Since the beginning of January, a wave of anti-Semitic incidents has swept across the United States. These incidents have included the desecration of three Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats against more than 80 Jewish community centers and schools.
These heinous acts are one part of a nation-wide explosion in hate that has accompanied the election of Donald Trump, whose campaign has often traded in anti-Semitic themes and imagery. But rather than speaking against the white nationalist members of Trump’s political base from which this hatred spews, commentators and officials have been using right-wing hatred as an excuse to smear advocates for Palestinian rights and to silence criticism of Israel.
Former Senator Rick Santorum, for example, peddled the baseless claim on CNN that “the pro-Palestinian or Muslim community” is responsible for “a lot of this anti-Semitism that we’re seeing.” Santorum, who is on record saying that Palestinians do not exist, tried to link these incidents to “what’s going on on college campuses,” presumably meaning pro-Palestinian and pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activism at U.S. colleges. Such an attempt to equate right-wing anti-Semitism with opposition to Israel’s policies is both slanderous and factually incorrect.
Lawmakers in Montana decided to take this false equivalency a step further, last week. Citing an incident in which neo-Nazis urged supporters to target the Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, the state’s House of Representatives advanced a bill that would ban the government from doing business with companies boycotting Israel. While Montana is far from the first state to take such action, explicitly equating opposition to Israel with neo-Nazi abuse abets the true anti-Semitism that emanates from the far right.
Right-wing leaders, Donald Trump foremost amongst them, have failed to confront these roots of America’s anti-Semitism explosion. Indeed, such hatred is embedded within the Trump administration itself, though it has been camouflaged by his aggressive pro-Israel stance, with the aid of prominent Israeli and American Zionist figures.
Major American Zionist figures have embraced the Trump administration’s seedy right-wing because of the president’s support for Israel. Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, attacked those who called former Breitbart head Steve Bannon an anti-Semite. Klein pointed to Bannon’s pro-Israel stance as proof of his love for the Jewish people, and dismissed concerns about the hatred and vitriol spewed by Breitbart under Bannon’s leadership. Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson similarly embraced Trump, calling him the “best president for Israel ever,” according to Haaretz.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been particularly active in whitewashing Trump and his supporters. He has been conspicuously silent about the explosion of anti-Semitism in the United States, which is odd for a person who “has always prided himself on condemning anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it happens,” according to a Haaretz piece by journalist Bradley Burston.
Netanyahu has often used false charges of anti-Semitism to slander Palestinian national aspirations and supporters of Palestinian rights. This includes blaming an early-twentieth-century Palestinian nationalist leader for the Holocaust, referring to the evacuation of illegal Jewish settlements as “ethnic cleansing,” and calling BDS supporters “classical anti-Semites in modern garb,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
Banning speech about Palestinian rights and silencing opposition to Israel will not stem the growing wave of anti-Semitism, since it is Trump’s allies and political base that are responsible for the explosion of hatred against Jewish people. The decision to ignore this reality, because of Trump’s support for Israel, only cripples efforts to target the true source of America’s rising anti-Semitism problem.