A few weeks ago, the Republican presidential frontrunner addressed a right-of-center lobbying group, to overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd.
Not a shocking statement, really.
But, adding a few modifiers and adjectives tells another story.
On March 21st, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, who has based his campaign on “building a wall” between the US and Mexico and has called for a halt to all Muslim immigration, addressed the American Israel Public Affairs council’s annual policy conference (AIPAC’s stated mission is to strengthen, protect and promote the security of the United States and Israel), to several standing ovations and many rounds of applause.
Please note that the above is only a statement of facts.
Another fact: Israel is a “Jewish state”.
And that’s why I cried.
The evening Trump spoke to the AIPAC convention, I was having dinner with two work colleagues. I was in a restaurant facing the bar, where the TV was tuned to CNN. The banner at the bottom of the screen read, , “Trump to Address Israel Group” and counted down the seconds until he took the stage. Yes, AIPAC invited all the nominees. No, Bernie Sanders didn’t accept. I’m not going to debate why I feel Trump should not have been invited. I’m not going to discuss AIPAC’s politics because I don’t have a wish to be publicly berated on the Internet and called a self-hating Jew for feeling less than rosy about the organization. (Although I’m guessing that’s gonna happen anyway).
I’m here to talk about the response. I have to say, I wasn’t shocked by the loud applause and the standing ovations. Upset? Yes. Shocked? No.
What was shocking to me was that only one person, one rabbi, stood and raised his voice to protest. A few dozen rabbis, walked out silently. Some studied together, opting out entirely. In the planning of these actions, the word “respectful” was used over and over. Wanting to respect AIPAC and their fellow conference-goers.
There were at least 700 clergy members at the AIPAC conference. I know several of them. There were 18,000 people in attendance. I know many of them. Many privately expressed shock and outrage at the response of the people around them. But they stayed seated. And they stayed silent.
Why didn’t those who declared themselves “shocked” and “outraged” stand up? Why didn’t they start chanting, singing, and spouting Torah?
To me, the sitting was cowardly. The silence was worse.
This is not the Judaism I grew up with, a Judaism that supports labor unions, that discusses modern day slavery at the Seder table that views Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights movement as a badge of honor. But in this case, Jews were faced with another chance to be at the forefront of protest and change to be on the right side of history.
And they were silent.
In the light of conversations around allyship in the Black Lives Matter Movement era, we hear the essential phrase, “White silence is violence.” When white people are silent in the face of racism and police brutality, they are complicit.
Jewish silence is violence, too. When a man who demonizes immigrants (raise your hand if you are first, second or third generation American), who approves of torture, who is a nuclear power-hungry, racist, misogynistic, anti-choice, science-denying demagogue is in our presence, we have to say no.
We have to look bullies in the face and use our powerful place at the table to say NO. We have to kick over the damn table and demand that attention be paid.
We cannot just sit there. We need to stand up and shut it down.
This is not who we are.
It sure as hell isn’t who I am.
Please note: This is my commentary as a white Jew, someone in a position of privilege. In order to fully understand the issue at hand, it is essential we listen, deeply, to the voices of Jews of Color on this. Read an incredible, heart-wrenching piece from Lina Morales here. (Oh, and if you aren’t sure if racism exists in the Jewish community, DO read the comments.)