Among the many unsettling images from last Wednesday’s attempted coup at the Capitol were vicious attacks on Capitol police officers, bombs, terrorists with stun guns and spears, a lynch mob with its own gallows, a mob prepared to kidnap legislators, numerous Confederate flags, with many of the participants screaming antisemitic and racist slurs.
One of the insurrectionists, Robert Keith Packer of Virginia, sported a sweatshirt reading “Camp Auschwitz – Work Brings Freedom.” Packer’s presence at the Capitol reminded us of very real American antisemitism which, most starkly, resulted in the murders of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, and an attack on the Poway synagogue in 2019 which left one dead and three injured. More than halfway into the Trump years, there was also an attempt to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, followed by a shooting in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, and a mass-stabbing during Hanukkah in Monsey, New York.
There is no denying that antisemitism exists. It is toxic and it is pervasive. At Passover each year we read the line “in every generation they rise up against us.” In good years the oppression is universal. In bad years, it’s personal.
But one of the memes that has come out of the unrest and displays of hatred in this country is the claim that both the Left and Right are equally guilty of hatred and violence. These claims have become weaponized. In the British Labor Party they resulted in a purge of thousands of Leftist members. In the United States, progressive Democrats have had the same target drawn on their backs. Mainly for criticisms of Israel, but also for supporting any number of progressive positions: slashing bloated police budgets, calling for an end of qualified immunity, marching in the streets.
While memes like this may tap into a naive desire to return to some imaginary “center,” there is really no center to return to. Democrats have moved right since Clinton, while Republicans have finally moved into a party of fascists. If we really want to preserve the center, we can only do so by moving back a bit to the left.
In a community conversation sponsored by the New Bedford YWCA yesterday, a couple of people claimed that “Far Left” violence was just as bad as the Far Right’s. But this is a baseless claim. We may have seen people upset with an epidemic of racist police murders marching in the street last May, along with some resulting property damage — but you’d have to go back to the days of the Weather Underground to match the violence of today’s Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, KKK, neo-Nazis, militias, QAnon conspiracy nuts, and lone wolf terrorists like Timothy McVeigh.
Another remark made yesterday by a good friend of mine with whom I have disagreed on this topic for many years is that the Left is equally guilty of antisemitism.
Well, I’m sorry, friend. This accusation has only empty calories if you lump in critics of Israeli domestic and foreign policy with those who actually shoot up synagogues or spread conspiracies of Jewish “cosmopolitans” trying to take over the world. There are no mobs of progressives or socialists shooting at davvening Jews in their own synagogues. There are no progressives rehashing the conspiracies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion like QAnon or Mr. Parker.
The accusation of “Left antisemitism” is actually intended to silence those with legitimate criticisms of Israel. Let’s be clear. Judaism is a religion and an identity. Those with that identity are individuals and ought to be respected for who they are. Israel is a nation like any other in the world. It has very specific domestic and foreign policies which can be criticized like any country’s. Is it antisemitic to point out that Palestinians have no legal protections and have lived under martial law since 1948? Is it antisemitic to point out that, under international law, Israel is obligated to provide for Palestinians but has not even made COVID-19 vaccines available to them? Is it antisemitic to prefer the non-violent Boycott and Divestment (BDS) campaign to an armed intifada?
Precisely because BDS has touched a moral nerve and has been so successful, its supporters are now in Israel’s crosshairs, and also in the crosshairs of a number of American groups which lobby in Israel’s interests. Worse, these lobbying efforts have convinced many Americans that opposing Zionism is precisely the same as hating Jews and this has given rise to legislation that punishes those who support BDS.
Long before Theodor Herzl wrote “Der Judenstaat” Zionists dreamed of “returning” to the Israel from which Jews were sent into exile in the 2nd Century. 19th Century antisemitism made their dream more vivid, and the Holocaust made the dream an urgent necessity, as Jewish refugees were literally turned away at ports by many countries, including Britain and the United States.
But Herzl’s description of the Holy Land as a “land for people without land” was not exactly true, and if you read his pamphlet you note the variety of methods for making those already living there leave in favor of the newcomers. Interestingly, Herzl did not envision Israel as a democracy but as a regency. Herzl himself proposed Uganda as one possibility for settlement at a Zionist Congress. Zionists also considered buying a portion of Argentina. The matter was settled when the Balfour Declaration essentially gave Britain’s post-war colony in the Middle East to Jewish settlers. As in Herzl’s pamphlet, settlement was originally handled by a corporation that would buy land. And for a short while, Israel did purchase land. But then Israel simply took land from the Palestinians.
The history of Israel and Palestine is complicated, but one thing is indisputable. Zionism is a colonial settler enterprise. Stripped down to its basic function, it was designed to send settlers to a land with indigenous people and take land and resources from them. Whatever you think of biblical justifications for taking land, or the fact that two millennia before Jews had lived there, Zionism was a project precisely like the Puritans arriving in Massachusetts with the London Company and taking what the Wampanoag owned — including their lives.
No one expressed this dark side of Zionism more clearly, more unapologetically, than Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Russian admirer of Benito Mussolini, who is credited with creating “revisionist Zionism” and writing “The Iron Wall” — in which he wrote:
It may be that some individual Arabs take bribes. But that does not mean that the Arab people of Palestine as a whole will sell that fervent patriotism that they guard so jealously, and which even the Papuans will never sell. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized.
That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel.”
We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say “non” and withdraw from Zionism.
Jabotinsky understood well what Israel was doing was replacing Arabs with Jews, committing cultural and political, if not physical, genocide. Jabotinsky’s program was to erect an “Iron Wall” — not a literal wall like Trump’s but a “no concessions” policy. This is the policy that the Likud Party has followed since its inception. It is no coincidence that Binyamin Netanyahu’s father was Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s secretary.
The neo-fascist revisionist Zionists of yesterday were more honest than their American defenders (and the Likud) today who dismiss the ongoing oppression, land theft, and human rights abuses. Jabotinsky actually acknowledged Palestinian identity, in contrast to Golda Meir — often associated with a more “liberal” pre-Likud Israel — who explicitly denied Palestinian peoplehood.
Today, Liberals continue to bend over backward to defend Israel’s abuses and to demonize its critics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted Israel’s definition of antisemitism for the U.S. State Department, and this definition includes the murder of Jews in synagogues but also numerous forms of criticism of Israel. The author of this definition was Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs and Jerusalem. Imagine not being able to criticize the House of Saud or the Vatican. Imagine not being able to “single out” Britain because it is the only nation whose official church is the Anglican Church. These supplemental definitions of antisemitism are meant only to defend Israel’s nationalist excesses.
Israel’s defenders include not only pro-settler elements of the Republican Party like former ambassador David Friedman or the late Sheldon Adelson. They also include American liberals who long ago decided that having white nationalist, Christian fundamentalist control of the government did not add up to a democracy — but, somehow, Jewish supremacy and extreme racism toward Arabs was fine. Israel is a country where half of all citizens believe in expelling Arabs and where one out of four prefer Jewish law to democracy.
To the credit of many Israelis — including a large diaspora of those who live abroad, and for a large segment of American Jews — nationalism of any kind is a scourge.
If you think these have been fringe observations, check out the human rights reports of B’Tselem, take a look at Israel’s liberal newspaper Haaretz, visit +972, a collective of Jewish and Palestinian writers, or get on the Jewish Voice for Peace mailing list. And find out for yourself what the BDS movement really is.
Nationalism — white, Christian, Hindu, Polish, Hungarian, German, or Jewish — is fundamentally undemocratic, divisive, and toxic.
Honestly, I don’t know why it is necessary to write these words after what we all just witnessed.