In early December, the New York Times reported that President Trump planned on signing an executive order that “targets anti-[S]emitism and Israeli boycotts on college campuses.” This lead to a flurry of outrage among Jews and fellow Americans. Many American Jews are understandably concerned with the President’s executive order to classify Jews as a nationality. However, a cursory glance at Jewish history shows that we are a nation and a people. The President’s executive order simply codified our ethnic minority status into American law.
President Trump is a polarizing figure, and his recent comments at the Israeli American Council National Summit drew upon pernicious stereotypes about Jews and money. The President has a fraught record with the American Jewish community at-large. Because of this, many in the community are understandably concerned with the President’s executive order to classify them as a “nationality.”
Dangerous despots throughout history have used otherization to commit atrocities against us. Political extremists may even use the executive order to further arouse anti-Semitic sentiments. For four millennia, the Jewish people have united around a dedication to the land of their forefathers, the precepts of their faith, and the laws of their Torah.
G-d commanded the Jewish people in Exodus 19:6: “be to Me a kingdom of priests and a goy kadosh (holy nation.)” From the rivers of Babylon to the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish people have yearned to return to Eretz Yisrael and to be an or laGoyim, a light unto the other nations of the world.
Modern Zionism is largely a product of not only the woes of two millennia of exile. But it is also of an eternal religious and national yearning for kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the Exiles of Israel. Of course, this deep-seated tenet of the faith can be, and has been, manipulated by anti-Semites throughout history to push Jews to the margins of society.
However, if as Jews we erase our own millennia-old identity in the name of appeasement, we would be granting Hitler and Amalek posthumous victories. To oppose Jewish national identity because of Israeli policies looks blasphemous to those that understand our history.
Although Zionism is necessary for a thriving Jewish future, nationhood predates any modern political philosophy. It has sustained the Jewish people for two-thousand years in Diaspora. While only some Jews are Israeli citizens, all of them are members of the Jewish nation.
In the shadow of the Holocaust, despairing over any effort to “label” or “classify” Jews as anything other than full Americans can appear horrifying. The angst of our ancestors is still very much alive. Far too many opt for complete assimilation, rendering Judaism and its heritage unsustainable in our secular world.
While religion declines, Judaism and Israel thrive precisely because Judaism is both a religion and a national identity. In the long annals of history, there has never been a nation that allowed Jews to remain in the Jewish nation and have a part in secular society until now.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. A refuge for anyone that yearns for freedom. It encourages and embraces dual-nationalities. In this blessed land, being a Jew and an American, or an Italian and an American is not a contradiction. Jews, and all the people, must embrace this historical opportunity and commit themselves to their glorious heritage.
Despite all the uproar, President Trump’s executive order does not actually classify Jews as a separate nationality, nor does it mention Israel at all. Rather, it declares:
While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face
discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin… all executive departments and agencies charged with enforcing Title VI shall consider… the non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism adopted… by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) … and… the “Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism” identified by the IHRA.
President Trump’s executive order will affirm the cultural and historical reality that Judaism is an ethnicity. This will make it easier to combat manifestations of anti-Semitism on college campuses that target Jews’ ethnicity and cultural values.
Jews who deny the ethnic and racial aspect of our identity must heed the warning of the ancient Sages in Psalms 83:5: “They have said: ‘Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.’” Their enemies said: ‘As long as the nation of Israel abides, G-d will be named the G-d of Israel. But if Israel is uprooted, whose G-d will He be named?” (Midrash Tehillim on Ps 83:5).
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.