By Joel Rubin
When Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) took the stage last week at a rally in Silver Spring alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), he demonstrated that Americans want to be united. His appearance signified that despite the relentless attacks made by President Donald Trump against her and three of her congressional colleagues — Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) — Raskin would not turn away.
At moments like this, when our country’s social fabric is being torn apart for crass political gain, we must all stand united — not despite, but because of our differences.
And that’s why no one in the Silver Spring audience chanted “send her back.”
Sadly, race-baiting is how Trump attacks his political opponents. He embellishes his language with dog-whistles. One day he says that the four young, female, progressive, brown-skinned women known as “the Squad” must “go back to where they came from.” The next day he says he doesn’t like hearing that chanted back to him by a crowd at his rally, a crowd he then labels as “patriots.” Then, he claims without evidence that these women, who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution, “hate America.”
American Jews have seen this playbook before. We’re more than aware of how we’ve been told throughout our history in the Diaspora that we should go back to where we came from. That we were haters of our “hosts.” That we were disloyal. This was the language of the anti-Semitic countries of Europe that kicked us out multiple times, sought to convert us, and nearly destroyed us during the Holocaust.
Save but for the grace of America, which accepted us as immigrants and refugees, we were we able to recuperate and thrive. America today is not 15th-century Spain or 20th-century Nazi Germany. But the language that the president uses against these four women echoes those eras. And that is why we as American Jews must stand with the Squad, regardless of our individual views about their politics.
For right now, standing with the Squad means standing for an America that is inclusive and tolerant of diversity – one that has enabled American Jews to flourish. Taking the opposite tack means that one opposes the core values that have made America great for the Jews.
So why aren’t more Jewish American organizations defending these women? It probably has something to do with their politics on Israel.
I’m offended by Ocasio-Cortez comparing the detention facilities on our southern border to concentration camps. And I’m unhappy with Omar’s barbs about what motivates Israel’s supporters, even though I agree with part of her critique. I’m also disappointed when Tlaib uses foul language to describe the president, even though I understand her point. And I don’t like it when Pressley calls out black members of Congress for not being “black enough.”
But that doesn’t mean that I won’t defend their right to be here in America and their right to critique America, their right to criticize the president. It also means that I will defend their right to criticize Israel, which they often do.
After all, if I fail to defend their rights, who will defend mine?
As an American Jew, I believe it’s also important to say that despite the president labelling them as anti-Israel, these women do not reflect the anti-Semitism that threatens us physically as American Jews right now. While they do represent leftwing dissent and even harsh debate on Israel, they do not support, nor are they supported by, the types of people who have physically attacked Jews in America. That threat comes, without question, from the right.
And that is the real shame of this moment for the American Jewish community. Right now, our organizations should be working to counter the president’s incitement against these four women, if anything out of self-preservation, as that kind of language motivates white supremacists who have physically attacked the American Jewish community. Instead, most of them look away, focusing their enormous resources on ways to counter the left’s critique of Israel.
That’s why American Jews should stand with the Squad. As American Jews, we know that we must show unity even with those with whom we disagree — especially when their rights are being challenged so aggressively. Our support will guarantee our freedoms, our security and our rights, and help to advance the inclusion and tolerance in America that benefits us all.
Joel Rubin is a council member in the Town of Chevy Chase and a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.