I am an American. My New York birth certificate and my New Jersey childhood say so. My four years working at the White House, and my years in California building a business say so. My late grandparents, who came here from Europe in search of a better life, were Americans. My father, who served in the US Army in Korea, and my mother, who volunteered as a poll worker on every Election Day for years, are Americans. They raised their three American children to love this country, and to feel fortunate to be Americans. While I’m not particularly observant these days, I am also a Jew. That is my religion, and the religion of most of my family. It is not our nationality. It is not what it says on our birth certificates, or our passports. In a country whose Constitution mandates separation of church (or synagogue, or mosque) and state, it shouldn’t even be an issue.
Today, President Trump, who gave a speech filled with anti-Semitic tropes just a few days ago, is expected to sign an Executive Order that will classify Judaism as a nationality. The purported reason is to give the government more tools to fight anti-Semitism, particularly on college campuses. The part of the Civil Rights Act that applies to educational institutions prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity and nationality, but not religion. Some Jews are applauding this move, including the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, saying that it will help to stop anti-Semitism on college campuses, where there has been a noticeable rise in anti-Jewish expression as part of increasing support for Palestinian independence.
But, if the intent is to prevent religious discrimination, why not an executive order that prohibits discrimination based on religion, instead of singling out Judaism? There has certainly been anti-Muslim sentiment expressed in our educational institutions. Is it because this administration has no interest in protecting Muslims? Or is it the beginning of a move to redefine what it is to be American?
History teaches us that this is not a new tactic. From the 15th century, when Spain stripped Jews of their Spanish citizenship and exiled them, to 1930s Germany when the Nazi’s declared Jews were no longer German citizens, officially calling Judaism a separate nationality has been an early step in creating a national policy of discrimination against Jews.
Growing up as a proud American, I was sure that state-sanctioned anti-Semitism could never happen here. But when I consider the President’s speeches after Charlottesville, and this past weekend, as well as this executive order, I’m not so sure.
What I am sure of is that I, and many other patriotic American Jews, along with Americans of all races and religions, will not accept this. We will work hard to save the country we love from becoming a place where religious bigotry is supported by our leaders. While the President and his administration appear to have no respect for the Constitution, we were raised to revere and protect it, and to the best of our abilities, we will. For me, the reason is a simple one…I am an American.
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