Thought for the day

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet. Everything he writes is worth reading. His City Journal column “Anti-Semitism Is a National Security Threat” takes up a question that has been on my mind. What is to be done about the millions of imported Nazis in our midst? His column is difficult to excerpt and this excerpt is too long, but consider this:

How should we amend our immigration policies to account for national security? The question was revitalized, with incendiary energy, in the aftermath of former president Trump’s Executive Order 13769, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States but dubbed by the media the Muslim ban. And it was raised again more recently in the aftermath of the United States’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the Biden administration urging Congress to allow tens of thousands of Afghan refugees—only a tiny portion of whom, by the White House’s own admission, have actively assisted the American military as interpreters or otherwise—to receive their green cards in a dramatically expedited, one-year process. These two actions, both jarring, bookend our debate over immigration and national security and serve as an urgent reminder that it’s high time to re-engage in a detailed conversation about America’s priorities, needs, and challenges when it comes to absorbing more immigrants, and set the necessary measures in place to reduce risks of future attacks.

But even the most stringent restrictions tomorrow will have little or no impact on those who entered yesterday. Which brings us back to anti-Semitism.

Many terrorists from the past decade, including the Boston marathon bomber and San Bernardino shooter, were radicalized by developments in the Middle East. They were variously obsessed by the Syrian civil war, the battle with the Islamic State, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were plugged into online incitement streams that today have only grown stronger. The incendiary content today targets not only Israelis and Jews but also America, and it’s available not only on clandestine websites but in college and high school classrooms, on the airwaves, and in the streets, thanks to the prevalence of critical race theory and DEI.

American public life these days is a tinderbox; Jew haters are stuffing it with more and more dry rage. It hardly takes a national security expert to speculate that the smallest spark could provoke those who, for now, amuse themselves merely with trying to break down the doors and storm New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Even if we had the means to crack down on every self-styled American Arafat, anyone who lived through the years following the passing of the Patriot Act knows that giving the government more tools to surveil and spy on citizens is never the right prescription for a free and robust society. Nor do we have any other perfect blades in our arsenal. Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s promise, echoed by other prominent Republican lawmakers, to rescind the visa of any foreign student who supports Hamas is a solid first step. But even if executed robustly, such a measure would do nothing to stop another citizen from committing another attack.

Which leads us to expatriation, or stripping Americans of their citizenship, a measure with a surprisingly long history. In one early case, Macenzie v. Hare, the Supreme Court in 1915 found that the plaintiff, a California woman married to a Scottish man, had voluntarily renounced her citizenship as per the Expatriation Act of 1907. “The identity of husband and wife,” the court found, “is an ancient principle of our jurisdiction, and is still retained notwithstanding much relaxation thereof; and while it has purpose, if not necessity, in domestic policy, it has greater purpose, and possibly greater necessity, in international policy.” In other words, expatriation was recognized as a perfectly legitimate tool with which to further policy goals.

But what merits expatriation? Resolving that question was the purpose of Section 1481 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, originally passed in 1952 and repeatedly revised since. While the revisions are complicated, the spirit of the law is simpler: it embraces expatriation as a form of punishment, and it posits treason as the foremost reason to expatriate an American citizen.

Just what the law means by “treason” is hard to pin down, since circumstances change and warfare assumes different guises. It was easy enough to understand in the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, say, who passed atomic secrets to the Soviets. But what does it mean in the context of terrorist groups, which aren’t state entities but rather porous organizations with fluctuating leadership structures and strategic goals? Someone like Farooque Ahmed, the naturalized U.S. citizen arrested in 2010 for planning an attack on the Washington, D.C. metro, certainly meets the criteria for “bearing arms against the United States,” which is why Senator Ted Cruz proposed legislation in 2017 that would revoke the citizenship of any American citizen who joins or provides material support to a terrorist group.

The legislation was ultimately shot down. It and proposals like it, however, only raise the more complicated question of what constitutes “material support.” The U.S. Code provides a litany of examples—including “property tangible or intangible,” as well as “safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment,” etc.—to illustrate the extent to which one’s support for terrorism can be deemed “material,” and thus punishable. It’s easy enough to argue, now that we’ve seen American citizens call Hamas’s beheaders of babies as “our martyrs” while some physically attack other American citizens for being Jewish, that it’s time to rethink the boundaries of the definition. When a terrorist group holds American citizens hostage, is marching in support of the captors a form of material support? Does it constitute material support to attack physically or intimidate the same people—Jews—whom the terrorist group targets elsewhere in the world while waving the same flag and chanting the same slogans?

Answering those questions requires more than just a careful reading of the law or even a reconsideration of policies. It would require a radical shift in perspective, an understanding that the mobs storming the campus or the public square aren’t merely brazen or misguided but a real and rising risk. It would require, in other words, rethinking anti-Semitism—considering it not merely as an amorphous nuisance or a moral wrong but as a national security concern, a catalyst for terrible and preventable attacks to come.

Please read the whole thing here.

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