By William K. Black
September 23, 2019 Kansas City, MO
Muslims and Jews in America and Israel share some common experiences. In Israel and the territories Israel occupies, they are the targets of murderous hate from each other. They have competing, horrid stories of mistreatment by other ethnic and religious communities and each other that go back over a thousand years.
In the United States, the relationship between Muslims and Jews is vastly better, but mixed. The American hate killers of Jews and Muslims are overwhelmingly right-wing supremacists who hate Jews, Muslims, people of color, and the ‘left.’ So far, the nightmare scenario of waves of revenge pogroms by American Jews and Muslims has not occurred. We all need to work to prevent that nightmare from ever occurring.
Not suffering murderous waves of religiously based pogroms is, of course, the minimum we should ensure. We want to go vastly beyond that minimum to minimize bias against Muslims and Jews and build solidarity. In many ways, American Muslims and Jews are natural friends and allies. This solidarity often exists in America, so the goal is realistic. However, we know that many Americans are bigoted against Jews and Muslims – and many American Jews and Muslims are bigoted when it comes to the other religious community.
Into this mix, we need to add Israel and Palestine. That takes the complexity and mutual grievances up twelve notches.
The political leaders of the United States and Israel are working to ramp up murderous hatred against Muslims. Many political leaders of majority-Muslim nations have worked for a century to do the same against Jews. Americans see nearly every week a manifestation of President Trump’s hate for Muslims and other minorities. Americans are far less likely to know how Israeli political parties, members of the ruling coalition, have taken to spewing hate against their fellow citizens who are Muslims.
The politicians spewing the hate have three goals. First, they want to discredit the concept of Israel being a democratic state in which the political leadership represents all the citizens. Second, they want to terrorize Israeli Jews into believing that their fellow citizens are genocidal murderers out to kill their children. The goal was to maximize turnout of Jews who would vote for the Israeli parties spewing hate against Muslims. Third, they wanted to terrorize Israeli Muslims into not voting – and emigrating. Israelis know these facts. The hate campaign by Israel’s ruling coalition appalled many Israeli Jews, but it was the primary ‘pitch’ to vote for several parties in the ruling coalition. Israeli Jews divide, roughly evenly on the fundamental issue of what kind of nation Israel should be.
Until a few years ago, it was unthinkable that great democracies like the United States and Israel could have political leaders seeking to get their citizens to hate their fellow-citizens on religious grounds. Americans are aware of how open Trump’s racism is, but what is remarkable is the fact that Trump’s Israeli counterparts employ a rhetoric of hate so murderous that it makes Trump appear to be a minor league bigot.
Prior to the recent election, Prime Minister Netanyahu recruited to his ruling coalition a party whose overriding ‘pitch’ to its voters is that its hero is a mass murderer of Muslims at prayer in a Mosque. Its overriding desire is to murder or terrorize Israeli Muslims to flee Israel and make Israel a nation of exclusively Jewish citizens.
Netanyahu’s party, Likud, expressed its hate for Israeli Muslims so aggressively that even social media eventually pulled the plug on its gutter of on-lite hate. Likud claimed that Israeli Muslims seek a genocide of all their Jewish fellow-citizens, including infants. Netanyahu blamed it all on some junior campaign volunteer. Trump spews his own hate. Netanyahu spews hate, but he creates deniability by outsourcing to junior minions his vilest blood libels against Israeli Muslims. I have not quoted the hate statements because they are so vile and I will not spread them.
Netanyahu appointed to senior government positions ministers who despised American Jews.
Typically, the education minister of Israel gets little attention outside of Israel. But the current occupant of that job, Rafi Peretz of the far-right United Right faction, set off a major international controversy on Wednesday. That’s when news broke that, during a briefing on American Jewry by a prominent American Jew, Peretz labeled intermarriage between American Jews and non-Jews as being “like a second Holocaust.”
To label this comment “offensive” is a severe understatement. Fifty-eight percent of American Jews have non-Jewish spouses, per a 2013 Pew survey. Telling the majority of American Jews that they are perpetrating genocide on their own people is about as inflammatory as it gets.
Trump is Netanyahu’s great political ally. Their shared hate for Muslims is their strongest bond. Trump’s paramount goal, however, is to get American Jews to vote for him. Trump‘s most noxious recent statements about American Jews stem from the limited success of this strategy, which flows from his false and bigoted assumption that American Jews’ first loyalty is to a corrupt, bigoted Netanyahu regime. He cannot understand that Netanyahu’s hate of two million fellow citizens, his Trump-like corruption, and his repeated abuses of the rule of law appall millions of American Jews. Trump conflates Netanyahu with Israel and Israelis. When Trump thinks of Israelis, he excludes over two million Israeli Muslims.
We must hold political leaders running democratic governments to the highest standards. They must represent all the citizens. They must work to bring together the citizenry rather than to sow racial or religious division and hate.
Jews and Muslims are victims, and sometimes perpetrators, of religious hate. Anyone even moderately familiar with history knows that there are rival historical narratives about Israel and Palestine. The dueling narratives typically deny the legitimacy, not simply the accuracy, of the rival view.
Second Verse: The Corrupt Betsy DeVos Piles On
Trump is opening another front in the effort to use our government’s power to attack those who seek justice for Muslims. Betsy DeVos, his most corrupt cabinet officer – a large statement – is leading this effort. The plan is to cut off Department of Education funding of universities that do not act as sycophants for Netanyahu and Trump. DeVos has unleashed an anti-civil right official, who she appointed to run the protection of civil rights because of his position that it should be legal to refuse to hire gays. As expected, DeVos is threatening to cut off federal funds to universities that present critical views of Netanyahu’s campaign of religious hate – and programs that call for protections of LGBTQ people from discrimination! The threat to academic freedom is frontal and total.
DeVos and her anti-gay ‘civil rights’ officer’s assault on academic freedom prompted immediate condemnation by the pro-Netanyahu American academics. [Just kidding.]
The department’s action “should be a wake-up call,” said Miriam Elman, an associate professor at Syracuse University…. She added, “What they’re saying is, ‘If you want to be biased and show an unbalanced view of the Middle East, you can do that, but you’re not going to get federal and taxpayer money.’”
Professor Elman’s zealous support for Trump’s anti-civil rights ‘civil rights’ head’s assault on academic freedom is premised on the hilarious premise that Trump, DeVos, and her gay-despising ‘civil rights’ head are “[un]biased” and present a “balanced view of the Middle East.” DeVos is a leading corrupt liar in the most corrupt and dishonest administration in history, and an administration that is openly racist and bigoted against Muslims. Elman claims this group of bigoted liars seek to end bias and ensure objective, factual balance. Elman is so unbalanced in her own positions that she is rooting for the federal government dictating to professors what position they should take on geopolitical issues. Elman, rather than calling on people to repudiate Netanyahu and Trump’s campaigns of hate against Muslims, spread this falsehood.
Elman said in response to the [“Free Palestine”] chant that Israel has always fought to advance the cause of civil rights.
First, objecting to the chant “Free Palestine” is extraordinary. Israel continues to occupy Palestine. The U.S. position historically was the world position – the continued occupation violates international law. Elman, however, thinks that anyone that does not support Israel’s occupation of Palestine poses a grave threat to Israeli Jews. She attacked a group of progressive Jews, “If Not Now, When? (INN) for opposing the occupation. INN opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but Elman considers any opposition to the occupation such a menace that she claims INN betrays Jews.
INN legitimizes hostility toward Israel, emboldens its enemies, and ultimately has the potential to put fellow Jews at risk.
Second, while Israel had a history of advancing the cause of civil rights, its ruling coalition has not simply abandoned advancing the cause of civil rights. With regard to Israeli citizens who are Muslims, Israel’s ruling coalition is racing to destroy their civil rights, demonize them through classic blood libels, justify their mass expulsion, and justify their removal of citizenship. The ruling coalition’s hate for Israeli Muslims is so great that Netanyahu deliberately invited a party that glorifies the mass murder of unarmed Muslims at prayer in a place of worship into his coalition.
Netanyahu, in the lead-up to the election, sought to emphasize his disdain for Israeli Muslims.
“Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” he wrote in response to criticism from an Israeli actor, Rotem Sela. “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.
“As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us….”
Passing a law declaring that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens” – that it is a state only of Jews was an appalling act from any Western perspective. Netanyahu insisted on the act solely for political reasons – to signal to the most bigoted portion of his base that he embraced their hate of Israeli Muslims. Israeli Muslims do not have “equal rights.” Netanyahu knows this because the same law declared that “Jewish settlements” were in the national interest, embracing discrimination against Israeli non-Jews.
Netanyahu’s ruling coalition includes religious parties that do not view most American Jews as “Jews.” Their religious leaders, for example, refused to refer to the Conservative “Tree of Life” synagogue that was the site of the right-wing anti-Semitic mass murder of Jews as a “synagogue.” Politically and religiously, there are profound differences between Israeli and American Jews.
Elman views Jews as under siege in America.
The following article is a modified version of remarks prepared by Dexter Van Zile for the Academic Engagement Network’s 2019 Meeting in San Diego which took place last month. The author would like to thank AEN’s executive director Miriam Elman for the invitation to speak at the conference.
The title of the article is “Ordinary Christians Pose a Threat to Jewish Safety.”
As a Christian, I admit that Christianity has a terrible record of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and hate for all rival religions. I oppose BDS, so my position on these issues is centrist. As a non-Jewish and non-Muslim American and academic, I also stress the positive. There is an enormous reservoir of goodwill – not mere ‘tolerance – among over 200 million Americans. That goodwill extends beyond WASPs to Jews, Muslims, blacks, Latinos, gays – to the entire wondrous mosaic that makes up America. Academics overwhelmingly share that goodwill.
That leaves roughly 100 million Americans who have powerful prejudices against the usual victims of bias. That is a critical problem. It has fueled Trump’s worst policies and hates. These forms of bias exist in the academy, but they are uncommon and the subject of scorn.
There is extraordinary support for Israel and Israelis in America and the academy. No other nation or people has ever aroused and sustained the intense love, support, and hopes of so many Americans for 70 years. The U.S. “special relationship” with the UK was real. (Trump may destroy it). That special relationship, however, was never passionate. For my generation, the American love affair with Israel has been our defining geopolitical romance.
I add a voice of hope for scholars like Elman. I work with many progressive scholars. It is my impression that Elman fears that anti-Semitism is common among such scholars when they speak among each other. None of the progressive scholars I speak has ever made an anti-Semitic statement in my presence. They are critical of Netanyahu’s corruption and religious hatred. They hold Israel, the only long-functioning democracy in the Middle East, to high standards because low-expectations is a formula that produces low performance. All parents know the value of high expectations.
It is insane to demand that Americans hold Israel and America to the same (pathetically low) standards of expectations we have of authoritarian states and polities like China, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Syria, the PLO, and North Korea. Expecting grotesque misconduct and corruption from Israeli or American governments akin to these authoritarian cesspools would be a prescription for global disaster. Our standards and expectations for American and Israeli practices and policies should be exemplary. We should be a light unto the world. We should work to repair the ills of the world – not add to them. Anything less should be condemned – and rectified as a matter of utmost urgency.
Israel and America have long claimed to be “exceptional.” Too often, these claims are historically bogus, but the central point is that one cannot both claim to be “exceptional” and complain that others hold you to your self-proclaimed standard. It is obscene and dishonest to try to label this ‘bigotry.’ Which Americans and Israelis do not want their nations to strive to be exceptional? Which Americans and Israelis wish to condemn those who criticize their leaders when they betray their nation’s most exemplary traditions?
Americans and Israelis of goodwill will have to work for years to undo the fetid sewer of hate and corruption that Trump and Netanyahu have unleashed on our once great nations. It will take years of sustained effort and critical self-examination by those who praised that sewer of hate to restore the greatness of our countries. The dueling historical Arab and Jewish claims of the perfidious ‘other’ will never lead to consensus and certainly never lead to peace for Israel.
The occupation has to end. It is a cancer. Decades ago, that cancer led to widespread necrosis from the perspective of Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli Jews would never surrender to an occupation. They would resist with every means at their disposal. Israelis know the Palestinians will resist the occupation. Israel can, illegally, follow Putin and purport to ‘annex’ more and more Palestinian land. If it does so, it has two choices, both horrific. It can make hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the annexed territories Israeli citizens – or drive or coerce them out of the new ‘Greater Israel.’ It can openly remove the votes from non-Jews. Israel can persist, but it will never again be a democratic state. It will never again be a light onto the world. It will be a corrupt, sectarian state premised on religious hatred and supremacy.
Every American President before Trump has shared two views about Israel since its creation as a modern state. The first is immense support. The U.S. has always been Israel’s ally. Both of our political parties fervently support Israel. To differing extents, there has also been a tension. The U.S. has been the best kind of friend to Israel – a friend willing to serve as an honest broker to seek regional peace. From the Palestinian perspective, it has always been clear that “honest broker” has never meant “neutral” or “unbiased.” The U.S., to its credit, has not claimed to be neutral or biased. Trump is the first President to refuse to be an honest broker, to demonize Muslims, and to praise an Israeli PM for creating a sewer of hate against Israeli and non-Israeli Muslims. Trump and Netanyahu are threatening the continued American consensus of immense, unbroken support for Israel for 70 years.