Anti-Semitism for the sake of Israel in the era of Trump
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The last week has unfolded like a slow-moving nightmare. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE’s win, defying the vast majority of polling and media predictions, was compounded a few days later by the announcement of the elevation of Stephen Bannon, former editor of the extreme right Breitbart News and lately Trump’s campaign chairman, to the role of chief strategist in the White House.

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Throughout his campaign, Trump has encouraged, tolerated and himself trafficked in deeply alarming tropes that have been called out as racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic. His advisers, endorsers and supporters encompass a range of white nationalist and white supremacist figures and his policy positions have reflected their worldview, from requiring registration of all Muslims to deporting all undocumented immigrants. Renowned white supremacist and former KKK grand wizard David Duke said Trump’s election was “one of the most exciting nights of my life.”

In this context, the announcement of Bannon’s powerful staff position was not entirely unexpected. But as the manifestation of the reality that the forces of overt racism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism that had until recently had been in the fringes have moved into the mainstream, it was a shocking event. For those of us who are Jewish, for the first time in many of our lifetimes we fear anti-Semitism in proximity to power.

It thus only compounded the sense of unreality to see how the institutional Jewish community responded to the appointment. Organizations including AIPAC, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the American Jewish Committee congratulated Trump on his win, promising to work with his administration, and declined to comment on the appointment of Bannon.

Leading conservative Zionists who traffic in Islamophobia and racism have stepped up to defend Bannon from accusations of anti-Semitism. Pamela Geller, known for plastering transit systems with pro-Israel advertising campaigns that call Palestinians “savages,” spoke out on Tuesday, saying that, as a Jew she could vouch for Bannon. Alan Dershowitz gave an interview to Breitbart saying that there is no evidence Bannon is anti-Semitic, and then went on MSNBC and accused supporters of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and the Rev. Al Sharpton of hating Jews and the organization Black Lives Matter of being anti-Semitic because of their criticism of Israel. In such a way, they deploy anti-black and anti-Muslim bigotry to discredit criticism of Israel, while giving a free pass to white supremacists. 

The more recent announcement that Frank Gaffney, a leading Islamophobe, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, may join the Trump transition team, as well as the rumoring about which high level position Rudy Giuliani might receive, further compounds the reality that Trump is assembling a group of advisers who represent both the extremism of what was formerly the right-wing fringe and the figures who have been central to implementing racist and anti-Muslim policing and surveillance.

In short, what we are seeing is a toxic stew of racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that remarkably converges on one point: support for Israel.

This is not the first time that mainstream Jewish institutions and individuals have chosen to embrace strange bedfellows for the sake of Israel, while staying quiet about or even reinforcing racism and Islamophobia. Jewish institutions have long partnered with organizations like Christians United For Israel, whose leader, Pastor John Hagee, is a controversial figure for his statements about Jews, and with groups like Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, whose leader, Laurie Cardoza-Moore, campaigned against the mosque at Ground Zero.

The ascension of Donald Trump has made it crystal clear, as Naomi Zeveloff noted in the Forward, that it is perfectly possible to "hate Jews and love the Jewish state."

The hypocrisy of Jewish institutions pledging cooperation with President-elect Trump and staying silent on his appointment of avowed white nationalists and racists is all the more galling considering the years of condemnation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists by these same institutions. In particular, Jewish supporters of BDS, which is a non-violent movement based on the values of freedom and equality for all people, have been deemed outside the Jewish tent by these institutions. Instead of speaking out against white supremacy, these institutions have supported and encouraged the demonization of peaceful forms of resistance to Israel’s human rights abuses. As Robin D.G. Kelley wrote in the Boston Review this week, “the truth is that it is easier to pass laws criminalizing organizations that support the boycott of businesses and institutions complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine than it is to outlaw the Ku Klux Klan.” 

Over 70 percent of Jewish voters did not vote for Trump. The fact that the institutional Jewish community is welcoming Trump’s administration even as he makes these appalling appointments is the most stunning reminder yet that the self-appointed institutional Jewish community does not represent the majority of American Jews.

Many of us are working to build a new Jewish community, one that fights against all forms of anti-Semitism and racism and Islamophobia. That community is going to need to play a role in a broad-based coalition, opposing the Trump administration’s harmful policies, and the white nationalist movement that’s been empowered by his rise. That coalition must hold the United States and Israel to the same standards, demanding an end to state violence, bigotry and dispossession.

 

Rebecca Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.