Kingdom of Heaven?
In the 2005 film, Kingdom of Heaven, after surrendering the city of Jerusalem, the Crusader Balian, played by Orlando Bloom, ask Sultan Saladin, played by Ghassan Massoud, “What is Jerusalem worth?” Saladin’s reply before turning to walk away is, “Nothing.”
After a few moment’s Saladin turns around and smiles at Balian and says, “Everything.”
On December 7th, as the morning sun was rising in the Middle East, the time was around midnight for me on the East Coast of the United States. My phone began to mark the coming of the new day by notifications from various news outlets that sometime later today President Donald Trump would be announcing America’s intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel to Jerusalem.
After reading through some of the stories and the responses from various other world leaders on the President’s expected announcement, I put my phone down, closed my eyes and thought to myself, “Great.”
While many have a host of divergent views on Israel or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as a Jewish American I was well aware that any turmoil involving Israel ends up meaning something different to us Jews across the world.
It means things are potentially about to get really rough for us…
Social Scientist Jacques Givet and Historian Leon Poliakov both traced the origins to “New Anti-Semitism” to the end of the Six-Day War in Israel. Poliakov argued that after the Six-Day War Anti-Jewish themes began to emerge in what he called, “fantasy-world Zionism.”
Poliakov’s described fantasy-world Zionism as being the demonical portrayal of Jews that secretly plot together and seek to conquer the world. The existence of the Jewish state of Israel was said to be evidence of the Jewish imperialistic and bloodthirsty conspiracy to spread globalism and control the world.
In reality, this anti-Semitic propaganda of secret plans for Jewish global domination is not new at all. In fact, many of the examples cited by Poliakov very literally take a page out of the 1903 book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This anti-Semitic fabricated text supposedly describing the plans for Jewish world domination.
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” was originally printed in Russia in 1903, however, by 1920 the good old American icon Henry Ford published 500,000 copies in the United States. The anti-Semitic text outlining the global Jewish hegemony was one of the biggest motivating factors behind why Adolf Hitler and the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
The biggest difference between the anti-Semitism that resulted in the torture and murder of six million innocent people and “New anti-Semitism” is that now the nation of Israel was linked to Jews.
Suddenly, Jews and Jewish symbols became synonymous with Israel. For some, to see a Jew like myself wearing a yarmulke meant I mind as well be wearing an Israeli flag. Remarkably, this opposition to Israel or Zionism, and a link to having a disdain for Jews emanates simultaneously from the Far-Left, Islamism, and the Far-Right.
In fact, in America what might surprise some people is that some of the biggest incidents of antisemitism actually comes right out of Liberal, “social justice,” or “civil rights groups.”
In August of 2016, the Black Lives Matter Organization released its formal decree describing its political platform. The long document covered everything from U.S. policing to education reform to mass incarceration. In the document, at the very end, Black Lives Matter jumped out of the American domestic market and into the international arena by adding its position on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
“The U.S. justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” the activists wrote in the platform. The document went on to call Israel an “apartheid state.”
In response, Black Lives Matter suddenly found itself at odds with many American Jewish and Christian groups; along with being condemned by a host of progressive, social-justice-oriented organizations. The biggest contention with Black Lives Matter’s statement centered on two significant words that were used.
“Genocide” and “Apartheid.”
The term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The word genocide was entirely established on the mass killing of 11.5 million people, of which 6 million were European Jews. To put it bluntly, two-thirds of the European Jewish population was exterminated during the holocaust through genocide.
Additionally, the word apartheid relates to a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa from 1948 to 1991. Apartheid was systematic and governed white supremacy over Black Africans by White South Africans.
Ultimately, the initial nation of Israel that was formed in May of 1948 was a result of the events of the genocide from the Holocaust. Many European Jews who fled their homes to avoid Nazi Germany found themselves with no place to go. In fact, the United States turned away and rejected tens of thousands of Jewish refugees before the start of World War II.
The dream of the Jewish state of Israel—of freedom, radical equality, and survival—predated the Holocaust, however in its wake, it assumed new urgency. This is what ultimately led to the creation of the state of Israel.
Additionally, there has never been any instances of racial segregation in Israel’s history. In fact, by comparison, Israel has long been far more progressive than many Western nations, especially the United States. For example, laws against same-sex acts have been legal in Israel since 1963 and government protection against same-sex discrimination has been prohibited since 1992. Neither of these legal protections has been afforded to members of the LGBT community to date in America. Currently, 20% of Israel's population are Arab Muslims.
Now, I’m not trying to sell anyone on Israeli politics or paint a picture as if everything is a picture perfection in Israel. However, the truth is the symbolism and imagery invoked by the words “genocide” and “apartheid” were indeed inaccurate and inappropriate.
In truth, there are as many positions on Israel within the American Jewish community as there are Jews. In fact, rarely do we agree on anything. This includes many people who adamantly oppose the country’s treatment of Palestinians or its erection of the security barrier with Palestine.
Had Black Lives Matter focused its statement in supporting a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, one in which equality and freedom was the paramount focus, I would have taken no contention with it. I believe many others members of the American Jewish community would have felt the same way.
However, to paint a picture of Israel as a whole as being genocidal or proponents of racial segregation is inaccurate. Equally as important, this supports a notion that effective anti-racism work can only be done by denouncing and excoriating the state of Israel’s existence.
Ultimately, the most damaging outcome from Black Lives Matter’s statement comes in the ensuing results of their condemnation of Israel.
In America, and for the bulk of the Western world, the concept of a sovereign nation not being secular in its governance is an extremely abstract. In fact, America is for all intents and purposes was founded on the belief of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
The impression that most Americans get when they think of the words “religious state” are associations with oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia or even radical extremist like ISIS. The coexistence between religion and governess to most Westerners means overbearing or stifling of freedoms.
Ultimately, the perception of religion being uncharacteristic of freedom is not contained within the views or opinions of a particular religious’ nation’s politics or governance. Instead, it creates an implicit view that a religious faith is inseparable from a sovereign nation that defines itself by a particular religion.
Israel under no uncertain terms defines itself as a Jewish democratic state. As a result, regardless of where in the world Jews live, or are naturally born citizens, we become categorically linked with Israel.
This ensuing result is exactly the basis for Jacques Givet and Leon Poliakov’s definition of “New antisemitism.” Essentially, when there is turmoil in Israel, very quickly Jews across the world can find themselves under attack from all angles.
When an organization like Black Lives Matter condemned Israel it presents a dilemma to its supporters. The organization and linked movement are largely established in the practice of public demonstrations and protests to highlight social injustices. Yet how does an American BLM supporter protest or demonstrate against a nation that is 6,744 miles, an Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea away from America?
Often times, and not by organized effort, the implicit link between Jews and Israel takes over, now suddenly American Jews can find themselves facing harassment and antisemitism from very groups they may have actually supported.
For example, a 2016 Newsweek report stated that, “Jewish students have been shunned from participating in student government, rejected from progressive social justice activities such as pro-choice rallies, anti-rape demonstrations, Black Lives Matter events and racial justice conferences and ostracized from areas of campus life because of their “Jewish agenda” or presumed support for Israel at schools such as Stanford University, San Diego State University, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, Northwestern University, Brooklyn College and SUNY Albany.
Just last year, UCLA Student President Milan Chartterjee, a third-year law student left the school because of antisemitism. Chartterjee who is Indian-America and a Hindu; published a sharply worded letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in which he said he had, “no choice” but to leave the school due to the relentless attacks, bullying, and harassment he had seen by Anti-Israeli groups and activists.
In his letter, Chartterjee said, “Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that the UCLA campus has become a hostile and unsafe environment for Jewish students.”
UCLA has also had numerous recent anti-Semitic graffiti incidents, such one reading that said, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber.” A UCLA student’s impartiality on a judicial board was questioned due to her being Jewish.
These are just some of many examples, while probably the epitome of “New Antisemitism” could be seen in June of this year when three people carrying Jewish gay pride flags were kicked out of an LGBT pride march in Chicago.
One of the people kicked out, Laurie Grauer said she received her Jewish pride flag, a rainbow flag with the Star of David in the middle of it, from Congregation Or Chadash, where she is a member. Grauer said she and two other friends were told they were unwelcome at the 1,500-person march because their flags were offensive and threatening.
"For me, carrying this flag is a celebration of these identities I hold very dear -- being Jewish and being gay,” Grauer told WGN Chicago. In a statement, the march organizers said they are not anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist.
The fact that the Star of David has been used as a symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism dating back to the 3rd and 4th century evidently was irrelevant to the march organizers. It was simply just too “Israeli” for them.
The fact is for Jews, we become accused to the reality of “New Antisemitism.” Whenever there is turmoil in Israel, we expect that there will be turmoil for Jews across the world.
For the record, I am Jewish. However, I am a Jewish American. In fact, my ancestors have been in America since the 1600’s.
I support the right to sovereignty for the nation of Israel, as I understand it’s importance, not from a Biblical standpoint, but based on the fact that during the Holocaust the Jews had nowhere to go. With Israel, no matter what, we will always have somewhere to go.
With that said, personally, I would like to see a viable two-state solution reached, in which everyone has freedom and equality over their governance. How that two-state solution should be achieved is something I think it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on, as it is an Israeli and Palestinian issue. I am an American.
I support any and all efforts that work towards a peaceful existence in the Middle East along with all people of the world. I believe that any involvement from America in foreign affairs should be to facilitate peace. Anything that should inflame tensions should not be engaged in. I believe the status quo established in 1995 should be maintained.
I’m an American, who happens to be Jewish- I shouldn’t face negativity because someone doesn’t like Israeli politics. To blame or act derogatorily towards all Jews because of Israel makes one anything but a true freedom fighter for equality.
I believe in equality which does not come at the expense of others. As an American; as a Jew; and as a human being… that is what I support above all else.
Lastly, the "Kingdom of Heaven" should never be considered to be bound by any one particular plot of land. That reality of peace and a harmonious coexistence among people is something I believe can and should be achieved worldwide.
Ultimately, that reality will be dependent solely on the number of people who are willing to make that reality come true.