Monday, February 27, 2017

There is No Position on Israel That Provides a "Get-Out-Of-Antisemitism-Free" Card

People in Donald Trump's orbit -- advisors, hangers-on, enthusiastic supporters, and so on -- keep on being implicated in antisemitism  Steve Bannon is the obvious case. But see also counter-terrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka, or former Arkansas Governor and one-time front runner for Ambassador to Israel Mike Huckabee (the guy who ended up getting the slot over Huckabee is no slouch either).

When these issues come up, conservative pundits seem to have a catch-all response. Can you guess what it is?

Here's ZOA (quoting Joel Pollak) on Bannon:
Mr. Bannon is 'an American patriot who defends Israel & has deep empathy for the Jewish people.' .... Would Trump’s extraordinary pro-Israel advisors such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Sheldon Adelson, and Orthodox Jews Jared Kushner, David Friedman, and Jason Greenblatt ever allow an anti-Semite/Israel-hater to work with them?
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) on Gorka:
I can attest that Dr. Gorka is the staunchest friend of Israel and the Jewish people.
Mike Huckabee on, well, himself:
[A] tiny bit of fact-checking [would] discover[] what most people in the Israel and American Jewish community know quite well, that Israel and the Jewish people have no stronger advocate than Mike Huckabee. ... Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have.
It's not even just conservatives. In a post that would be execrable if it wasn't so bizarre, Michael Tracey of the far-left "Young Turks" movement defends the Trump movement from antisemitism charges because, survey says:
[T[he current president continues to express more-or-less unflinching support for the Jewish state. ... [T]here’s scant reason to believe Trump has thought deeply enough about the subject that he should be considered anything less than what he publicly and repeatedly claims he is: stridently pro-Israel, and stridently pro-Jew.
Incidentally, it's notable that in none of the above examples was the claim of antisemitism directly tied to Israel. Bannon's antisemitism stems from his alleged distaste for Jews at his child's school and his association with the alt-right. Gorka has ties to Hungarian antisemitic organizations. Huckabee liked to compare Obamacare to the Holocaust and has engaged in "false flag" conspiracy mongering suggesting that Jews fake attacks against themselves to drum up anti-Trump sentiment.

Yet time and again, we see "pro-Israel" bona fides (usually of a very particular, rah-rah Likud sort) used to flatly reject any further inquiry into antisemitic behavior, conduct, or associations. It's a quintessential example of what philosopher Rachel McKinnon calls "allies behaving badly" -- using one's (often self-proclaimed) status as an "ally" to dismiss any inquiry into bad behavior directed at the allied group.

This response has become such an ubiquitous catch-all to dismiss the genuine problem of antisemitism on the right that I wish someone like the ADL would call it out explicitly. Their genuine efforts at targeting antisemitism will get nowhere if "support for Israel" is convertible into a "get-out-of-antisemitism-free" card. This is the reason why many Jewish groups' campaigns against mainstream right-wing antisemitism feel so limp and listless -- if they end as soon as the conservative delivers the rote reassurance that "I am a strong supporter of Israel", of course they won't go anywhere or change anything.

The truth is there is no position on Israel -- pro- or anti-, favorable or critical -- that immunizes one from antisemitism. It is entirely possible to find antisemitism among supporters of Israel just as it is to find it amongst Israel's opponents (who, for their part, also have a habit of pointing to other allegedly philo-semitic elements of their politics as a technique for dismissing any inquiry into whether their Israel politics are antisemitically-inflected. That we are, or should be, capable of understanding why the move is shady in that case should give us similar reason for pause in this one). To think otherwise requires subscribing to an unreasonably narrow view of how antisemitism manifests that assumes it must ever and always take the form of blind and unmediated Jew-hatred. We would be better served in recognizing that antisemitism is rarely unadorned; it is not just occasionally but frequently partial and contingent, attacking particular Jewish institutions and practices while professing great love and respect for others.

None of this is to say that support for Israel isn't important. It is a part of the story, and Jewish groups are well-entitled to insist that it be part of the story. But it is only a part of the story, and it cannot substitute for a holistic politics opposing antisemitism in all its manifestations. Again, it is incumbent on our community's antisemitism watchdogs -- the ADL and others -- to put their feet down and say unambiguously: "There is no -- NO -- position on Israel that immunizes one from antisemitism."

Waving "pro-Israel" as a talisman to ward of charges of antisemitism is wrong -- wrong in that it doesn't falsify the antisemitism claim, and wrong in that it bespeaks disrespect towards the Jews making the claim. But people think they can get away with it because, well, for too long mainstream Jewish groups have accepted the pro-Israel credit in lieu of actual payment of antisemitic debts. Hopefully, even those groups are beginning to see just how little that credit is worth; how ineffectual our complaints about antisemitism are when they can and are brushed aside so cheaply.

It needs to end. And it won't end until Jewish groups demand that it end.

1 comment:

Pillsy said...

A lot of the far-right support of Israel turns out to be the classic bigot's move of dividing Jews up into groups of "good Jews" and "bad Jews", and then asserting that "good Jews" go thousands of miles away to fight as proxies for the Christian West in the Clash of Civilizations, while "bad Jews" stay in the US or Europe and spread decadent liberal ideas. I don't know if this applies to all the people you're talking about here, but it certainly seems like a plausible explanation of what's going on with Bannon and Gorka.