The Plot Against America is an alternative history novel, in which, at the presidential election of 1940, Democratic presidential incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated by isolationist and mildly anti-Semitic right-wing Republican candidate Charles Lindbergh.
The novel follows the Roth family during the right-wing Lindbergh presidency, under which anti-Semitism becomes more accepted in American life and Jewish–American families like the Roths are persecuted. If indeed this book is representative of Jewish–American fears about the Republican Party in 2006, I am rather perplexed.
Left, right, left…
Traditionally the terms right and left, used in the political sense, referred to different political philosophies in which the left defended the interests of the working class and the right defended and looked out for the interests of the wealthy and the aristocrats. According to this definition, Judaism is very much a left-wing religion.
However, most agree that this characterization no longer adequately defines the modern-day difference between right and left. The fact is that many who claim to have a right-wing ideology will champion the cause of the minorities and many self-proclaimed left-wingers will trample upon them.
In fact, the German Nazis considered themselves socialists and the Soviets held extreme left-wing ideologies but this did not stop the Nazis from killing Jews, gays and gypsies or the Soviets from killing and enslaving their working classes.
During the Holocaust, left-wing President Roosevelt himself could have done more to help the plight of European Jews but for political considerations decided not to.
For example, after the passengers of the "St. Louis" – which set sail from Germany in May 1939 carrying over 900 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany – had been refused entry into Cuba, President Roosevelt ignored a cable from the passengers asking for refuge in America and later refused to use his executive power to grant them visas. As a direct result of this, most of the Jews on board were sent back to Europe, where many were eventually killed by the Nazis.
To be sure, Roosevelt was not an anti-Semite and just because a politician does not stand up to protect Jews, it does not mean that she or he hates them. Nonetheless, in saying “never again” with regard to the Holocaust, we must be alert to the ever-changing guises of anti-Semitism and recognize that it does not consistently come from any one particular side of the political aisle.
In this vein, the British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks once made the following important observation: “Anti-Semitism,” he said, “is a virus, and like a virus it mutates, and because it mutates, it gets past our immune systems, which are still on the look-out for last year's virus.”
He observed that in the 19th century the religious anti-Judaism of the Middle Ages became racial anti-Semitism and now that the world has become immunised against that strain of anti-Semitism, it has mutated again into anti-Zionism and defines all Jews as Zionists.
It seems that many American Jews are still trying to fight the old strain of anti-Semitism that manifests itself in an extreme right-wing ideology of patriotism and nationalism. Although this is undoubtedly still a threat, while our attention was directed elsewhere, a virulent strain developed, which manifested itself in extreme anti-Zionism – an alarmingly high rate of which is found on the left of the political divide.
With the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran, the threat to Israel and its six million Jews is real. It is therefore more important than ever for American Jews not to support a party whose base seems to have become both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.
Ultimately we Jews must be constantly on our guard to oppose anti-Semitism wherever is rears its ugly head, and be prepared and open to recognize it even in places where we least expect to see it.