Israel’s New Friends

Neve Gordon

In February, the Israeli prime minister praised the British government for introducing new guidelines prohibiting publicly funded bodies from boycotting Israeli products. ‘I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East,’ Netanyahu said.

‘Modern anti-Semitism,’ he went on, ‘not only attacks individual Jews, but attacks them collectively, and the slanders that were hurled over centuries against the Jewish people are now hurled against the Jewish state.’

Progressive voices such as Jewish Voice for Peace have tried for years to counter the insidious conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, but the identification may now be unravelling at last because of a forceful intervention from the right.

Two of Donald Trump’s first appointments as president-elect, his chief strategist Steve Bannon and attorney general Jeff Sessions, are white supremacists with anti-Semitic reputations. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, for example, accused Bannon of carrying anti-Semitic journalism on Breitbart News and of making anti-Semitic remarks himself; Sessions allegedly found fault with the Ku Klux Klan only when he realised they smoked marijuana. One might have expected the Israeli government to criticise these appointments, pointing to the real and present danger of anti-Semites working in the US administration, as well as to the message it conveys to white supremacists around the world. But Netanyahu has said nothing.

Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, was a guest alongside Bannon at a dinner on Sunday organised by the Zionist Organisation of America. Bennett seems to have no qualms joining forces with an anti-Semite, if it will help him advance his goal of ensuring that ‘the era of a Palestinian state is over.’

Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot and a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, may have expressed Israel’s position regarding the incoming Trump administration most clearly. Defending Bannon’s appointment, Marcus said: ‘I have known Steve to be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel who felt so strongly about this that he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true pro-Israel story would get out.’

Israel’s leaders and their right-wing Jewish allies in the United States, in other words, have no problem stomaching anti-Semitism so long as the anti-Semite supports Zionism. But if an anti-Semite can be a Zionist then anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are not the same.


  • 22 November 2016 at 6:28pm
    piffin says:
    Former Israeli minister: "Anti-Semitism is a trick, we always use it"

  • 23 November 2016 at 11:49pm
    Graucho says:
    Always regarded the Balfour declaration as a perfidious piece of anti-Semitism, the subtext being the Jews should have a homeland because we don't want them living here. One suspects that the anti-Semites on the U.S. right think along similar lines. The other dimension is of course the old principle, my enemy's enemy is my friend and right now Islam is a bigger fish to fry for Trump's entourage.

  • 25 November 2016 at 1:11pm
    Alex K. says:
    The JTA's arguments are rather thin. "Bannon’s site ran multiple columns accused of anti-Semitism," claims the JTA; "multiple" turns out to mean two. One was penned by the Jewish, pro-Israel conservative activist David Horowitz, who accused Bill Kristol of supporting the enemies of Israel by siding with Hillary Clinton over Trump despite being a lifelong Republican. It seems more an accusation of anti-Semitism than anti-Semitic speech.

    The other was written by Matthew Tyrmand, who is the son of the Polish-Jewish writer Leopold Tyrmand and describes himself as a person of "Jewish faith and ethnicity." Leopold, who left Communist Poland for the US in 1967, was an anti-Communist and a conservative, apparently of the paleo persuasion avant la lettre. Matthew Tyrmand seems to have inherited his father's views, and Breitbart has a penchant for high-strung voices like his. Obviously, his remarks about Anne Applebaum went too far but were no more antisemitic than, say, the portrayal of Jewish characters in the books of Philip Roth.

    Any allegations made in divorce proceedings aren't worth much unless to a tabloid. What's left is Bannon's failure to remove the nasty comments. If Breitbart's policy is to never moderate comments at all, any criticism should be directed at it rather than at instances of dirty words left unerased.

    Which leaves us with near-zero evidence of Bannon's anti-Semitism.

    • 29 November 2016 at 4:34pm
      Simon21 says: @ Alex K.
      Are they that thin? Interedsting use of words to call Matthew Tymand "high-strung". His remark about Anne Applebaum were disgusting and patently anti-semetic.

      And Anne Appelbaum exists. Phillip Roth is a novelist.

      Remarks made in divorce proceedings can indeed be considered. These are hardly usual.

      Anti-semetic comments have been made on Breitbart - Bannon left them on. If it was another site would there be any hesitation

    • 29 November 2016 at 9:26pm
      Tanvyeboyo says: @ Alex K.
      Thanks for that. Bannon sounds like a great guy. I'm sure that 'many of his best friends are Jews'. He probably thinks blacks are ok too, and that everyone should own a few. It took a while but, at last, the 1850s nativist 'Know Nothing Party' is riding high. You think about the War of Secession and you can only say: 'what a waste'. Time to demolish the Lincoln Monument and use the stone to 'Build the Wall'! Judge Dredd for the Supreme Court, I say. Apparently, Judge Judy turned it down and our own Judge Rinder is not available. Still, people like Bannon, with your support, will Make America Great Again. I remember seeing Capra's 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington' manyn many years ago and thinking, 'how endearing'. I hear Roger Corman has a remake coming out. I think Jeff Bridges is going to be in it. I wonder what it will be like. 'Life imitates art' or maybe the other way round?

    • 30 November 2016 at 3:37am
      tonygreenstein says: @ Alex K.
      no multiple doesn't mean two - it means multiple. Try the columns by the anti-Semite Milo Yanopolous for a start.

    • 30 November 2016 at 1:13pm
      pietros says: @ Simon21
      To my knowledge Matthew Tyrmand commented on Anne Applebaum publishing in the Washington post flawed information on Poland. Anne Applebaum happens to be the wife of the former Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, whose politically and personally compromising him tapes were published in Poland in 2014. Defending Poland makes Mathew Tyrmand a Jew suffering from the symptomless anti-Semitism.

  • 25 November 2016 at 4:18pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Leopold Tyrmand - now there's a name from the past who was well known in some US circles during his heyday. Three or four years ago I attended an evening devoted to his writing sponsored by the Polish consulate in Manhattan. Several of the speakers were trying to get American (or English) publishers to take an interest in a new translation of Zly (The Man with White Eyes), his novel that depicted the criminal underworld of Warsaw as it existed during the first post-WWII decade. An older (partial) translation exists, and it's good enough to give the reader an idea of how Tyrmand felt about Polish matters -- it's both moralistic and "magical realist" in the creation of a superhero crime-fighter/private avenger who also has a very flawed and compromised past.

    I don't know about "paleo", but after his emigration to the US in the 60s Tyrmand was certainly a cultural conservative who, through his institute and magazine, expressed views that entwined two major concerns - Western intellectuals were insufficiently alert to the dangers and moral squalor of communism, and Western popular and high culture were always verging on decadence. I can't really remember much about what Tyrmand said about either Zionism or Israel. In many respects he was a very "assimilated" Polish Jew who had a negative view of the primitiveness of Polish culture during his youth, though he did fight on behalf of the vanished Polish state during WWII, none of which won approval from many of his fellow Poles - the usual old paradox and double-standard that characterizes anti-Semitic thinking and even emerges as "anti-Semitism without Jews".

    • 30 November 2016 at 12:50pm
      pietros says: @ Timothy Rogers
      If you mean the years after the WWII, than in order to not be misunderstood you should have said "the primitiveness of the COMMUNIST culture in Poland during Leopold Tyrmand's youth", as this was not the Polish culture, but the Soviet-imposed anti-culture.

    • 2 December 2016 at 3:13pm
      S.J says: @ pietros
      Anti-culture? The Soviet system certainly had a formidable intelligentsia and artistic system in place.

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