By Anthony L Hall
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is the homeland ‘only of the Jewish people,’ in a new jab at the country’s Arab minority ahead of April’s election. …
Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s 9 million residents. They have full citizenship rights but have faced decades of discrimination.
(The Associated Press, March 10, 2019)
The way Donald Trump used norm-busting, xenophobic, and race-baiting rhetoric to win the 2016 US presidential election shall live in infamy. Even worse, though, is the way he inspired politicians across the globe to begin using similar rhetoric to similar effect.
Therefore, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Netanyahu is just the latest. Except that he was using such rhetoric long before Trump began strutting and fretting his stuff upon the political stage.
Granted, Trump’s rhetoric seems to know no bounds. But even he never dared to say America is the home only of the white people. So it’s unfair to say that Netanyahu is aping him.
All the same, I must beg your indulgence here because this compels a digression …
Most Americans should have become inured to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric long ago. Yet he managed to inflame passions again on Friday when he casually slurred all Democrats as follows:
The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party.
(The Washington Post, March 8, 2019)
He reportedly doubled down on this shameless slur at a fundraiser later that night:
The Democrats hate Jewish people.
(Axios, March 10, 2019)
Remarkably, this kind of Orwellian doublespeak is becoming a defining feature of Trump’s public statements (i.e., his tweets and utterances). Everyone knows that most Jewish people are Democrats who vote mostly for Democrats. He knows that too, which is why his slur is tantamount to calling them self-hating Jews.
But it speaks volumes about Trump’s psychopathology that he has no qualms about telling the biggest lies to people who he knows know better and expecting them to believe him. I doubt even Adolf Hitler had such brazen gall.
Trump is a friggin’ laughingstock. I cannot overstate this. Whenever I do, however, I feel obliged to concede that the joke is on us. He is the most powerful man in the world, after all. But his presidency is so potentially catastrophic, if we don’t laugh at him, we’d be wracked with chronic worry.
This is why the most interesting thing about Trump’s pathological lies is the pathological way Republicans defend and support them. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that the Jews at that fundraiser simply nodded or applauded approvingly.
For Trump, though, they would have been just like the Jews in his cabinet who stood beside him, like religious eunuchs, when he infamously complimented the neo-Nazis who marched through Charlottesville. Recall that he said there were some “very fine people” among them. This, despite the fact that they were all carrying tiki-torches and chanting anti-Semitic slogans.
Except to say that, as outrageous as he is in this respect, Trump still has nothing on Netanyahu. Because this prime minister of Israel has used xenophobic and race-baiting rhetoric to win every one of his four previous elections.
I duly denounced him in commentaries like “Netanyahu Deporting Blacks to Preserve White Character of Jewish State,” January 4, 2018, and “Israel Votes to Become More Like Apartheid South Africa,” March 18, 2015, which includes this reference to the trademark election rhetoric at issue:
Election Day in Israel yesterday was full of surprises; none more so than the desperate declarations and exhortations Bibi Netanyahu made to get his supporters to the polls. He not only declared that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he’s prime minister, but also exhorted right-wing Jews to help him stay in power to honor this declaration:
The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going in droves to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.
(The Jerusalem Post, March 18, 2015)
Imagine the outrage (national and international) if Mitt Romney had done something like this on Election Day in 2012 (i.e., exhorted white voters to get to the polls because black voters were going in droves, putting his plan to ‘take back our [white] government’ in danger…).
But, as it is with Trump, the election (and continual re-election) of Netanyahu says more about his voters than him. For the shame is on them for blithely voting for men who exhibit political traits that make them more akin to Adolf Hitler than Thomas Jefferson.
This brings me to the outrage and consternation Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is causing by continually peddling anti-Semitic tropes. Most notably, she has tweeted about Jews being the money men behind Republican support for Israel and insinuated that Americans who lobby for that country harbor dual loyalty.
It is noteworthy that Omar is not just a freshman but one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is the other who rode in on the Democrat’s “blue wave” in 2018.
The point is that Omar’s inexperience and Muslim faith made censuring her more complicated than censuring an old anti-Semite like white Republican Congressman Steve King. This explains the generic resolution the Democratic-controlled Congress settled on last week:
The resolution condemning ‘hateful expressions of intolerance,’ which passed the House by an overwhelming 407-to-23 vote Thursday afternoon, was as much a statement of Democrats’ values as their factionalism. Caught in the middle was Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who worked for days to quell the internal uproar that erupted after a freshman Democrat, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, insinuated that backers of Israel exhibit dual loyalty.
(The New York Times, March 7, 2019)
But I suspect Omar couldn’t be more pleased with herself. Because,
- like Trump, she seems more interested in disrupting norms and getting attention than in doing her job (namely representing the interests of her constituents — many of whom, ironically enough, just happen to be Jews).
- like Trump, she knows that the easiest way to disrupt norms and get attention is to continually shock political consciousness and offend public decency.
- like Trump, she appears to have zealous supporters for whom she can do or say no wrong:
[T]hough many constituents, including some Muslims, saw Ms. Omar crossing a line and trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes, others, including members of the district’s Jewish community, said they were offended only by what they perceived as partisan, even racist, attacks on their congresswoman for legitimate criticisms of Israel.
(The New York Times, March 8, 2019)
Of course, given how well bigoted rhetoric and tropes have worked for Trump, one can hardly blame Omar for using them. Again, though, she’s like an understudy among politicians on the world stage who are doing the same.
As it happens, I agree with her constituents. Not least because no less an American Jew than Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz provided exculpatory reference during a debate against MIT Professor Noam Chomsky on the topic “Israel and Palestine After Disengagement: Where Do We Go from Here?”
C-SPAN televised it on December 11, 2005, and I watched the whole thing. I had cause to reference their debate later that week in “The Iranians Are Begging for It. The Israelis Should Give It to Them!” December 15, 2005.
Here is why it’s exculpatory:
After 90 minutes of provocative but surprisingly ad hominem exchanges, neither one of these brilliant men ceded an inch of rhetorical territory for the sake of peace. …
At least Dershowitz acknowledged that their respective intransigence reflects the curious fact that American supporters of Israel (like him) tend to be more Jewish than the Israelis, and American advocates for a Palestinian state (like Chomsky) tend to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.
This clearly raises the question: How is Omar’s insinuation that American supporters of Israel have dual loyalty any more anti-Semitic than Dershowitz’s acknowledgment that American supporters of Israel tend to be more Jewish than Israelis?
Having said all that, I’d be remiss not to share the following points on the forthcoming Israeli election:
- Like Trump, Netanyahu is banking on his political rhetoric distracting voters from looming criminal indictments, which pose a far greater threat to his career, if not his freedom, than the Arab Israelis he’s scapegoating.
- I don’t think his tradecraft scapegoating is going to work this time because he has never faced a more formidable opponent than Israeli war hero Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party. Gantz demonstrated this during a recent national address when he
- called on Netanyahu to do the honorable thing and resign in light of the Israeli attorney general’s decision to indict him for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust;
- made a mockery of Netanyahu’s fawning embrace of Trump by accusing him of being just like Trump, namely a pampered, trust-fund coward blustering as a mafia don.