Does great Jewish power imply great Jewish responsibility?

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Joe Biden speaks in an Atlanta synagogue in September. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Standard.

By Mitzpeh staff
@Mitzpeh

Last month, as the country welcomed the Biden administration to the White House, the Jews welcomed new Jewish representation to the political sphere. Although president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris are not Jewish themselves, both are closely connected to the religion through their immediate family members who are Jewish. Biden, whose three living children each married Jews, has many Jewish grandchildren. Harris, whose husband is Jewish, observes several Jewish customs and holidays with her family. 

Though the Biden administration is new, the Jewish presence in the White House has deep roots. Many Jews served as critical members of the Trump administration, including Trump’s Jewish daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who served as Trump’s senior advisor. 

With so many Jews regularly shining in the American political spotlight, it’s only natural for some negative comments about them to surface. One such response came from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) in the form of a 2018 Facebook post that was recently brought to light, stating that Jews were responsible for the deadly California wildfires. She suggested that the Rothschild family, who are frequent targets of anti-Semitism, supported space lasers that caused the fires through their high-speed rail project. Her conspiracies reflect historical anti-Semitic tropes. Further, Greene has previously supported other radical and controversial ideas, including the QAnon conspiracy theory and claims that Muslims don’t belong in government, 9/11 was an inside job and the Parkland, Sandy Hook and Las Vegas school shootings were staged, among others. 

So, as Jews, while we are certainly proud of our fellow Jews for making strides in the White House, we can’t help but recognize that this rise in authority and dominance in politics comes at a cost. Historically, even when Jews laid low in society, they were subject to anti-Semitism and persecution. Therefore, especially when Jews take prominence, they suffer. Unfortunately, like all public figures, more publicity invites more negative attention.

The predicament in which American Jewry finds itself in 2021 reflects the tenuous balance Jews have been facing for centuries. If we draw too much attention, we become a target, but without representation, we are left unprotected. 

The recent removal of Marjorie Taylor Greene from her House of Representatives committees for her anti-Semitic statements indicates a departure from the Trumpist tendency to accept, and often promote, harmful rhetoric. However, the past few years have revealed the presence of insidious anti-Semitism in the United States. In fact, according to the Anti Defamation League, nearly 60% of religion-based hate crimes in 2018 were targeted against Jewish people and institutions. 

Despite increased Jewish representation, we are reminded that for every Antony Blinken and Doug Emhoff, there’s a Marjorie Taylor Greene. 

Last semester, we discussed how comedian Seth Rogen’s controversial Jewish jokes may hurt the Jewish image and Jewish community. When Jews gain power and stature in society, whether it be in entertainment or politics, they bear a great responsibility.

Because a Jewish person’s actions in the spotlight can benefit or harm the entire community,  the next few years could be a crucial turning point for American Jewry. As anti-Semitism continues to run rampant, we hope that the actions of qualified and dignified Jewish officials will shine a positive light on the rest of the Jewish community.

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