began the Dreyfus affair in France, where a loyal French Jewish Officer was wrongfully convicted of treason and crowds roamed the streets, screaming death to the Jews. It was a primary accusation by Hitler and the Nazis - that Jews were disloyal to Germany - and that accusation led to the gas chambers, to mass shootings on the edge of pits, to six million Jews, two thirds of all the Jews in Europe, murdered.
Trump's assertion this past week that our prime allegiance is to Israel and Jews and that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal raises those specters. And he makes no such statements about other groups. Are those of Irish descent disloyal if they don't vote for the Republicans? Catholics? Baptists? No, it's only the Jews.
But Trump's comments about Jews this week go back even further than the Dreyfus affair and the Holocaust. Trump's retweeting the idea that he is King of Israel and the second coming of God combined with his assertions that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal - insane though it may be - is a terrifying reminder of the main reason we Jews have been persecuted for two thousand years. The title King Of Israel and the reference to a Second Coming - are direct references to Jesus. The reason we were burned at the stake, murdered by Crusaders, exiled from country after country, is that we do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, nor do we accept him as the Messiah. For Trump, it may have been a statement to appeal to his evangelical base. For most rational people, Trump laying claim to be the second coming of God verges on the insane. But what I heard - and what many Jews heard - was an echo of two thousand years of hatred.
Jews in America overwhelmingly - seventy to eighty percent - vote Democratic, so according to Trump's rhetoric this week, we are overwhelmingly "disloyal" to Judaism, to Israel, and to him - the "King of Israel." These times are very scary, especially for minorities. For Jews, anti-Semitism has now risen to a level that I have not seen in my lifetime. The hatred that allowed the Nazis to murder so many of us had, for the past fifty years, become embarrassing, shameful, but now it's emerging again in full force. In the past year, there have been two shootings in synagogues. Within the last two weeks, a man was arrested who was planning to attack a Jewish Center in Ohio. How long until some demented neo-Nazis take the language - that Jews are disloyal - that Jews betray the "King of Israel", and go on rampages? The High Holy Days are coming up soon, and I'm a little scared of what could happen.
Jews are a more diverse group than many believe. We have different political beliefs, we are not universally white, and we often practice Judaism (or don't practice) in different ways. Those of us living in the United States, however, are proud Americans and that is our primary loyalty, whatever the level of our support for Israel. (And just for the record, not all Israelis support Netanyahu either. He didn't even win a clear majority in the last election. Are those who voted against him disloyal to Israel?) I may disagree with friends or family who support different candidates or policies than I do - but I would never call them disloyal. To attack any American as "disloyal" for supporting a different political party than the President of the United States is in itself a profoundly unAmerican idea.