By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
,רַבִּי חֲנִינָא סְגַן הַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹמֵר: הֱוֵי מִתְפַּלֵּל בִשְׁלוֹמָהּ שֶׁל מַלְכוּת
(‘שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא מוֹרָאָהּ, אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ חַיִּים בְּלָעוֹ. (משנה אבות פרק ג’ משנה ב
“Rabbi Hanina, the deputy-High Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government,
for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.”
(Mishnah Avot 3:2)
On Wednesday January 6, 2020, the world witnessed an attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol with the hopes of causing damage and delaying the electoral ratification process. There is no doubt that we will be studying, remembering, and analyzing the events of January 6th for weeks, years, and even generations to come. It is inherently clear that the angry violent mob that stormed the Capitol building was motivated by President Donald Trump who believes and is shamelessly promoting the complete falsehood that the 2020 elections were fraudulent and were stolen from him, and the Republican party.
The dangers of fanning the flames of zealousness, encouraging of mob mentality, and disregard for the rule of law and the sanctity of our democratic institutions and procedures cannot be overstated here. And we have witnessed firsthand the legacy of the President regarding White Supremacy, Nationalistic behavior, and open support and praise of Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups – the likes of which marched in Charlottesville, VA, 2017 and stormed the Capitol this week.
What was particularly disturbing to us as Jews and Zionists was the continual display of symbols that reference both Israel and the Holocaust.
We saw Trump supporters donned with paraphernalia suggesting nostalgia and fond memories of “Camp Auschwitz”, direct messages such as the easily understandable code of “6MWE” meaning “6 Million Wasn’t Enough” of course referring to the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, and other such visible displays of racism and anti-Semitism.
At the same time, we also saw some carrying Israeli flags in addition to U.S. and Confederate flags. Let us be clear. The peculiarity of seeing the Israeli flag waving alongside blatantly anti-Semitic images is baffling and has been one of the great ironies of the Trump administration.
“How can Trump be anti-Semitic if his own child and grandchildren are Jewish, and he is a staunch supporter of Israel,” some might ask. Pres. Trump’s support for Israel, which includes moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and ushering in the Abraham Accords, has come while all along he fanned the flames of White Supremacist rhetoric, and condoned their behavior.
Some on the far-right, have attempted to link the ultra-Nationalism – which leaves no room for immigrants, people of color, or anyone who doesn’t fit their narrow description of “American” – with the ethno-Nationalism of Jewish self-determination and the Movement known as Zionism. Neo-Nazi leader Richard Spence has made this comparison. Some point to the Trump-Netanyahu alliance as a point of reference to solidify the Nationalism and supremacy.
And just like when many of us see the American flag waving in the hands of this angry mob, and worn as bandanas, and the chant of “U.S.A.” reverberating in the halls of Congress by infiltrators, and we recoil and say “that’s NOT the America that we know and love,” and “we identify with the America that is being attacked and NOT those who are attacking;” so too do we feel when we see the Israeli flag.
The flags of the United States and Israel should symbolize hope and freedom. They should be symbols of democracy, the rule of law, and protection from tyranny and persecution. Their use in insurrection by White Supremacists to defile the Sancta Sanctorum of the symbol of democracy recognized worldwide, is a grave distortion.
The Israeli flag alongside the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, the “6MWE,” and additional displays of racism, pose a very serious threat to the basic fabric of democracy and the fascist, xenophobic, and racist ideology is a corruption of our values.
After this deeply challenging day that has manifested into a culmination of a 4-year trajectory. This may be Donald Trump’s legacy, but it is not ours.
The words that I find most appropriate and as consolation at this moment come from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2017:
“Maintaining one’s humanity: this is the immense courage bequeathed to us by the victims – and by you, the survivors of the Shoah – in actions for the sake of others, in the cold, in hunger, in the railway carriages, in the crematoria and in the ghettoes. My dear friends, we shall always undertake our own defense; the Jewish people have a shared destiny; and “Beloved is man for he was created in God’s image”. These are the lessons we learn from the Shoah and we shall repeat them to our sons and daughters for all eternity.”
The lessons of our shared experience in watching angry and zealous people revolting against a perceived injustice, and in doing so posing a threat to the foundations of our civilization, must be universal and a shared responsibility for protecting those institutions as we protect one another.