The other day, JoeSettler posted an ad for Nefesh B'Nefesh, noting (with his tongue planted in his cheek, by my reading) that there are some American Jews who will be looking to make aliyah now that Barack Obama has been elected President.
This prompted a spate of indignant comments. One commenter declared that any American Jew who wishes to make aliyah for such a reason (or perhaps any Jew who disagrees with Obama at all) is simply a racist. Another one acknowledged that there are some opponents of Obama who are not motivated by racism, but insisted that because some Orthodox Jews are racist, the entire Orthodox community has "no credibility" regarding an election where one of the candidates happens to be black. Here are some excerpts:
- "Sorry, but racist right-wing was the first explanation that came to mind after the opening line - that Obama winning would be a big push for aliyah.
Why otherwise would anyone flee America just as we're finally starting to get hope again?"
From another comment:
- "The point is, a substantial number of Orthodox Jews are racists. That is undeniable. Therefore, the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole has no credibility on the question of an election between a white man and a black man."
"The point is, a substantial number of blacks are racists. That is undeniable. Therefore, the black community as a whole has no credibility on the question of an election between a white man and a black man."Or perhaps even this:
"The point is, a substantial number of Americans are racists. That is undeniable. Therefore, the American people as a whole has no credibility on the question of an election between a white man and a black man."Would our commenter agree with this statement as well? And if so, then what does this say about the election of Barack Obama?
This same commenter goes on to tell us that even though not every Obama supporter is necessarily a racist, anybody who criticizes Obama in a manner that he regards as "inaccurate" probably is a racist:
Simply claiming not to be a racist does little to reassure skeptics, especially if you follow your reassurance with some inflammatory and inaccurate statement like that Obama is a "socialist."Now, I'm not going to address the question here of whether Obama's policies can be regarded as "socialist" in nature. (See the comments if you're interested in that.) What's really incredible is how, according to this commenter, "socialist" has now become an ethnic slur! Someone should tell that to the government of Sweden. (One can't help but wonder -- if someone refers to a white person as a "socialist", does that mean the speaker is racist against whites? Or does it mean that the speaker thinks the person in question is black?)
Finally, this commenter provides a long quote from conservative columnist and Orthodox Jew David Klinghoffer, in which Klinghoffer descibes his disturbing encounters with racism in the OJ community. In fact, I agree with, and strongly identify with, every word that Klinghoffer says on this subject. Yes, there is a lot of ugly racism in certain streams of American Orthodoxy. I have run up against quite a bit of it myself, and I am saddened and offended by it.
However: There are plenty of OJ Jews who are not racist at all. (I daresay most, but I don't have figures to prove it.) And knowing both Joe and Jameel personally, I am absolutely confident that their critical opinions of President Elect Obama are based upon their own (entirely legitimate) political views, and have nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of racist bias.
To suggest or imply that their criticisms of Obama are are based upon racism is completely unfounded, and nothing short of slanderous. It is also presumptuous in the extreme. And it is no less presumptuous to assume that a Jew who chooses to make aliyah because of Obama (as misguided as that may be; see afterthought below) is doing it because of "racism".
Furthermore, and most importantly: The attitude expressed by these commenters, and many others like them, represents nothing less than a frightening, illegitimate attempt to stifle political debate that is critical to our future as a free society. For many years, there have been those who attempted to paint any and all criticism of people who happened to be from racial minorities as "racism". This notion has become a powerful weapon in the hands of those who would curtail the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions, particularly on university campuses. But today, as never before, we cannot possibly afford to allow such an attitude to hold sway in America -- for one simple reason: The man who will be President of the United States for the next four years (at least) happens to be black. Now, regardless of one's political views, this is a historic first for a nation with a history of racism, and an achievement for which all Americans can rightfully be proud.
But along with that achievement, and because of it, comes new responsibility: It demands of us a new level of maturity and fair play in our public discourse: It is now completely unacceptable to play the race card on the American political field. People must be completely and unreservedly free to criticize President Obama and his Administration, just as they have been free to criticize President Bush and his. True democracy -- which America strives to exemplify -- thrives on free and unfettered debate, and open criticism -- sometimes harsh -- of our leaders. If people become intimidated against doing so for fear of being called "racists", then the fundamental underpinning of our free society will be gone. And that would be a tragedy for all of us who cherish liberty.
Having said everything I said above, I feel it necessary to point out the following reservations regarding the idea of making aliyah to "run away" from Obama: I believe strongly that Jews should make aliyah -- but they ought to do it for the right reasons: They should come because Israel is our homeland, and it is where a Jew belongs. But if an American Jew makes aliyah on account of Obama's election as President, then he is a fool:
- If the issue of concern is the expectation that Obama will be pressuring Israel into making dangerous concessions to her enemies, then I would point out that those policies -- even in the worst-case-scenarios predicted by some -- are more likely to endanger the lives and security of Jews in Israel, than those in the U.S. So that would be a reason for Israelis to make yerida, not for Americans to make aliyah. Of course, I would also point out (as I have in the past) that in the end, Obama's policies are unlikely to be a major factor in this arena: The self-destructive policies of Israeli governments since the onset of Oslo in 1993 have been primarily due to the irresponsiblity and foolishness of our own Israeli leaders right here, and not because of American pressure. And there's no reason to expect this to change significantly in the near future.
- And if the issue of concern is fear of Obama's expected fiscal policies, then making aliyah on this account is even more foolish. During the election campaign, there was much heated debate over whether Obama's plan for the American economy -- which he said would be characterized by a program that would "spread the wealth" -- should be properly labelled as "socialism". Well, I don't know whether Obama's plans are radical enough to qualify as "socialism", but I can definitely tell you this: Israel's economy already is socialist! After all, the country was founded by a group of true-blue, ideologically orthodox, diehard European socialists and communists. And the economy remained solidly socialist for decades after its founding. Now, it is true that Israel has come a long way in the direction of privatization and capitalist reform (particular during Netanyahu's terms as Prime Minister and Finance Minister), but Israel is still worlds away from having a true free-market economy. The point is simply this: Israel is far more socialist right now that America can possibly become, even under eight years of an Obama Administration. So anyone making aliyah from America because they think they're running away from "socialism" is in for one heck of a shock when he gets here...
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד