Much has been said about President Obama’s proposed Iran deal. Some of the conversation has been framed as civilized debate, while other dialogue has deteriorated into an endless litany of ugliness. While strong words have been used by parties on both sides in reference to this deal, it seems that, particularly within the Jewish community, the situation has hit an all-time low, with supporters of the deal castigated, mocked and warned that their failure to oppose the deal may well cost them their jobs come the next election. Worse yet, Jewish supporters of the nuclear agreement have been stamped with a scarlet “T,” branded as traitors to their own people.
What I found most disturbing about the war of words that has been played out so publicly is that opponents of the Iran deal have turned the focus of the issue from a national issue to a Jewish one. Using tactics that are both polarizing and divisive all at once, they have made it clear that supporters of the nuclear agreement are, in fact, turning their backs on the Jewish nation, a sentiment explicitly spelled out in an August 31st headline in the Algemeiner Journal which read, “Supporters of the Iran Nuclear Deal Should and Will Be Called Traitors.” The article quotes Jeff Wiesenfeld who explains, “There must be sanctions against conduct which Black, Hispanic, Asian and other Americans would not tolerate against THEIR interests. We are the outlying fools.” Author Ron Torossian continues with a warning that any member of Congress who votes in favor of the Iran deal “will be hounded for the rest of their careers for supporting this treachery.”
Anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head for generations, but in this case, we are the ones who are fanning the flames. Allow me to explain.
By painting the Jewish people as citizens, not of our home countries, but rather as an independent political nation whose allegiance first and foremost is to itself, it defines us as Americans whose loyalty to the United States is suspect, because we subscribe to a nationalistic agenda that extends beyond our country of residence. That sense of commitment to the Jewish nation first portrays us as a security risk to the place in which we live, because when push comes to shove, we are expected, like loyal citizens of any nation , to throw our support to the Jewish nation, not our host nation, the United States of America. As individuals, each of us has numerous allegiances, including loyalties to our families, our communities, our religions and our nations, but to publicly brand Jews who support the Iran deal as “turncoats,” we run the risk of giving the impression that our national loyalty and our religious loyalty are one and the same, while in fact they are two separate and distinct entities.
This categorization was used successfully by Adolf Hitler in chapter 11 of Mein Kampf, where he wrote, “Thus the Jew lived at all times in the States of other peoples and there he formed his own State, which, though disguised by the name of ‘religious community’ generally sailed as long as external circumstances did not see fit to make a complete revelation of its nature. But once he believed himself strong enough to be able to dispense with the protecting cover, then he always dropped the veil.… The Jew’s life within other peoples can only exist in the long run if he succeeds in creating the impression as though he were not a people but only a ‘religious community,’ though a special one. But with this the first great lie starts.”
The logic is, of course, flawed. Jews are, in fact, a religious community and citizens of their host country first. I consider myself to be a Jew by religion, a Caucasian by race and an American by nationality. What is most frightening is seeing Hitler’s fallacious claims being resurrected by members of our own people.
Whether or not this deal will endanger the security of the United States or its allies remains to be seen. But it is clear that categorizing its Jewish supporters as traitors jeopardizes the physical safety of the Jewish people, by making us seem like a security risk. By singling out the threats to Jews, not the United States, opponents of the Iran deal are making it clear that the national agenda of the Jewish people and that of the United States are two separate entities, a distinction that can only foster greater anti-Semitism.
In his remarks in Washington this past spring, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he is “the representative of the entire Jewish nation.” That single statement is extremely troubling, because it places the loyalty of Jews worldwide to their home countries in question and suggests that Jewish people all across the globe will support Netanyahu, not their own leaders. Those sentiments are echoed on the official website of the State of Israel which bears the words of Avigdor Lieberman, minister of foreign affairs, which explains that “Israel is to the Jewish people what France is to the French people, Ireland is to the Irish and Japan is to the Japanese.”
If Netanyahu is the true leader of the entire Jewish people, then we are indeed, a nation within a nation. That nation, of course, does not exist, despite what Hitler claimed decades ago. There is Israel and there is America. There are American Jews and Israeli gentiles. There is no Jewish political nation and all Jews are not governed by Netanyahu.
This is America, land of the free. We are all entitled to our opinions and it is our constitutional right to lobby either for or against the Iran deal. But to turn this agreement into an issue where all Jews must be of one opinion, especially because a self-anointed “representative” has deemed it to be so, and to say that those who differ are committing treason, is the equivalent of throwing the Jewish people under the bus. Using a religious identity to further a political agenda is an action that has potentially devastating repercussions against Jews worldwide and one that should be avoided at all costs.
Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro is Rabbi of Cong. Bais Medrash of Bayswater in Far Rockaway, New York, and a spokesperson for True Torah Jews (Truetorahjews.org) a non-profit organization founded in 2001 in Brooklyn, New York that does media outreach on issues pertaining to Zionism and Orthodox Judaism.
By Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro