As you know, on Sunday, President Trump tweeted that “’Progressive’ Democratic Congresswomen” who refer to themselves as the Squad – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley – should “go back” to where they came from.

Let me be clear:

I have been deeply troubled by anti-Semitic comments made by Representative Ilhan Omar – comments that have been widely criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations and leaders. You can read more here.  The House of Representatives attempted to rebuke Omar for her dangerous rhetoric with a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. It was disappointing that Speaker Pelosi was unable to unify the Democrats around this resolution and, as a result, a specific condemnation of anti-Semitism never came from the House. Instead the House passed a resolution condemning all forms of hate speech, including anti-Semitism.
I have also been deeply troubled by the anti-Semitic comments made by Representative Rashida Tlaib – again comments that have been widely criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations leaders. Click here for more information.
Just this week, Representatives Omar and Tlaib, along with Representative John Lewis, introduced a pro-BDS and, thus, anti-Israel resolution (learn more about BDS here). The resolution subtly links Israel with Nazi Germany:

Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad including … boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.

While it is unlikely that this resolution will get any traction, it deeply troubles me.

Let me also be clear:
We Jews have been told time and time again to “go back” to where we came from.

Out there, in the world, all the walls were covered with graffiti: ‘Yids, go back to Palestine,’ so we came back to Palestine, and now the world at large shouts at us: ‘Yids, get out of Palestine.’ 

Amos Oz

Jews must “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Germany or Poland

Helen Thomas

And we’re not alone. Black Americans and other minority groups have also been told time and time again to “go back” to where they came from.
History shows us that telling people to “go back” to where they came from is an anti-Semitic, racist, hateful trope.
Many have argued that President Trump is not a racist. The President himself has defended his comments by arguing that the Squad is anti-Semitic and anti-American. At a campaign rally on Wednesday evening, President Trump told his supporters “They (the Squad) are always telling us how to run it (the country), how to do this. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” The crowd responded by chanting “send her back!”
Matt Brooks, the Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition responded to these chants with the following tweet:

Indeed, the chants were “wrong, vile and don’t reflect who we are as Americans.” But, as I told Mr. Brooks on Twitter, “they (the chants) are a reflection of @Potus and his comments.” The President asserts that he was not happy with the chants and disagrees with them. But, there is no denying that the chants were a result of his own words – and he did nothing to stop the chanting at the rally.
“Send her back” shows us what we have become: a nation where the “other” is so repulsive s/he must be removed. There is no place for debate or dialogue. When opposing viewpoints are expressed, it is not enough to challenge these viewpoints, those who embrace these viewpoints must be maligned as viciously as possible. The disagreement that lies at the heart of democracy is gone. Civil discourse is dead, replaced by hateful rhetoric that attempts to eliminate anyone who believes, thinks, feels that which is different.

Yes, I have serious problems with positions held by some of the members of the Squad. But, they are duly elected officials who have the right to hold the positions they do. As a proud American, Jew and Zionist, I have the right to stand up for what I believe in, oppose political measures that go against my beliefs and work to change the positions of those who view things differently than I do. I also have the right and moral responsibility to stand strongly in opposition to the chants of “send her back” and the President’s rhetoric that has brought us to this very low place.
Just yesterday, Ilhan Omar announced that she will travel to Israel to learn more about the situation there. Reports indicate that Rashida Tlaib will join her. I resent that so many of us who care deeply about Israel are now burdened with the responsibility of protecting the freedoms of these Congresswoman instead of working to ensure that their trip gives them a fair portrayal of what is needed to bring about peace and security for all. Some argue that I shouldn’t waste my time defending Omar and her colleagues’ right to express their political view as their views don’t protect me. They don’t understand why I don’t want these women to “go back.” They forget the words of our first President, George Washington, “if freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” I disagree vehemently with the positions of these Congresswomen, but they have the right to speak and I have the right to oppose them.
You all know that I try very hard to stay out of politics. I do this because I believe in civil discourse. I believe that at the heart of who we are as a country and who we are as Jews is our ability to passionately disagree with each other while, at the same time, figuring out how to work together to create something special. In these polarizing times, I have felt strongly that by supporting/denouncing political leaders, I, as the leader of our community, have the potential to tip the scales and, as a result, undermine the ability of our congregation to be a place that embraces civility. I want everyone to feel at home in our synagogue. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their viewpoints when they come to Ramat Shalom. While I have shared my concerns and positions about certain political issues and leaders, I have been very cautious when doing so. Today, however, I am taking a very strong position because I can’t sit idly by as the President turns those he disagrees with into the “other.” As Jews we have been and, in many respects, remain the “other.” We won’t tolerate being told to “go back” and we can’t allow anyone else to be spoken to this way. We know the dangers of this kind of talk. And, therefore, I won’t be quiet.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Rabbi. I always appreciate your thoughts, and this was especially needed.

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