Trump, Bannon, and Israel’s Anti-Semitism Problem

by Zaina Alsous


[Image via Jewish Voice for Peace]

The appointment of alt right figure Steve Bannon by President-elect Trump to White House chief strategist sent shockwaves around the country. For many who were not expecting Trump to govern the way he campaigned, it is yet another wake up call to the political moment we have entered. The alt right or alternative right is a brand of far right conservatism rooted in unabashed Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny. Hate crime after hate crime brandishing swastikas have appeared across the country in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory. Only 25% of Jewish voters favored Donald Trump in the presidential election. It’s quite clear that Jewish people in the United States are not part of the nostalgic vision of return to a “Great America” that Trump used to woo a majority of white voters. Then, there is the question of Israel.

In a 2007 court declaration during their divorce trial Bannon’s ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard stated in regards to Bannons’ feelings about the Los Angeles private school their children attended, “The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend.” The working definition of anti-Semitism written by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and adopted as the standard definition for anti-Semitism around the world reads, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” While Bannon’s personal disparaging comments towards Jewish people and Brietbart’s disturbing headlines seem to fit this textbook definition of anti-Semitism, right wing Zionist leaders have quickly come to the defense of Bannon including conservative writer, and key figure in funding Islamophobic research, David Horowitz who claims Bannon’s critics have “lost touch with reality”.

Robert Mackey at The Intercept writes, “Steve Bannon made Bretibart a space for pro-Israel writers and anti-Semitic readers”. This seemingly unusual Trump coalition that expresses vitriolic hatred towards Jewish people while staunchly defending Israel allows an entry point to highlight what has always been true: the apartheid state of Israel does not serve the interest of Jewish liberation nor does it serve as a sustainable solution to anti-Semitism. The state of Israel is in fact far more committed to the causes of white supremacy and white nationalism, and may serve as an alarming foreshadow of policies to come in the U.S.

On a spiritual level, one can argue, and many Jewish activists and scholars do, that the modern manifestation of Zionism including the mass incarceration of Palestinians within Israel, use of checkpoints, regular Palestinian home and land confiscation or demolition, along with a seemingly endless list of violent atrocities committed by settlers within occupied Palestine do not align with the Jewish faith, a faith with a long legacy of social justice as embedded within it’s very fabric:

You are not to stand by the blood of your neighbor

-Leviticus 19:16

On a more tangible level when U.S. citizens are sold the ideology that Israel is a Jewish refuge and ally worthy of our uncritical international solidarity and the largest pledge in military defense spending we have ever given to another country, we must ask: refuge for whom? Currently there are thousands of African Jews sitting in detention camps.  According to the Washington Post, in 2015 Israel sent letters to 45,000 refugees from Sudan and Eritrea, announcing that they could either accept a cash payment and a one-way ticket back to Africa, or face a prison sentence. Jewish people of Arab descent or Mizrahim still make up the bulk of those in Israel living in poverty with less access to equitable education and economic mobility. Ella Shohat, a Jewish scholar of Iraqi descent has written extensively of the erasure of Arab Jewish identity to uplift Eurocentric Jewish narratives. In “Reflections of an Arab Jew”, Shohat writes,

…within Israel itself, where we have been systematically discriminated against by institutions that deployed their energies and material to the consistent advantage of European Jews and to the consistent disadvantage of Oriental Jews. Even our physiognomies betray us, leading to internalized colonialism or physical misperception. Sephardic Oriental women often dye their dark hair blond, while the men have more than once been arrested or beaten when mistaken for Palestinians.

Jewish leftists face risk of physical assault, and imprisonment for refusing to be complicit with the occupation. The significance of highlighting these large gaps in the mythology of a democratic Jewish homeland is to demonstrate Israel’s prioritization of Eurocentric nationalism above material and political equity for the expansive diversity of people who possess a Jewish identity, alongside the oppression of Palestinians. These contradictions then extend to right wing Jewish leaders in the United States prioritizing alignment with Israel above criticizing the alarming open anti-Semitism brought out by Trump’s campaign.

During the Summer 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, Israeli Knesset member Ayelet Shaked openly called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers, stating that they give birth to “little snakes”. For those of us in the United States who witnessed Trump’s rise to power with horror, fearful of the violence to befall those he demonized in his campaign, vigorously denouncing his plans to build a wall at the Mexican border or force Muslims to carry ID cards, this is already the lived reality for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Israeli politicians campaign on the principles of religious and ethnic purity, while rampant anti-Black and anti-Arab racism permeates, and then this racism is deeply codified into Israeli law. A recent poll conducted in Israel showed that 82 percent of self-identified religious Jews didn’t want their children to be taught by an Arab teacher. Compare this with the majority of Trump supporters who according to a New York Times exit poll cited their two biggest issues as terrorism and immigration, two issues deeply tied to racialized tropes around immigrants and refugees central to Trump’s campaign.

Anyone who seeks to defeat Trumpism should be extremely disturbed by U.S. and Israeli collaboration. Israel provides a model for the state that Trump wants to create: one forged in violent racial segregation, militarized policing, and white nationalist propaganda. Israel already materially aids the expansion of harmful police tactics within the United States by training police officers.  During the campaign Trump lauded Israel’s usage of racial profiling as aspirational, “You know, in Israel they profile. They’ve done an unbelievable job, as good as you can do. They see somebody that’s suspicious, they will profile.” Anti-Semitism cannot be solved with occupation and criminalization of Palestinians, just like the mass deportation of Mexican immigrants or a registry for Muslim Americans won’t better economic conditions for white workers left behind by neoliberalism.

Now more than ever, we cannot cede the battle against anti-Semitism to Israel.

In studying the history of struggle against fascism during World War II, multi-racial and multi-faith coalitions were integral to harboring and defending the millions who were persecuted. During the Holocaust as Jewish people fled horrific state sanctioned genocide many Muslim families opened their homes to offer refuge, and risked their own lives to harbor Jewish community members. Arabs and Jews actually fought side by side under the British army to defeat the fascists. It will take all of us to overcome Trump’s rabid right wing populism, which has garnered a multitude of comparisons to Nazism; his attacks on Muslim refugees demonstrating a particularly ugly reminiscing of Nazi propaganda. Shortly before Trump’s election a Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council was formed.  According to Robert Silverman, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Muslim-Jewish relations, the newly formed council will focus on protecting the right to wear religious head coverings, prohibiting workplace discrimination, recording hate crimes and advocating for immigrants and refugees.

While the pro-Israel lobby has fought hard to correlate the relatively new phenomenon of Zionism to the centuries old faith of Judaism, young people aren’t buying it; less than half of millennials within the U.S. demonstrate support for the state of Israel, with many young Jews fighting to hold Israel accountable to ending the occupation. They are also not pleased with the Jewish right’s refusal to call out the numerous instances of anti-Semitism Trump’s rise to power has produced. From Moriah Kaplan, a 24-year-old activist with If Not Now, “The same people who told me that anti-Semitism was everywhere are now conspicuously silent on Trump. In some cases, they’re supporting Trump.”

The Movement for Black Lives, as part of a comprehensive guide towards building Black Liberation, outlines their solidarity with Palestine and a demand to end the nearly 70 year long occupation of Palestinian land. As long as white supremacy or white nationalism are allowed to flourish, whether within the U.S. Empire or the State of Israel, all of us who do not fit within the paradigm of racial purity are made vulnerable. For those of us who ultimately dream of an end to bigotry and all legalized oppression of Black people, Muslims, immigrants, and Jewish people, this unapologetic resistance to colonialism and racism by Black leaders is a blueprint for our path to victory.

Within the Trump coalition we see pro-Israel and anti-Semitic forces hand in hand. This illuminating alliance encourages us to declare boldly that our calls for self-determination for Palestinians and Jewish people are not only deeply aligned, but in this moment our very livelihood depends on the recognition that white supremacy is not a viable solution.


About the author: Zaina Alsous is a Palestinian Muslim activist and writer currently based in North Carolina.