It’s easy to spot the bad guy in the Purim story – he’s the one with the pointy hat. Today, anti-Semites are not given away by their hats, but if you listen carefully, they’re not hard to find.
Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), sometimes seems as cartoonish a villain as Haman. He recently gave another disturbing address defending gun rights in the United States. The difference this time was that he employed anti-Jewish dog whistles that were so loud, you could hear them over a shul full of gragers.
I’m not one to cry wolf over anti-Semitism. The United States and Canada remain the safest places in the Diaspora for Jewish people. Social discrimination has mostly vanished. Jewish communities here are marked by prosperity, achievement and integration. Assimilation remains a far greater threat to Jewish continuity than prejudice does. But LaPierre howls like a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
He blamed “socialists” for undermining America’s freedoms, especially the sacrosanct right to bear arms. These socialists included billionaire capitalists Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Tom Steyer, moderate Democratic senator Chuck Schumer, independent progressive senator Bernie Sanders, as well as actual socialists like Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky. The one thing these people have in common: they’re Jews (well, Marx’s Jewish parents converted to Protestantism).
I wish I could say that LaPierre’s remarks surprised me. But in the Trump era, naked expressions of bigotry have become less surprising. These are new – and they’re scary. Yet some in the Jewish community continue to give U.S. President Donald Trump a pass. They forget that Trump called “alt-right” neo-Nazis “very fine people” and LaPierre a “great American patriot.” They think that because the president has Jewish family and friends, he must be a friend of the Jews.
Of course, LaPierre fancies himself a protector of the Jewish people. The NRA has long peddled the claim that if only the Jews of Germany had been armed, they could have prevented the Holocaust. That view is inaccurate, offensive and stupid, but not intrinsically anti-Semitic. It is also a view that is held by some Jews, but it camouflages the NRA’s de facto agenda of arming white Christian America. Jews are among the least likely Americans to own guns, and Jewish NRA supporters are “useful idiots” to an “alt-right” that despises them.
A heavily armed populace undermines the modern multicultural society, which is held together by laws, mutual economic interests, tolerance and good will. To tell American Jews that they will never be safe from anti-Semitism, that they need a gun tucked in with their tefillin for when the neo-Nazis come at night, is to tell them that they do not really belong.
Growing anti-Semitism in a land without gun control is a dangerous combination. But armed, alienated and angry individuals can be deadly, whether they wear a yarmulke, a kaffiyeh or a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. America’s lax gun laws are an enormous problem, but so is the reactionary isolationism that undergirds the desire to defend one’s family and one’s home with rifles. That turns neighbours into strangers and strangers into enemies.
Kindness to strangers is among the most important values in the Torah. So is loving thy neighbour as thyself, not arming thyself against thy neighbour.
Loving thine enemy is nice, too, but not always practical. Identifying foes is important to survival and we should be wary of bigots bearing gifts. People who suggest that Jews should own guns and then spout conspiracies worthy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are not looking out for our best interests. Nor is the president who enables them. They may not to be Haman or Hitler, but they are very bad for the Jews.