There is a unique experience shared by many Canadian Jews of my generation. We have come of age empowered by all of the freedoms North America has offered us, but we’ve also been reminded daily by our parents and grandparents that we are just two generations removed from slavery and genocide.
We’ve been raised with a cautious optimism that encourages us to zestfully pursue whatever lifestyles we see fit, but at the same time we’ve been taught to constantly be wary of threats lurking just around the corner.
Mostly, despite reminders to be vigilant, we have the sense that the horrors that befell the Jewish People are behind us, rather than ahead. This said, I believe it’s entirely possible that two recent political events could cause a severe escalation of intolerance towards Jews in North America: 1) The U.S. abstention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli construction in territories captured in 1967 and 2) President Donald Trump’s pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Former U.S. president Barack Obama is a hero to millions of Americans, many of who are neutral when it comes to taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Samantha Power, ambassador to the UN during the Obama administration, stated that in abstaining from vetoing the Security Council resolution, the intent was to keep in line with official state policy opposing settlement construction. But there is no denying that the abstention caused a big enough media storm that many of Obama’s supporters will remember it as his last loudest act as president. Citizens who previously held no opinion on the matter have now been given all the information they require to choose sides with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I do not believe that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism but I certainly think the latter often thrives under the guise of the former. Just as Trump’s election campaign no doubt empowered racist elements within our society, it’s not a stretch to wonder whether Obama’s parting jab at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will further empower anti-Semites, even if that was not the intention.
‘We’ve been raised with a cautious optimism that encourages us to pursue whatever lifestyles we see fit…at the same time, we’ve been taught to be wary of threats lurking Around the corner’
In the first weekend of Trump’s presidency, millions of impassioned American citizens marched primarily in support of women’s rights, and secondarily, in opposition to his inauguration. As many Americans as there are who believe that Obama could do no wrong, it seems there are significantly more who think Trump can do no good. And it is obvious that there is substantial overlap between these two groups.
There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will carry out his pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the ostensible purpose behind such a move, which is to show unwavering support for Israel, an embassy move could have an effect similar to the one I fear Obama’s UN abstention will cause. For the millions of Americans who believe that every move Trump makes comes from a place of hatred and intolerance, the fact that he would be the one moving the embassy is all the information they’d need to decide this is a terrible idea.
It is not unreasonable to expect that such a move would turn up the volume on the anti-Israel rhetoric often heard within social justice circles. In turn, this could further empower those who hide their hatred of Jews beneath banners proclaiming Israel to be an apartheid state at pro boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) protests.
The 44th president left office on bad terms with Israel and the 45th has entered office promising stronger ties than ever before. Irrespective of intent, two drastically different policies have the potential to join forces from across the aisle and work together to profoundly affect American Jewry.
For the first time in my life, I find myself seriously considering that before the rise of the Nazis my grandparents and their immediate families lived in Europe as freely as I do today in Canada. And yet, it didn’t take long for all of that to change.
Dov Beck lives in Toronto, where he debates the current state of politics with his roommate Bruce, a mini golden doodle. Dov also works in the commercial real estate industry.