It is not clear whether it was intentional or not, but the current US administration appears to have thrown Jewish Zionists under the bus by declaring Jewishness to be a nationality, and not simply a religion.
The primary aim of the recent executive order was to assist far-right Israelis in their efforts to silence pro-Palestinian students at American universities, by declaring any attack on Israel or Zionism to be anti-Semitic.
To do this, the administration used Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. However, this does not address discrimination against religious groups; for it to apply, therefore, Jews would have to be defined under the law as a nationality or race. With its actions, the US administration has exposed one of the biggest fault lines in the Middle East conflict.
For decades, Palestinians and their supporters who oppose Zionism have insisted they are not anti-Jew but take issue with the unique and exclusive right granted to anyone of the Jewish faith, anywhere in the world, to settle in Palestine against the wishes of the indigenous people of all faiths (even those who do not have a declared faith.)
Palestinian nationalism was built primarily on opposing Zionism while showing respect to Judaism. In fact, a number of Jews have joined the Palestinian revolution and have been elected to positions within the Palestine Liberation Organization and its institutions. Uri Davis, for example, is currently a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
However, by declaring Jewishness to be a nationality, and therefore implying that Jews have national rights in Palestine, the US administration has inadvertently created a new problem for Jewish Zionists around the world. It will expose them to accusations of dual nationality, and thus weaken any national belonging to the Jewish faith from fighting for and representing themselves as nationals to the country they live in.
Take, for example, David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel. He is not only Jewish but a hardcore American Zionist who publicly supports the illegal Israeli settlements. He has sided with Israel — against the Palestinians, the global community and UN and Security Council resolutions — in denying the existence of an occupation in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.
If one applies the logic of of the US adminisration’s decision, it is not clear where Friedman’s loyalties lie. Is he an American patriot representing the US in Israel? Or is he representing the state of Israel as a Jew with this newly awarded nationality?
When Israel passed the Jewish nation-state law, a similar problem arose. Is the state of Israel a country for all of its citizens, including the 20 percent of the population who hold citizenship but are not of the Jewish faith? The problem was clearly exposed by the experience of the small Druze community, whose sons are now compulsorily conscripted to the Israeli army. Druze leaders suddenly realized they are now declared by law to be second-class citizens.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that the Knesset has not been able to come up with a definition of what defines Jewishness, which is one of the main reasons why Israel has yet to agree and approve a constitution. Many Israeli Jews, and the ruling powers in the country, are of the view that only those who follow Orthodox Judaism qualify as true Jews. This position puts them in direct conflict with many Jews around the world. According to a 2017 report published by The Economist, only 10 percent of American Jews are Orthodox, while 35 percent are Reform, 18 percent are Conservative and 36 percent are “other” or do not identify as belonging to any Jewish denomination.
Most Americans are unaware of these complexities and are unwilling to put a stop to them. Most American Jews are totally opposed to the current administration, despite its extreme pro-Israel policies, which have included the move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the cutting of support to the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees.
It is not clear whether these policies will survive in the changed political circumstances in Washington and Tel Aviv. However, what is most needed now is for American Jews to stand up and declare who they are, where their loyalties lie and whether they have the courage to support a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is not dependent on extreme, racist Jewish nationalism.