Palestine and anti-Semitism in the Age of Trump

Heaven help us. Is Trump playing us all for chumps as he supports hard-line Zionists while also allying with anti-Semites? Villager file photo by Milo Hess
Heaven help us. Is Trump showing different faces and playing us all for chumps as he supports hard-line Zionists while also allying with anti-Semites? Villager file photo by Milo Hess

BY BILL WEINBERG | This week comes the news that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to become senior White House adviser. Team Trump is weaseling around the nepotism restrictions by claiming they don’t apply to the White House itself because it isn’t an “agency.”

The Villager provided a profile of Kushner last month, when he was named as likely “special envoy” to the Middle East. His top credential (apart from being son-in-law)? Being a hard-right Zionist, of course.

Kushner apparently wrote Trump’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March, which bashed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as treating Israel “very, very badly,” and pledged to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Why was this written up in The Villager? Kushner is a major East Village landlord. As Jared was writing Trump’s AIPAC speech, his real estate company was in court over failure to provide basic services at neighborhood properties.

And where are the proceeds from those properties going? The family’s Kushner Foundation is a donor to what The Forward called the most “hard-line, ideological settlements” on the West Bank.

Two anti-Semitic stereotypes for the price of one! Zionist hardliner and sleazy New York landlord.

And this from the same Trump that has appointed Stephen Bannon, head of “alt-right” (read: white nationalist) Breitbart News, as counselor — which famously inspired Nazi salutes and cries of “Hail Trump!” at an “alt-right” confab at a D.C. convention center in November.

They are practically setting up the anti-Semitic backlash that they are already exploiting in fascistic manner. You almost have to admire their chutzpah.

This also points to a global symmetry: Displacement of the proles in the East Village; displacement of Palestinians on the West Bank.

Adding to the Orwellian nature of this all, Trump’s right-wing Zionist allies are not shy about using charges of anti-Semitism against their opponents on the left.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu, explicitly advocating annexation of the West Bank. Of course Friedman says those who accuse Trump supporters of anti-Semitism “sound like morons.” He called even liberal Zionists who oppose him, such as J Street (the alternative to AIPAC), “far worse than kapos” — the enforcers at the Nazi death camps.

Some progressive Jews are not intimidated. Under the banner of “Jewish Resistance,” hundreds rallied in November outside Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt, where the Zionist Organization of America annual gala was held — with featured speaker announced as Bannon. The “alt-right” mouthpiece did not show, for unexplained reasons. But protesters were outraged he was invited. Solidarity between Jews and Muslims was a central theme of the rally, with a common chant being:


The traditional Jewish establishment is divided, with the Anti-Defamation League decrying Bannon, and the Z.O.A. embracing him. We will now see how much overt Nazism conservative Jews will stomach in exchange for an aggressively pro-Israel position.

Contradictions around this question were heightened by the U.N. Security Council’s approval last month of Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to cease settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The measure only  passed because the U.S. abstained rather than using its veto — for the first time regarding a resolution against West Bank settlements since 1980. It was revealed that Trump tried to derail the vote by pressuring Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to withdraw it.

Some influential Jewish voices are more aghast at Obama abstaining from the vote than at Trump for allying with white nationalists. After the vote, Ruth R. Wisse wrote in column in the Wall Street Journal: “Obama’s anti-Israel politics show the need for the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.” This bill would designate “delegitimizing” or “demonizing” Israel as anti-Semitism. The column contained not a word about Bannon.

Rebecca Vilkomerson is director of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the groups that called the rally at the Z.O.A. She also worked in Israel with Anarchists Against the Wall, a group that opposes Israel’s West Bank “separation barrier” that was ruled illegal by the World Court in 2004.

“I was glad it happened,” she said of the U.S. abstention. “Although for Obama, I thought it was eight years too late.”

She recalled that Obama spoke against Israeli settlement expansion at his Cairo speech back in 2009.

“That being said, I watched the vote and there was something very powerful in seeing Israel’s isolation,” she said. “That was a real reflection of the global consensus.”

Vilkomerson has no patience with notions that opposition to Israel’s West Bank colonization is anti-Semitism.

“It’s not based in reality,” she said. “The settlements are considered illegal by U.S. policy and by international law that says you can’t conquer territory and move your own people into it. It is baseless and, frankly, quite dangerous.”

And the notion that the West Bank was the “Judea and Samaria” of the ancient Hebrews?

“States are not based on religious texts,” Vilkomerson stated. “Israel is a modern state created in modern times by a vote of the U.N. That’s the basis of its legitimacy.”

Of the incoming Trump, she said: “Moving the embassy to Jerusalem and supporting a policy of annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are extremely dangerous and not going to lead anywhere good.”

Vilkomerson also emphasized “our responsibilities in the domestic realm,” noting the Network Against Islamophobia initiated by J.V.P., which held a Hanukkah vigil in Union Square.

“We’ll be a part of whatever opposition front is going to emerge to confront the intersecting issues we’re all going to be facing here,” she assured.

Riham Barghouti, a New York-based Palestinian activist, is a founder of Adalah-NY, which advocates for a boycott of Israel. While she said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the U.S. abstention, she takes a somewhat cynical view of it.

“I believe the decision to abstain from Resolution 2334 was more of a way to undermine the incoming administration of Donald Trump than to protect Palestinian rights,” she offered. “I think that if Hillary Clinton were to have won the election the Obama administration would have vetoed the resolution to ensure continuing good relations with Israel.”

She pointed to Obama’s recent approval of $38 billion in aid to Israel over the next 10 years — “the largest single pledge of military assistance in US history.”

Barghouti acknowledged, “The upcoming period under the Trump administration promises to be quite challenging.” But she added: “At least, with Trump there will be clarity. There won’t be any false expectations of U.S. support to Palestinians… . A number of so-called progressives and even the Palestinian Authority have long been able to hide behind the screen of the so-called peace process… . With Trump and Netanyahu, that shield will be gone and everyone will have to declare their allegiance to either maintain the colonization, occupation and apartheid policies of Israel or support Palestinian self-determination.”

Sarah Schulman is a native to the East Village; she was born on E. 10th St., and has lived in the neighborhood nearly her whole life. She is author of, among other books, “Israel / Palestine and the Queer International.” In 2011, she organized the first U.S. tour of Palestinian queer leaders, to oppose “pinkwashing” — Israel’s exploitation of its gay-friendly image for public relations.

“There are queer Palestinians, just like there are queers everywhere,” she said.

She also serves on the advisory board of J.V.P., and as faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine at College of Staten Island, where she is distinguished professor of humanities.

Schulman gives the Obama White House some credit.

“I think some in the administration have been  troubled for a long time about the hypocrisy of the U.S. position,” she said. “Obama and Kerry may understand there is an apartheid system in Israel that is unjust and violates international law.”

Unleashed by Trump, Israel is likely to become “even more brutal,” she predicted. But she also sees an opening for a critique of the two-state solution.

“With 600,000 settlers on the West Bank, the ability to create two discrete states is diminished,” she noted. “All human beings who live in the same geographic area should have equal rights.”

On the other hand, she said, a future single state, “where everyone has equal citizenship rights regardless of race or religion,” stands in contrast to the single state sought by Israel’s annexationists — “a Jewish supremacy system where Palestinian people are subordinated.”

Schulman takes the accusations of anti-Semitism personally.

“Now that there are people in Trump’s circle who are actual anti-Semites, it’s an extremely dangerous game to pretend that people who want Israel to comply with international law have any prejudicial motivations,” she said.

When I pointed out that actual Jew-haters will inevitably seek to exploit the Palestine issue, she responded: “Yes, but someone like me with two Jewish names? It is highly cynical and frightening.”

Schulman’s view of Trump is unsparing.

“We are watching our society collapse before our very eyes right now,” she said. “We are facing a new regime of profound illegality, because of its conflicts of interests. And his intentions are immoral — to eliminate the public sector and construct society at the service of corporations entirely.”

Schulman especially warns against the temptation to sell out.

“Historically, under McCarthyism or fascism or whatever, people made grabs for immediate power by currying favor with the powerful,” she said. “It’s important to remember that these periods do pass. We have to understand what our core values are so we can hold on to them.”

More from around NYC