Oakland, Ca. (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – The compounding tragedies in Israel and Palestine lead to a sad and harsh realization: Today’s mutant form of Zionism has morphed into a genuine threat to democracy in Israel, the US and elsewhere. Under Donald Trump’s leadership, our “Shining Beacon on the Hill” has been badly dimmed as an example to the world, and the US has lost standing and credibility to lead as never in our history.
Zionism has had exclusionary elements since the beginning of Israel in 1948. But the evolution to a fully systemic apartheid system was codified under Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) over the course of his reign since 2007. Two predecessors Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon also contributed to this narrative by further dignifying and empowering extreme right-wing, racist elements with cabinet and ministerial positions.
Israel got stuck with Hamas as their negotiating partner, because they refused to deal in good faith with the more moderate Palestine Authority (PA-Fatah). That would have been a preliminary acquiescence to a two-state solution. Many Israelis and other Jews are deeply wedded to the notion that Jews have a biblical commandment to settle the entire Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), and not allow any other political entity to reign on any part of the territory. Hamas, meanwhile is dedicated to the full destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Bibi and Israel made the choice to empower Hamas as the representative for all Palestinians, by refusing to dignify the PA (Fatah) and working towards a two-state solution.
When Israel occupied parts of Palestine in the 1967 War, Israeli President Abba Eban and General Moshe Dayan both said they didn’t envision a long occupation, and intended to use those territories as bargaining chips for security. But alas, things have gone badly wrong on both ends. Though some question whether they actually held those positions, I believe they did, as I recall both expressing a reluctance to govern unwilling and hostile subjects, as a conflict with their vision of a “Jewish State.” Regardless, with war crimes occurring in Gaza and West Bank, often prosecuted by far-far right settlers rather than the IDF, the disease of racism is now systemic in the Netanyahu government.
Now for the elephant in the room: Israel is now giving Jews a bad name, and has elicited more acts of anti-Semitic violence than any time since WWII. It is not fair to tar all Jews with the brush of this extremist government, of course. But the rightwing Zionists’ claim that Zionism and Judaism are indistinguishable contributes to the confusion, and unfairness. As noted by Samuel Lejoyeux, the president of the Union of Jewish Students of France, “What strikes me is there is a wave of antisemitism in the world when 1,300 Jews were massacred a few days ago.” We are no longer sympathetic characters, as a result of Bibi’s military brutalities against Palestinians, and political brutalities against his people and Democracy, abetted by Trump.
The bombing of the Jabaliya refugee camp by IDF forces is an unqualified atrocity. IDF Spokesman Hecht’s statement that, “We gave them fair warning to leave the area,” is ludicrous in this context: Where are they supposed to go? Where CAN they go? It is now time to take a hard look at how Israeli military excesses have led to a global rise in violent expressions of anti-Semitism, especially on US college campuses.
Meanwhile US Republicans have nurtured a duel-headed social monster by escalating both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Trump has fueled both with his incendiary statements and self-serving political agenda to promote Christian Nationalism at the expense of our Constitutional democracy. To most US Republicans, both Jews and Muslims are “the other,” to be shunned, managed and marginalized. Republican support for Israel is based in apocalyptic visions of a world without Jews, yet Israel embraces Evangelical tourism, as Jewish tourism has declined.
Events on October 7 and since then have since fueled more anger, and pushed people into more radical, unforgiving positions on both sides. As a result, Jewish AND Palestinian students are being harassed and threatened on US college campuses, driven by the vapid failure to recognize the distinctions between Zionism and Judaism. What is the boundary between free speech and supporting terrorism? How does political activism mutate into anti-Semitism or Islamophobia?” The answer is complex and circles us back to how Republicans have tried to hijack the concepts of the Free Speech Movement, while suppressing views they don’t like at the same time.
No one capitalizes on a tragedy for political gain as do Republicans. Packaging the Israel-Palestine tragedy with other unrelated, explosive political issues to fuel the fire is a raw and offensive brand of grandstanding, when they have no positive substance to run on. How unconscionable for Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) is to say of the Israel-Gaza tragedy, “There are a number of American Jews who went to bed on Oct. 6 as progressives, and they woke up as conservatives.” While it’s true that 1000’s of progressive Israelis took up arms to defend their nation, after spending the last 9 months packing the streets in passionate demonstrations against Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi), it is not true that 1000’s of American Jews had a political metamorphosis, and started supporting Donald Trump’s brand of “conservatism.” We have a horrible, inflammatory confluence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on college campuses. And Republicans are using this crisis to grandstand, and falsely claim all American Jews are suddenly Republican war hawks now because Hamas attacked Israel.
Kustoff and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) have used the tragedy of Israel-Palestine as a grandstanding opportunity to advocate for more guns in America, especially in schools. And to cut off aid to Ukraine, which only Trump and Putin worshippers really want to do. Along with most Republican Congressional reps, they have amply illustrated the cruelty of their ideology, exemplified by Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s tweet: “There should not be one more aid truck that enters the Gaza Strip until Hamas is eradicated.” They are also using this as an occasion to further suppress free speech on US college campuses, as she opines, “Amid the rise in antisemitism and violence against Jewish students in the U.S, @SenJackyRosen and I passed a resolution condemning these hateful actions & calling on colleges to take action.”
Kustoff, Lee and Blackburn illustrate the symbiosis of US Republicans with the far-far right fringes of Israeli politics, as represented by the unholy alliance between Donald Trump and Bibi. They’ll do anything they can to spin and sensationalize issues, in efforts to push moderate voters to the far-far right. This includes cutting the IRS budget as a condition of financing t Israel’s defense, and cutting off aid to Ukraine as part of the deal. This was the first consequential action of new Speaker Mike Johnson, who became Speaker only with Trump’s approval.
For context, consider Bibi’s choices as his campaign “running mates” in Israel. For different demographics, Bibi had separate campaign ads with both Trump and Putin. In his efforts to play them off of one another, as proxies for the East-West dialectic; Bibi compromised Israel’s strategic capabilities and standing, while failing to accomplish the positioning he was aiming for with either. Ultimately, his preoccupation with efforts to cripple the Israeli Justice system in order to remain in office, badly compromised Israel’s defenses and political morale, and set the stage for the tragedies of October 7.