Bannon in profile, with POTUS podium behind him
Stephen Bannon at a White House news conference, Feb. 16, 2017 (Photo/JTA-Getty Images-Mario Tama)

Wake up and smell the fascism

For good reason, American Jews have an established tradition of judging a politician by asking whether he or she is a strong supporter of Israel.

This question arises out of an implicit recognition that Israel plays a vital role in the survival of Jews as a nation. After all, Zionism and the state of Israel were born out of the recognition that no matter how good we have been to our host country, our host will ultimately turn on us. The pogroms, Nazi fascism and Stalinist communism proved Theodor Herzl and other founding Zionist thinkers all too correct.

Indeed, Herzl himself argued that all Jews are connected by nationhood and advocated for the creation of a Jewish state to assure survival of the Jewish nation.

And certainly, our Torah speaks of Jews as a nationality. But then doesn’t Jewish nationhood compel a more exacting question to ask about a politician? Is he/she a strong supporter of the Jewish nation? This question goes to the heart of what’s at stake for Jews, and by implication, includes support for Israel.

While anti-Semitism has always existed in America, Jews have not only lived under the most accepting of conditions, but the Jewish nation has succeeded here beyond wildest dreams. And the one political force that has protected the Jewish nation, facilitated our success, is the constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties afforded to all Americans.

Conversely, the Jewish nation knows all too well, that Nazi fascism, the very antithesis of civil liberties, is the single most murderous political force Jews have ever faced. In short, it is the deprivation of fundamental civil liberties that historically and recently proved to be the greatest threat to the Jewish nation’s survival throughout the diaspora.

Knowing this, when judging a politician, we must distill the question further: Is he/she a staunch supporter and advocate of civil liberties or does he/she have a fascist orientation?

Recent events compel the extension of this conversation to our new president.

An unabashed panderer to the alt-right; a professed admirer of authoritarian Russian leader Vladimir Putin and former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein; his appointment of the mouthpiece for the fascist and anti-Semitic alt-right, Stephen Bannon, as a top political adviser and security council member; his use of a campaign commercial that invoked anti-Semitic tropes while flashing on Jewish leaders, all of which echoed the 19th century anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion;” his advocating for unconstitutional mass deportations, torture, the creation of ethnic lists, the deprivation of a woman’s right to choose, open contempt for the First Amendment freedom of the press; disrespect for an independent judiciary; and his right-wing extremist Cabinet appointments.

All these acts amount to an expressed contempt for civil liberties and a calculated listing toward fascism. Yet Jews have supported this man.

Perhaps our success in America has caused us to assimilate a bit too well. For we clearly have let our guard down. After all, some of us have been won over by “politicians” such as Donald Trump and his ilk simply through an expression of support for Israel when those same politicians have embraced anti-civil libertarian, fascist tendencies. The inherent contradiction is all too stark. It’s time to stop ignoring it.

But this criticism I offer up to Jewish Trump supporters must be equally applied to those on the left. Anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian groups that actively engage in the suppression of free speech on U.S. campuses, openly express anti-Semitic points of view and advocate support for authoritarian regimes have also received the support of a minority of Jews. The contradiction with such support is no less than those who support Trump. Both must be equally condemned.

Have we fallen into the ancient host country trap of allowing our economic, assimilationist self-interest blind us from seeing what has not only posed the greatest threat to the Jewish nation, but has led to our murder?

Ultimately, it is Zionism, Israel and our history that informs us: If a politician is not a strong supporter of civil liberties, if a politician embraces fascist tendencies, he or she represents a threat to the Jewish nation. And that is the standard by which we, as members of the Jewish nation, should be judging a politician, be they on the left or right.

Mark Pasach Cohen

Mark Pasach Cohen is a lawyer living in Oakland.