Faces of anti-Semitism

“Jews in the Service of Anti-Semitism” is the title of an article by Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth, published on May 25. Yemini does not spare his wrath against organizations and individuals who harshly criticize Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people.  Yemini accuses Jewish opinion shapers such as Noam Chomsky and Peter Beinart, as well as the executive director of Breaking the Silence, of adopting Hamas’ version of events and thus encouraging anti-Semitism, even though they are Jews. Yemini’s conclusion is clear: “The illusion that ‘anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism’ is disappearing.”

There is no doubt that many opponents of Zionism are indeed anti-Semitic, as evidenced by recent attacks on Jews in New York and Los Angeles in the name of support for Palestine. Things got to the point where Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who leads the progressive wing in the Democratic Party and supports Palestinian rights, tweeted: “We will never ever tolerate anti-Semitism here in New York or anywhere in the world.” She was joined by her friend Ilhan Omar and by Senator Bernie Sanders, who are known for their support of Palestinians.

The problem is that while Israeli critics are accused of encouraging anti-Semitism, a much more dangerous anti-Semitism has grown among fierce supporters of Israel, those who have also identified themselves as ardent backers of former President Donald Trump. On the one hand, the Arab and Islamic public has slipped into Jew-hatred in the wake of the unresolved national conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which has lately become a religious conflict, climaxing around the question of sovereignty over the al-Aqsa Mosque. On the other hand, the anti-Semitism of Trump supporters, as well as the American Right, draws from classical anti-Semitism and Nazism. Paradoxically, among these anti-Semitic Trump fans are people who back the Israeli Right; their support for Israel stems not from love of Jews but rather from hatred of Muslims. Because Israel is seen as anti-Muslim, it has become the object of admiration of outspoken anti-Semites who advocate white supremacy, according to the logic “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

As you may recall, on Saturday, October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers, a white American nationalist with anti-Semitic views, burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue with a semi-automatic rifle, shouting “All Jews must die,” before massacring 11 worshipers. Trump condemned him as did Netanyahu, of course, but the power of white supremacist organizations has only grown since then, with the active encouragement of Trump. The process culminated on January 6 this year, when an incited mob occupied the US Capitol to prevent Biden from being made president. Thus, pro-Trump and Israeli-loving American anti-Semites attempted to stage a coup d’état. Clearly, anti-Semitism, even when it does not threaten Israel, is a danger to American democracy when appearing in its fascist version.

Other bizarre examples from the Trump camp are the performances of Marjorie Taylor Green, a newly elected congressperson from the state of Georgia. During the severe fires in California and the criticism leveled at Trump, Green came out with the delusional announcement that the fires were not caused by humans, rather by secret laser forces from social circles around the “Rothschilds.” On the other hand, Green has recently compared the American medical establishment’s demand for wearing masks to the Nazis’ requirement that Jews wear a yellow star. Her position gained so much popularity among the Republican base and Covid deniers that she added to her Nazi comparison, announcing that a local bakery’s demand that its employees display a symbol of having been vaccinated was also reminiscent of the Nazi demand. While it took Republican Party leaders five whole days to come out with a weak condemnation of what she said, Donald Trump himself said not a word. It’s troubling that even in Israel we have not heard criticism of this contempt for the Holocaust. Green, by the way, is an ardent supporter of Israel, which proves in her opinion that she is no anti-Semite.

The overarching question is this: What has Israel contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States? We will start with Netanyahu’s sweeping support for Donald Trump, including the failure to criticize him or the violent occupation of the Capitol. Other factors have also contributed: How shall we describe the Nation State Law that discriminates against the Palestinian minority within Israel? Or the attempt to evacuate the Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan on the basis of the Absentee Property Law that applies—how surprising!—only to Palestinians? How do we describe Israeli control of 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank while denying their fundamental human rights? How do we describe the hermetic siege of Gaza and the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe there? How do we describe Netanyahu’s wild incitement against Arabs and his attempt to delegitimize their electoral power? This is a situation that has been going on for 54 years, and no person with a liberal democratic perspective can justify it, despite Israel’s lame excuse that the situation is due to the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel.

In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement occupied a central place in American politics. It was Trump who brought about extreme internal polarization, when the racism he encouraged caused a backlash from the Afro-American community, which mobilized and provided victory to Biden. And how surprising, Trump refused to recognize the legitimacy of the black votes just as Netanyahu refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Palestinian or Arab votes. But unlike Israel, in the United States the political power of blacks is enormous, and they have succeeded in placing the question of institutionalized racism on the public agenda.

While the Democratic Party, which controls the White House and both houses of Congress, encourages the debate on racism to the chagrin of Republicans, in Israel the very raising of the issue results in a cry of “anti-Semite!” Herein lies the growing gap between liberal American society and Israeli society. While Americans dare to look inward, Israeli liberals flee from this question, as evidenced by their willingness to forge an alliance with racists such as Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar in the name of removing Netanyahu from the prime ministry.

Since there are anti-Semites who declare themselves to be Zionists, anti-Semitism is not necessarily anti-Zionism. But it’s good to be cautious and say that opponents of Zionism and white supremacy can also be drawn into anti-Semitism, if they wrap all Jews and Israelis in one package. As time goes by and Israel moves further to the right, to the point of supporting Trump, it is no wonder that increasing sections of the American Jewish public are ceasing their blind support for Israel. And so, not coincidentally, many from the liberal Jewish public, including Jewish members of Congress, are among the major supporters of both Afro-American and Palestinian rights. At the same time, clear supporters of Palestinian rights, such as Bernie Sanders, are very careful, and rightly so, not to fall into the trap of anti-Semites who connect Judaism to Zionism.

Criticism of Israel is not only legitimate but necessary. There is no other way to bring Israeli democratic forces and Palestinian democratic forces together. Democratic Israelis condemn any expression of racism by Israel’s messianic Right against Palestinians, just as democratic Palestinians are obligated to condemn any expression of national religious racism and anti-Semitism against Jews. In doing so, the Israelis are doing the Palestinians no favors, but are defending their very right to live in a democratic and secular society that respects human rights. Similarly, condemnation of fundamentalist political Islam and narrow nationalism is not doing a favor to Jews but to Palestinian society itself, in order to break free from patriarchal society and its political establishment, which suppresses all criticism and freedom of expression. The way to fight anti-Semitism in America, as well as in Israel, is to adopt democratic values that unite whites and blacks, Israelis and Palestinians, on the basis of equality and partnership in destiny.

About Yacov Ben Efrat