As more states pass bills targeting the movement to boycott Israel, analysts believe such measures could backfire.
When right-wing Jewish organisations in the United States and Israel embrace white nationalists and neo-Nazis – and support an American president who makes open appeals to them – they reveal the inherent flaws in their argument that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians is anti-Semitic. Even worse, these hardliners may have more in common ideologically with white nationalists than they care to admit.
Sebastian Gorka, a real-life Nazi and Islamophobe who until recently worked in the Trump White House, was the keynote speaker at a counterterrorism conference near Tel Aviv, speaking alongside Israeli cabinet ministers such as Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. As The Forward reported, Gorka has been accused of having ties to Vitezi Rend, an anti-Semitic Hungarian political party whose leader reportedly handed over hundreds of thousands of Jews to the Nazis in the Second World War.
Yair Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s son, found common cause with neo-Nazis and white supremacists when he posted on Facebook a meme laden with anti-Semitic imagery including George Soros, a reptile and a sinister Illuminati figure. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke retweeted the meme, and the post drew praise from the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, calling Yair Netanyahu “a total bro” and posting an article entitled, “Netanyahu’s Son Posts Awesome Meme Blaming the Jews for Bringing Down his Jew Father”. Following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Yair Netanyahu equated the white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the anti-fascist protesters, and said he was far more concerned with the far-left “thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much” and “are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life”.
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has invited Breitbart chief and former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon to speak at its November 12 gala in New York. The White House overthrow of Bannon – who has been accused of making anti-Semitic statements – was hailed by mainstream Jewish-American organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Reform movement and J Street.
Described as the oldest pro-Israel organisation in the US, ZOA has in recent years engaged in “anti-Muslim extremism”, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Supportive of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, ZOA was the first Jewish group to meet with President Trump. ZOA has associated with anti-Muslim extremists such as Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and actor Jon Voight, who said “Obama founded ISIL” and would cause “a civil war”, and black people would vote for Trump “if they can be educated”.
Defining pro-Israel as pro-occupation and anti-Arab, stalwart defenders of the Israeli occupation provide an opening to whitesplain and rehabilitate neo-Nazis as friends of Israel and unjustly paint BDS as the real anti-Semites.
Morton Klein, ZOA president, has said that “everyone knows that blacks are, on average, are better dancers than other people”, that “Jews are better businessmen”, and “most people know” that Asians “are smarter on average than other people in America”. Writing an op-ed recently in Breitbart, Klein, who like Trump, supports the profiling of Muslims, said “Creating a truly peaceful Palestinian Arab State living in peace with the Jewish State is thus an impossible-to-achieve deal”, adding, “It would only strengthen the ability of the Palestinians to promote their terrorist goals of murdering Jews and destroying the Jewish State”.
Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the organisation’s top funder, is also one of Trump’s largest campaign donors, and a supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson has raised millions of dollars to combat BDS on US campuses, with defamatory posters calling Students for Justice in Palestine “Jew haters”. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS is a Palestinian-led global movement to bring an end to the Israeli occupation, on the grounds that Palestinian Arabs deserve freedom, justice and equality, and are entitled to their fundamental human rights.
The BDS movement, which reflects America’s proud legacy of civil rights boycotts, is designed to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government and end its colonial settlements on Palestinian land, and a military-enforced apartheid system. BDS enjoys support from progressive Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP also boycotts the Adelson-funded Birthright Israel programme, which sends young Jews on free 10-day trips to Israel to strengthen their cultural identity, while Palestinians are not allowed to return to their own homes. Other Jewish human rights organisations, which oppose the occupation in earnest and uphold Palestinian rights, either do not support BDS or refuse to take a stand on the issue.
Conservative pro-Israel lobby groups such as AIPAC, however, have sought to criminalise BDS in Congress, while ZOA has characterised the movement as anti-American and anti-Semitic. Jewish organisations ranging from the ADL and the American Jewish Committee to T’ruah and J Street have criticised a law passed in the Knesset banning entry to any foreigner who supports the boycott of Israel and its settlements.
Meanwhile, ZOA’s Klein insists that both Gorka and Bannon are lovers and defenders of Israel and the Jewish people who “fight against radical Islamic terrorism”. Klein also insists the neither the alt-right nor Breitbart include racists or neo-Nazis, and Bannon is a victim of a campaign by far-left groups and the media to defame friends of Israel.
Yet, ZOA chooses to target liberal, progressive and antiracist voices and paint them as anti-Semites and anti-Israel, at a time when white American reactionaries brand as “racist” those who bring attention to the continuing prevalence of racism in society. The organisation labelled British musician and Pink Floyd founding member Roger Waters an “unabashed anti-Semitic bigot” for supporting BDS, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center called Waters “an open hater of Jews”.
Klein accused MSNBC host Joy Reid of displaying “hostility” towards Israel after she tweeted a joke about Gorka’s alleged Nazi ties. Alan Dershowitz, who spoke at last year’s ZOA gala, has defended Bannon against anti-Semitism charges but has accused Black Lives Matter of anti-Semitism. The Movement for Black Lives platform accuses Israel of genocide against the Palestinians and supports BDS based on Israeli policies such as 50 discriminatory laws against Palestinians, the Israeli detention of Palestinian children as young as 4 years old without due process, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, a US-funded “apartheid wall” and military checkpoints. ZOA opposed a Black Lives Matter week in the predominantly black and brown Philadelphia public schools over fears the curriculum would contain anti-Semitic material.
It is problematic that certified white supremacists would be received with open arms by some Jews and Israelis, as BDS is branded as anti-Semitic, even criminalised for employing free speech to bring about positive social change and an end to the racism and human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. The pro-Israel right lacks integrity in this regard, and this is just as problematic as any Jewish support for the Trump administration, which recently reversed DACA, a programme that protects young immigrants who entered the United States illegally as minors. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who could hardly contain his glee while announcing the reversal of this programme was inspired by the US Immigration Act of 1924, which was promoted by white supremacists and eugenicists and was designed to keep Jews, Italians and other so-called “morally defective immigrants” primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe out of the country. In a 2015 Breitbart radio interview with Bannon, Sessions said the 1924 law “was good for America”.
Pro-Israeli hardliners finding common cause with white is a defining moment for Zionism. A system of first-class citizenship for Israeli Jews, second- or third-class citizenship for Israeli citizens of Arab descent and colonial subjugation for people living in the open-air prisons of the Palestinian Bantustans is not democracy. Rather, that is racism. The white supremacist leader Richard Spencer believes white nationalism – including an ethnostate designed exclusively for whites – and Zionism – a Jewish homeland – have much in common. This came to light when Texas A&M Hillel Rabbi Matt Rosenberg approached Spencer during an on-campus event. “You come here with a message of radical exclusion. My tradition teaches a message of radical inclusion, as embodied by Torah,” said Rosenberg. “Would you sit down and study Torah with me and learn love?”
“Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel?” Spencer replied as Rosenberg remained silent. “Jews exist precisely because you did not assimilate to the gentiles … I respect that about you. I want my people to have that same sense of themselves.”
The toxicity of American racism in today’s climate – of white supremacists against Muslims and Arabs, Jews, Latinos, blacks and other racial, ethnic and religious groups – should not be under-emphasised. When a synagogue in St. Louis provided refuge to protesters who demonstrated against the recent acquittal of a white police officer in the murder of a black man, a hashtag urging police to #GasTheSynagogue trended on Twitter. This, as hate crimes are on the rise in the age of Trump.
Defining pro-Israel as pro-occupation and anti-Arab, stalwart defenders of the Israeli occupation provide an opening to whitesplain and rehabilitate neo-Nazis as friends of Israel and unjustly paint BDS as the real anti-Semites. Their embrace of Nazis and the continued oppression of Palestinians is indefensible and represents their moral blind spot.
David A Love is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and commentator, and adjunct instructor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.