This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Who would have thought the Holocaust would become a central issue in the first weeks of the Trump administration?
International Holocaust Remembrance Day usually passes quietly with a pro forma White House statement about Jewish suffering during the Nazi era coupled with the admonition that such evil should never happen again. This year the White House statement changed radically; Jews mysteriously disappeared from the Holocaust.
News of a Jewless Holocaust went viral with a twist added a few days later. It appears that the State Department drew up a more traditional and historically verifiable Holocaust remembrance statement that had Jews, as they should be, front and center. Somehow, or more likely, purposely, Jews were lost in the translation.
The parsing of the White House’s Jewless Holocaust has sparked much speculation, especially with the rightwing ascendancy and anti-Semitic tendencies that surrounded President Trump and his administration. Yet, as is often the case with strange bedfellows, yet another curious turn has emerged. It appears that a Jewless Holocaust is now coupled with an Israel First foreign policy. The early days of the Trump Administration are full of surprises.
If we leave behind the internal workings of the administration, the State Department/White House flap and the machinations of White House advisers like Steve Bannon, the Holocaust issue, as usual tied to Israel, presents a serious issue: What are Jews to do with a Jewless Holocaust coupled with an Israel First policy?
For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his followers in Israel have little problem with this coupling. Israel’s continuing geographic expansion takes precedence. For the Jewish establishment in the United States, so invested in the issue of anti-Semitism, the coupling is more difficult. Yet another Rubicon beckons in their support of Israel.
Years ago, as Israel became more controversial in the American Jewish community because of its policies toward Palestinians, the debate within the Jewish establishment was whether it could align itself with evangelical Christians whose views on social issues and Jews themselves were suspect. Though with some reluctance, by and large, the Jewish establishment chose the pro-Israel option. Christians, often far to the right politically, were chosen over critically-engaged liberal Jews.
Now another choice appears to be in the making, though in a different political landscape. Evangelical Christians embrace Jews, on their own religious terms to be sure, but nonetheless, in a positive political way. The new administration’s embrace of Israel reflects its essentialist white nationalism view of America. They see the state of Israel as a white nationalist fellow-traveler. Whether this sensibility includes Jews as white Americans is unclear.
For Jews of Conscience, the administration’s Jewless Holocaust/Israel First/White Nationalism combination is troubling beyond words. The recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions heightens the problematic. The rhetoric of solidarity among progressive dissenters opposing Trump and his policies is to combat all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Yet, Jews active in these movements know well that ambivalence about Jews and Jewish power exists across the board of social movements.
So on the one hand, with their opposition to Trump and ambivalence about Jews in mind, and on the other, with the knowledge that Jewish establishment monitors, censors, disciplines, in effect, persecutes Jews of Conscience, should Jews of Conscience rush to the aid of the Jewish establishment when it cries foul? Jews of Conscience know full well that the Jewish establishment’s persecution of them won’t end with pledges of solidarity against anti-Semitism.
This is where we have arrived. The cliché that power makes strange bedfellows is upon all Jews and especially Jew of Conscience in this time of national and international emergency. The days ahead will no doubt present more twists and turns on these issues and more. What to do, how to move forward, will necessitate deep thought as well as action.