With anti-Semitic chants of “Jews will not replace us!” the alt-right Charlottesville rally would be expected to draw immediate and furious condemnation from Israeli Jews, especially the prime minister. Instead Benjamin Netanyahu was silent for three days. What did his delay signify?
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – After the events of Charlottesville, many took issue with U.S. President Donald Trump for his delayed response to the violence and, later, his perceived reluctance to condemn the white nationalist and Neo-Nazi elements that comprised a significant part of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally.
Trump, however, was not the only world leader who was slow to respond. Primer Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu – whom many would assume to be one of the first to decry Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism – waited a full three days to react to the violence of Charlottesville. Even then, he offered a relatively tepid condemnation of the events via Twitter — making no mention of Trump or of Charlottesville, despite the fact that the right-wing Charlottesville protesters had chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
The Prime Minister’s lack of response drew sharp condemnation from his critics. American-Israeli journalist Bradley Burtson, wrote in Haartez, “This is the message of Netanyahu’s silence regarding Charlottesville: I am not the prime minister of the Jewish people. I am the prime minister of all of the Jewish people who are right-wing, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, pro-Me.”
The Prime Minister was not the only member of the Netanyahu clan to make waves with their reactions – or lack thereof – to Charlottesville. Netanyahu’s son Yair echoed Trump’s response last Tuesday, arguing that the true threat in Charlottesville was not the white nationalists, but Black Lives Matter and other elements found among the counter-protesters:
“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazis scums (sic) in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”
The Prime Minister chose not to condemn his son’s comments, stating only that “Yair is an adult and his views are his alone.”
Israel’s right wing sees leftist critics as more dangerous than anti-Semites
It may seem strange to some that Israel’s highest-ranking politician — and one who claimed to represent “all Jewish people,” not just Israelis — has stopped short of condemning either the violence in Charlottesville or white nationalism. However, some Israeli politicians and notable figures, particularly those associated with the right-wing, see a potential ally in white nationalists such as Richard Spencer and the just-deposed Steve Bannon.
Marc Zell, the head of Republicans Abroad in Israel, blamed “leftist thugs,” local authorities, and the American Civil Liberties Union for the violence in Charlottesville. Zell told Haaretz that while he was “of course, no supporter of Nazis or white supremacists, […] this very tragic event could have been avoided. It was clear to all that the leftist thugs would come out to provoke and escalate the events. These thugs are the ugly face of progressivism around the country. They are looking to shut down free speech.”
As indicated by Zell’s comments and the responses of Netanyahu and his youngest son, Israel’s right-wing is at war with the ideological left much more than they are with Neo-Nazism. They consider leftist or progressive groups their bitter enemies for their criticisms of Israel’s occupation of Palestine as well as the fact that some have these groups have endorsed the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
However, white nationalists not only do not criticize Israel’s occupation of Palestine, they see it as a model for the white ethno-state they seek to build in the United States. In a 2016 interview with Haaretz, Richard Spencer described his fondness for Israeli policy, stating that “[I]f [Israeli-American billionaire] Sheldon Adelson would promote the same immigration policy in the United States that Israel has, I would think that is a good thing.”
More recently, last Wednesday, Spencer told Israel’s Channel 2 that Israelis should respect him because he is a “white Zionist,” stating:
“. . .an Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me, who has analogue feelings about whites. You could say that I am a white Zionist – in the sense that I care about my people, I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
Zionism as an extension of Nazi ideology
Spencer’s reverence for Israel is hardly surprising. Nazis and other ethno-nationalists have long supported the rationale on which Zionism is based: ethno-fascism. One of the Nazi officers intimately involved in organizing the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, told Time magazine in 1960 that “In the years that followed [after 1937], I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.”
Eichmann’s statements reflect the natural alignment between Nazi ideology and Zionism, as both embrace ethno-fascism. Zionism is not – as is often claimed – the answer to anti-Semitism. It is rather an extension of anti-Semitism: like Nazism, it is a brand of nationalism based on a belief of ethno-religious superiority that seeks to erase all vestiges of the “other” — whether the “other” are African Jews, the Palestinians, or any person that is not a white Jew of European descent.
There are the historical instances of Zionist collaboration with Nazis to consider, the most infamous of which was Avraham Stern’s offer of allegiance to Hitler in 1941. Stern believed that “common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO [National Militant Organization],” of which the Zionist paramilitary group he co-founded was an offshoot. In other words, Stern’s call for an alliance followed from his recognition of Zionism and Nazism as sister fascist movements.
Yet this aspect of history is rarely discussed, as it threatens the narrative that began with Israel’s founding – that the Israeli Zionist state was and is the answer to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Nevertheless the link between the two ideologies has long been undeniable. One of the founders of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, once wrote in his diary that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” This summarizes the uncomfortable truth at the heart of Zionism.
As Israeli writer Jonathan Ofir wrote in a recent op-ed for Mondoweiss, “When the unabashed racists and anti-Semites go marching, when their Israel-loving President keeps exonerating them and equating them with their victims, then it becomes a bit uncomfortable. The ideological affinity between anti-Semitism and Zionism becomes exposed.”
Netanyahu’s late and tepid response to Charlottesville was not the result of political or moral laziness. Rather, it was a calculated response to a tragedy, very much intended to obfuscate the fact that the violence in Charlottesville had been caused by an extension of the very same ideology he and Israel’s far-right espouse.