Trump support for racists forces Israeli leaders to take sides, but which side will they choose?

Jonathan Ofir
Reprinted from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

President Trump’s initial statement on the Charlottesville violence, where he said “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides”, has taken on a life of its own. Equating the Nazis and white supremacists with their victims has become a national (as well as international) sport, and the promulgators of this “many sides” narrative are getting so excited with the prospect of it, that they are even going further, to regard the leftists as worse than Nazis.

Trump's allies on the march in in Charlottesville chanting 'Jews will not replace us'
Trump’s allies on the march in in Charlottesville

All this has made various Israeli leaders rather uncomfortable. Because although they are on board with Trump’s attacks on the left, his “many sides” narrative was, after all, normalizing bona fide anti-Semitism.

Charlottesville: Race and Terror: VICE News video from reporter embedded in Charlottesville Nazis

But before we get to Israel, let’s see how the ‘left-equals right’ notion has been mainstreamed:

The notion of a supposed ‘Alt-Left’ as equal to the Alt-Right was voiced loudly merely a day after the Charlottesville violence via none other than the newspaper of record – New York Times, which published an op-ed by Erick Woods-Erickson, opening with the following:

“As a conservative, I see both the social justice warrior alt-left and the white supremacist alt-right as two sides of the same coin.”

Vox congressional reporter Jeff Stein tweeted in disbelief:

“NYtimes oped begins by admonishing “social justice warrior alt-left” the day after they fought Nazis. Unreal.”

Meanwhile, in Israel, Head of Republicans Abroad in Israel Marc Zell said that he holds “leftist thugs,” local authorities and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union responsible for Saturday’s events:

“I am, of course, no supporter of Nazis or white supremacists. But this very tragic event could have been avoided,” he said. “It was clear to all that the leftist thugs would come out to provoke and escalate the events. These thugs are the ugly face of progressivism around the country. They are looking to shut down free speech.”

Zell even went as far as to suggest that the car-ramming attack might have been a ‘false flag’:

“I am confident that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the newly appointed director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, will conduct a proper investigation. And I will not be surprised if they find that the incident was deliberately provoked by the left”, he said.

Trump’s dog-whistle

As I had mentioned in my first commentary on the Chartlottesville aftermath, Trump’s equivocal statements were a dog-whistle. He was calling on the dogs, and he was waiting to see how loud they could bark.

But there was also fierce pressure on Trump to name the thugs by name. So on Monday he finally did call out the KKK, Neo-Nazis and White-Supremacists, albeit ending the condemnation with “other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans”. Coming from Trump, the latter could be read as another opening to the “many sides” narrative.

Indeed, on Tuesday, Trump went back and doubled down on his original message, applying the “alt-left” notion which was being mainstreamed in the meanwhile. Speaking at the Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday, the president was asked for his opinion after Senator John McCain had condemned the “alt-right” for its role in the violent rally, to which he responded:

“What about alt-left? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

Let’s hop back to Israel now, because the fact that the Nazis are involved in this is causing a certain discomfort to many Jewish Israelis. As CNN host Anderson Cooper was saying on Tuesday, the Charlottesville Neo-Nazis “were freaking chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ on the streets of America.”

Thus Israeli centrist leaders Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni were rather vociferous and unequivocal in their condemnations. Yesterday, Lapid said that

“There aren’t two sides. When Neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.”

Sounds good. Let’s put aside for the moment Lapid’s own anti-Palestinianism, anti-miscegenationism (against mixed marriage) and ultra-nationalism.

Tzipi Livni, who had joined forces with the left under the Zionist Union was also quite clear:

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period”, she said.

Let’s also put aside for the moment the fact that Livni, who was Foreign Minister during Israel’s 2008-9 Gaza onslaught said that “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded”, as well as that “Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”  – I mean, just because it’s hooliganism on a national level, doesn’t mean it’s racist, does it?

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has called on US leaders to denounce the rally’s “displays of anti-Semitism” and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s Jewish Home party has urged prosecution of neo-Nazi activists. Once again, let’s put aside for the moment the Education Minister’s “I’ve killed many Arabs and there’s no problem with that”, as well as the Justice Minister’s advocacy for genocide of Palestinians.

Now, as the condemnations were coming from the right of Netanyahu, that was a sign that he shouldn’t be too silent on this, even if he wanted to not upset Trump. So Netanyahu finally tweeted on Tuesday that he was “outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”

Screen shot from Yair Netanyahu's Facebook page, the son of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Screen shot from Yair Netanyahu’s Facebook page, the son of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But, alas, another Netanyahu came out on this. Netanyahu Jr., that is – Yair Netanyahu. Writing on his Facebook yesterday:

“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazis scums in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”

The Times of Israel reports sources “close to the Prime Minister” taking a distance, claiming that “Yair is an adult and his views are his alone”.

Nazi claims to be ‘White Zionist’

But this is where it gets more confusing. Because yesterday, ‘Hail Trump’, white supremacist, Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer was interviewed on Israeli Channel 2, and said that Israelis should respect someone like him, because he’s “a white Zionist”:

“An Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me, who has analogue feelings about whites. You could say that I am a white Zionist – in the sense that I care about my people, I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel”, he said.

At the same time, Spencer voiced the classical anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish ‘over-representation’ and separating them from ‘whites’, when he was asked whether slogans such as “Jews will not replace us” constitute anti-Semitism:

“Let’s be honest,” Spencer said, “Jews are vastly over-represented in what you could call ‘the establishment,’ that is, Ivy League educated people who really determine policy, and white people are being dispossesed from this country.”

This is not the first time Spencer brings up the ‘white Zionism’ notion. He has also managed to leave Texas rabbi Matt Rosenberg speechless, when the latter, an avowed Zionist, challenged him with ‘love an inclusion’, where Spencer presented to him the question:

“Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel? And by that I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move in to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that?”

Spencer added to the blow a white-supremacist embrace of “respect”:

“Jews exist precisely because you did not assimilate. That is why Jews are a coherent people with a history and a culture and a future. It’s because you had a sense of yourselves. I respect that about you. I want my people to have that same sense of themselves”, he said.

Not only is this not new from Spencer – it is not new from Nazis in general. As Adolf Eichmann said in 1960 (Time):

“In the years that followed (after 1937) I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.”

Indeed, the anti-Semitic, white-supremacist notions represented in Charlottesville, make the proximity between Zionism and anti-Semitism too close for comfort for many Jews, especially the Zionist ones. Zionism has a long and murky record of collaboration with Nazis, which presents a contradiction to the narrative of Israel being a diametric answer to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

But having mentioned Yair Netanyahu, it could be an interesting anecdote to mention the letter of another Yair – the Jewish terrorist ‘Stern Gang’ leader Avraham ‘Yair’ Stern (‘Yair’ being his nom de guerre), offering allegiance to Hitler in January 1941. Here Stern offers to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” and that “common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO” (NMO stands for National Militant Organization, of which the Stern Gang became an offshoot).

“Anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends”

When Herzl wrote in his diary that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies”, he was already pinpointing a notion which Zionism and Israel would desperately seek to conceal. Which is, that Zionism, the state ideology, and anti-Semitism, are tightly knit and inter-dependent. Zionism is not an answer to anti-Semitism – it is an extension of it. And when the unabashed racists and anti-Semites go marching, when their Israel-loving President keeps exonerating them and equating them with their victims, then it becomes a bit uncomfortable. The ideological affinity between anti-Semitism and Zionism becomes exposed. And that’s where the Zionist apologists try to cover it up again, under the balancing act of being a Zionist and opposing anti-Semitism.

But Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, Yair, he got the trick. The trick is to demonize the left as “haters” and “thugs”, so as to also be able to condemn the Nazis, as it were, but effectively making the left worse than Nazis, by downplaying the Nazis as a thing “of the past”. Because Israel is now in an ideological international fight both against anti-Semitism, supposedly and as it were, but more importantly and more truly, against the left. But it has to look good. You don’t want to seem too Nazi.

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