by Noah Phillips
My initial encounter with American attitudes towards Israel was the infamous farewell address from then-Secretary of State John Kerry to the State Department on December 28th, 2016. The speech spanned well over an hour and addressed the culminating policies and opinions of the Obama administration on Israel, and was only days after the United States refused to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution accusing Israel of breaching international law by constructing settlements in the West Bank and less than a month prior to President Trump assuming the office of the presidency.
“Violence, terrorism incitement, settlement expansion… are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides,” said Kerry. At this point in my life I was in the 8th Grade with little inclination towards politics or writing or any particular allegiance to Israel in spite of my Jewish upbringing and recently acquired Israeli citizenship. I only watched the speech for a profile I was assigned to write on a cabinet member of my choosing, and due to my newfound liking of Madam Secretary on CBS.
Interestingly, this line in a relatively mundane speech drove me towards the realm of politics and offering my voice whenever I deem my teenage opinion to be a necessary addition to the discourse—which is more often than not.
Even in my young age and with my lackluster expertise of anything other than soccer and basic algebra, the snippet from Kerry’s speech irked me tremendously. The way he so casually equated the more or less innocuous construction of houses by the Israeli government with “violence, terrorism, incitement” of the major governing bodies of the Palestinian territories felt jocular in a crude, derogatory kind of way.
Then came the Trump presidency, and a refreshing embrace of Israel from the White House as both a relevant ally in the effort to safeguard democracy, but also allied in the defense against neighboring terrorist activities, guaranteeing security to residents of Israel. The pro-Israel Jewish community experienced an elongated and long-anticipated period of pro-Israel sentiment from the White House after 8 years of antipathetic at best and antagonistic behavior at worst under the Obama administration, severely disenfranchising elements of the Jewish community, and was capped off by the move of the United States embassy to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the defunding of detrimental organizations like UNRWA, and the passing of the Taylor Force Act. Coincidentally—or maybe not so—it was roughly around the beginning of such gestures of outreach towards Israel that I began to write seriously for various outlets, and I encountered a plethora of previously unthought of responses which contribute to my ideas on the successes of the current administration.
Though I am still young and my writing still unpolished, I endeavored to thrust myself into the deep-end of the media-world, writing for as many outlets as I could muster and entering the mainstream discourse on Israel and politics to the best of my abilities. For the inquiring mind, I am 16 years old and began writing last year, at 15. Though I was still too young to have a bank account without a custodial guardian, I was apparently not too young to pick fights with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and her staff as well as face relentless anti-Semitism on Twitter and in comments on my articles.
It was these experiences of criticism—often of anti-Semitic origin—that the genuine implication of the Trump presidency on my young Jewish being presented itself: his polarizing presidency was having a trickle-down effect on me, and on the Jewish community nationwide. When the president, admirably, came to bat for Israel and the Jewish community, the association between his polarizing stature and Jews was regrettably, but firmly drawn. Even though Trump did the right thing when he promoted democratic interests and United States values in the Middle East by supporting Israel through thick and thin, the wrath of his detractors was felt by people like myself in the public eye, and the Jewish community as a whole. I daily face Twitter trolls taking it upon themselves to hurl tropes and insults at a teenager. But far more consequentially, anti-Semitic acts nationally more than doubled in 2018. In New York City—long considered a liberal area and a haven for tolerance—anti-Semtism accounts for more than 50% of hate crimes despite Jews comprising a minimal portion of residents. Most tragically, however, the recent uptick in anti-Semitism reared its ugly head in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue and at the Chabad of Poway, California, six months apart to the day, when dozens of Jews were gunned down for their faith by far-right gunmen.
The outcome of the Trump administration for Israel has been stupendous. Israel has a staunch ally at the United Nations when she is unjustly and disproportionately criticized, and a major military power to back her up. But ordinary Jews in America live in an era of fear of physical attack and of general discrimination—from the far-left and far-right alike. My experience, though considerably milder than many of my fellow Jewish-Americans, has been enough to rattle me more than anything else I’ve encountered. When discrimination and harbored bigotry against a minority group is the norm in our society, there is a significant and troubling phenomenon at play, one which necessitates immediate attention and confrontation.