No, Mr. Trump: Jews Are Not a ‘Nationality’

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President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that interprets Judaism as a nationality or race—i.e., it should not be seen exclusively as a religion—so that the federal government can threaten to withhold funds from schools deemed to be fostering anti-Semitism in school activities, programs, curricula, and classrooms. The order was signed the day after a shooting of Jews at a Kosher grocery in New Jersey. The assailants were adherents to the Black Hebrew Israelite ideology, and are said to have been motivated by the anti-Semitism of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. This order would make the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism the official guideline for Title VI—the civil rights act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds or other federal financial assistance.

Speaking of his pro-Israeli positions, which include moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the president appeared intent on expanding his support among Jewish voters (who largely vote Democrat) as well as pleasing evangelical supporters (who are strong supporters of Zionism). But some Jewish leaders have raised concerns, since other regimes have classified Jews as a racial group for less benevolent reasons. As reported by The New York Times, Rabbi Hara Person, the chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said: “Not to overdramatize, but it feels dangerous. I’ve heard people say this feels like the first step toward us wearing yellow stars.”

What Trump’s order will effectively do is put a halt on speech, as skittish administrators shut down protests, screen speakers, and monitor classrooms for unsanctioned criticisms against Israel. Americans should know that the IHRA, as adopted by the State Department, is deeply contested. Its critics say it is too vague and all-encompassing and can be a trap for honest critics of Israel’s domestic and foreign policies. The IHRA, for example, describes as anti-Semitic “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” under some circumstances, and offers as an example of such behavior “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

This gives pro-Israeli associations and lobbyists a green light to compel the states to pass laws that would require any companies and individuals working for the government to sign “contracts” or other affidavits declaring that they would never boycott Israeli companies. Such endeavors have been halted on numerous occasions by Congress and multiple courts as unconstitutional since they would violate the First Amendment. This would incidentally mean that any criticism of the Israeli government, such as its continual suppression of Christians exercising their natural right to worship, would be classified as anti-Semitic.

Aside that a longstanding Israeli law which states that forbids Christians from marrying Jews, Israeli authorities recently decreed that Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities, such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem, to celebrate Christmas this year. Only 100 Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel or the West Bank, both of which are home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians said. Last year, 700 Gazan Christians were granted permits. Gaza has only around 1,200 Christians—most of them Greek Orthodox—among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip; over 900 of them applied to leave Gaza for Christmas.

Surely, Christians of all denominations have a duty to criticize the Israeli government for their shabby treatment of our co-religionists. But, if we did, would the Trump administration have us locked up for race-hatred?

For that matter, how can “Judaism”—which is strictly characterized in every dictionary and encyclopedia as a belief in a transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets, and which requires a certain way of life—be defined as a race or nationality? Surely one could say the same of Islam. Would raising questions or presenting objections to the draconian sharia law be seen as a racist position? Would the government suppress criticism of Islamist governments in Saudi Arabia or Iran? Needless to say (one would hope), making such judgments on Islam does not mean one is doing the same against individual Muslims.

This interpretation falls right in line with Islamists who personify themselves in the media as victims of religious hatred. The online journal FrontPageMag reported in January 2011 that they fell victim to this crusade, which is being led by left-wing elites like George Soros and left-wing activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. They have been partially successful in getting the government, on both federal and local levels, to curb Americans’ exercise of the freedom of speech and religion as well as the right to peacefully assemble, accusing anyone who questions their intentions of racism or Islamophobia. President Trump has now established a precedent for a future Democratic administration to expand these same protections to Muslims.

Think about what that would mean. One could potentially be fined for criticizing verses of the Koran that instigate violence against non-Muslims, like this one: “Indeed, the disbelievers among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding therein; it is they who are the worst of creatures.” (Sura 98, 6) As Dr. Bill Warner, founder of the Study of Political Islam, asked: “When I’m called the worst of creatures, does this qualify for hate speech?” Another verse of the Koran: “Indeed, the lowliest of animals in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved [kafirs: Jews and Christians].” (Sura 8, 55) The same Warner asks: “So I’m the lowest of animals according to Allah. Hate speech?”

And what about violence against Christians? Where was President Trump when the Catholic parish of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was burned down on December 11 due to arson? Why, then, is presidential hopeful Senator Cory Booker not sanctioned for criticism of the Catholic Church for opposing gender ideology and homosexualist policies? Are we not also protected under the freedom of religion?

I am a Roman Catholic; this is my faith but not my nationality. My nationality is American. Criticizing Israel does not make me an anti-Semite any more than objecting to sharia or criticizing the House of Saud make me an Islamophobe. In the end, while laws can and should be enacted to curtail if not prevent discrimination, giving such exclusivity to Judaism—or for that matter the State of Israel—would enflame the very bigotry Trump claims he wants to stop.

Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images

Fr. Mario Alexis Portella

By

Fr. Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He was born in New York and holds a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He is the author of Islam: Religion of Peace?—The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up (Westbow Press, 2018).

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