I am often asked by my fellow American Jews why I belong to the National Rifle Association, support the Second Amendment and carry a gun.
It’s a logical question given the political orientation of most American Jews over the last few decades, but I always try to answer the question with my own even, though I suspect I know the answer. “Why are you against guns, the NRA and the Second Amendment?”
While I may not like it, the majority of American Jews consider themselves liberal and most of those of my generation have been aligned almost unquestioningly with the Democratic Party for all or most of their adult lives. I understand this, as it was European liberals who stood beside us in our centuries-long effort to escape the omnipresent government-sanctioned oppression that we lived with for so long and which led to the Nazi Holocaust.
In this country too, the liberals of our youth fought for the rights of oppressed minorities and working people, creating the badly needed trade union movement. I was a proud liberal myself in the 1940s and 1950s, but even as we won those important battles, the liberalism of which we were so proud to be a part was changing before our eyes.
Today’s American liberalism is a different animal altogether. Its leaders now call themselves “progressives,” fight for bigger, more intrusive government, demonize those with whom they disagree, side vocally with Israel’s sworn enemies and stand by as a new wave of anti-Semitism seems visible just over the horizon.
And yet too many Jews cling to the old political ties with American liberalism, ignoring these disquieting changes. It’s because we are very comfortable in our assimilation. We are proud Americans.
But so were the German, Hungarian, Czech and French Jews — all proud and nationalistic. Patriotism and assimilation did not protect them.
Tyrannical governments have murdered 170 million people in the past century: governments under Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Castro and Mao. More people were murdered by evil governments than perished in all the wars of the 20th century.
The near-annihilation of European Jewry in our time is a horror we will never forget, and though none of us like to admit it, it could happen again — even in a nation like ours.
There is too much history to deny it.
My study of history has led me to conclude, as have many others, that the Second Amendment to our Constitution has little to do with hunting and competitive shooting; it was written to protect the people against a tyrannical government. It protects liberty and freedom. The NRA’s Charlton Heston once proclaimed that the fight for an armed citizenry is not about guns, but about freedom. That’s the way the nation’s Founders saw it; George Washington once said that “a free people should be armed.”
Of all people, the Jew should understand the importance of that “right” to defend oneself against oppressors — government and otherwise — as our history is the history of a peoples’ continuing effort to defend themselves.
The ancient tribe fled from Egypt, conquered Canaan by force, established the Kingdom of Israel, and defended it for thousands of years against Ammonites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks before finally succumbing to defeat by the Roman Empire.
After that final defeat, the Hebrew were dispersed to many lands, where they suffered monumental atrocities for 2,000 years, especially in Europe, where they never attained even the meager citizenship status enjoyed by the Gentiles.
Unlike their warrior ancestors, European Jews became passive and sheep-like — only to be tortured and slaughtered in multiple countries by multiple regimes. They never took up arms in any significant way to defend themselves. This culminated in the Holocaust. What would have been the outcome if the European Jews had had the “gun” to fight Nazis? The Warsaw Ghetto Resistance and the Partisan movement were too little or too late.
Fast-forward to modern Israel — a state created by Jews willing to fight and die in order to restore the ancient homeland and provide a haven for what was left of European Jewry. This was done by Jews willing to resort to the use of the “gun.”
The Israel of today exists only because its people are a strong citizen army prepared to fight multiple enemies in multiple wars — needing to use the “gun” for survival.
For American Jews to ignore history is suicidal. They can no longer be blinded by their liberalism. It is time to wake up and appreciate the significance of the Second Amendment and the importance of organizations such as the NRA, which fight daily to maintain this precious right.
• Arnold Goldschlager is a practicing cardiologist, university professor and Air Force veteran.