Why Israel does not mind Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters

It is in the interest of Israel for Jewish Americans and Jewish Europeans to feel unsafe.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visit a memorial outside Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 30, 2018 [AP Photo/Matt Rourke]

The massacre of Jewish worshippers on Saturday by an avowed anti-Semite in Pittsburgh reveals a clear, straight line between Trump’s sustained dog-whistles – against Jews, black people, Muslims, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community – to the violence carried out by right-wing white nationalists.

Robert Bowers, apprehended after a shooting spree that killed 11 people, explained he wanted “all Jews to die” and described immigrants and asylum-seekers as “invaders” of the United States. Instead of condemning far-right nationalism, Trump reinforced this hysteria, tweeting on Monday that a caravan of asylum-seekers coming from Honduras should be considered as an “invasion” and that the US military “would be waiting” for them. Last week, Trump proudly embraced the “nationalist” term.  

Bowers had consumed and regurgitated the lethal rhetoric of far-right extremists who want to rid the US of non-white, non-Christian people, and of a government which constantly incites hatred and vilification of all marginalized groups.

Three days earlier, a white supremacist in Kentucky set out to kill black people. He eventually murdered Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, in a grocery store.

There is no question that these killers were motivated by the white nationalist extremism the Trump administrations has adopted and encouraged.

After Saturday’s synagogue massacre, curiously, Israeli leaders offered their condolences but refused to address Trump’s responsibility for fuelling such anti-Semitic violence.

Instead, they scrambled to provide cover for the US president while Israel advocates attempted to blame the rise in anti-Semitism on left-wing, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists who campaign for Palestinian rights.

Why would they do this, especially when American Jewish support for Trump is overwhelmingly low, and while Israel claims to be the protector of all Jewish people? To whom – or to what – were they speaking?

The unwillingness by Israeli leaders to confront such modern-day Nazism and the political forces pushing state-sponsored bigotry and hatred exposes that state’s unsettling alliance with Trump and his agenda.

For Israel, Trump has been the ideal partner in its efforts to crush Palestinian resistance and deny rights to African asylum-seekers while entrenching apartheid and systematic, unchecked violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Trump has, in turn, looked to Israel to model his policies of intensified militarisation of the US-Mexico border, his authoritarian threats against asylum-seekers and immigrants, and his open embrace of nationalist figures and right-wing legislators.

Notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer, speaking about his dream to make the US a European ethno-nationalist state, for example, has said he sees Israel as the ideal model.

Spencer has even dubbed his project for an Aryan state “white Zionism.”

Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right extremist who has promised to treat social movements as terrorist organisations and wage a war on poor and indigenous communities, has also embraced Israel and says he will – like Trump – move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israeli flags were prominently waved during rallies celebrating Bolsonaro’s win on Sunday, a chilling symbol of Israel’s popularity in fascist political movements.

But there is another reason Israel is embracing today’s white nationalists.

Right-wing extremists openly yearn to push Jewish people out of the US and Europe – a fantasy shared by Israel’s top leadership. The appeal to Jews to leave their homes and settle in Israel – on Palestinian land – is a main tenet of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.

But only a tiny number of ideologically motivated Jews are prepared to leave the safety, prosperity and comfort they enjoy in their home countries in North America and Europe for a hard life in Israel. Meanwhile, many Israeli Jews, especially the young and most educated, are leaving – a drain Israel is hard pressed to stop.

So unable to attract Jews from abroad, Israeli leaders must convince Jewish people that they are unsafe and unwanted everywhere – everywhere except for Israel. Just like Trump, Israel’s main weapon is fear.

Israeli politicians like opposition leader Avy Gabbay – who on Sunday urged American Jews, in grief and traumatised by the Pittsburgh massacre, to emigrate to Israel – seek to deliberately weaken the safety and diversity of communities in which Jewish people around the world are rooted.

Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett, an extreme right-wing supporter of Israel’s settler population who has bragged about killing Arabs, used the massacre of Jewish worshippers to dehumanise Palestinians.

The efforts of Bennett and Gabbay did nothing to assuage the Jewish community’s fears, but they did exploit anti-Semitism for Israel’s gain – and they gave Trump yet another tacit endorsement of his policies.

Instead of fighting to make the world a safer place for Jews – for everyone – wherever they live, wherever they make their home, Israel’s leaders and their supporters align openly with Trump’s agenda even when it means siding with white nationalist movements who espouse deep anti-Semitism.

It’s a horrifying and stark reality and one that Israeli leaders can only try to cover up by falsely deflecting the blame for the lethal anti-Semitism that visited the Tree of Life synagogue onto anti-racist activists and even left-wing Jewish groups.

Israel and its lobby have spent millions of dollars in recent years on campaigns to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, especially on US college campuses. They are trying to suppress the nonviolent, anti-racist boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights by smearing it as anti-Semitic, while giving actual cover to anti-Semitism across the US.

Israel’s hardline advocates show deep contempt for American Jews who stand with the marginalised and oppressed, who reject Israel’s unmitigated violence against Palestinians, who remain grounded in our communities fighting against systemic racism and injustice propagated by Trump and his authoritarian allies in Israel.

When Trump announced he would be visiting Pittsburgh, members of the progressive Jewish community there immediately stated that he was not welcome until he denounces white nationalism that targets Jews, migrant families, people of colour, Muslims, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people. He went anyway.

Jewish communities in the US are drawing a line: as we refuse to accept Trump’s right-wing nationalism that fomented the massacre in Pittsburgh, we also refuse to advocate for Israel as it embodies and sharpens that nationalist fantasy.

Instead, we fight for a broad-based, inclusive and just future for us all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.