Opinion

After Trump, Will Netanyahu Break His Silence on anti-Semitism?

In the worldview of right-wing Israel, whoever hates Muslims is routinely pardoned for hating Jews as well.

 A police patrol car outside the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri  that was vandalized on Tuesday.
Robert Cohen /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

The desecration of the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and a fourth wave of mass bomb threats against Jewish community centers have finally pushed President Donald Trump to issue a full-throated condemnation of “horrible” anti-Semitism. Now, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described himself as leader of the Jewish people, will have no choice but to express some reservations, however faint, about the ongoing assault against his own people.

This is undoubtedly one of the more shameful chapters in the already lopsided relationship between Israel and the biggest Jewish Diaspora, in which American Jews are asked to support us no matter what and we generously ignore them in return. For many months, American Jews have been growing increasingly anxious about a tide of white supremacism, that includes distinct waves of anti-Semitism, that has risen in the wake of Donald Trump’s nativist and nationalistic election campaign — with his active encouragement, some believe — as well as by the White House’s inexplicable omission of Jews from its International Holocaust Day statement.

But until Tuesday night, Trump had steadfastly refused to say anything about the assault on Jews, so Netanyahu and his ministers adopted the pose of the three legendary monkeys: They don’t see, they don’t hear and they definitely don’t protest.

There are several reasons for the Israeli silence of the sissies, and none of them are flattering. No one wants to upset the new sheriff in town, who for some reason interprets allegations of anti-Semitism as a personal attack against him, as he showed last week in his bizarre attack on ultra-Orthodox reporter Jake Turx. Israeli government ministers routinely described Barack Obama as an anti-Semite every time he did or said something they didn’t like, but Trump is being treated with kid gloves, despite the anti-Semitism sprouting all around him, because unlike Obama he is considered — or at least was, until recently — tolerant of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and hostile towards Muslims. Racist right-wing parties in Europe are also being given more leeway, for much the same reason: Whoever hates Muslims is automatically eligible for clemency for hating Jews as well.

Israel, along with the American Jewish establishment, has gone to great lengths in recent years to blur distinctions between classic anti-Semitism and opposition to its existence, criticism of its policies, the international boycott movement and resistance to settlements and the occupation. The new anti-Semitism, it’s called, as if the old one is dead and buried. Right-wing Israel devotes so much energy and resources to fighting Islam and the left and to castigating the BDS movement and civil society NGO's operating in Israel as enemies of humanity, that it can no longer identify anti-Semitism from the racist right, even when it stares it in the face. Perhaps the image comes too close for comfort to their own reflection in the mirror.

These wishy-washy Diaspora Jews are exaggerating, Netanyahu and his ministers must be telling themselves. After all, they voted for Obama and for Hillary Clinton and are probably playing the anti-Semitism card only to embarrass our good friend Trump. Oblivious to the fact that their litany of complaints echoes the words of anti-Semites throughout the ages, many right-wingers, in Israel as well as the United States, view most American Jews as cosmopolitan, universalist, knee-jerk liberals and human-rights lovers who hate settlers and ultra-Orthodox Jews but adore blacks, immigrants and Palestinians. They view them as assimilationist, borderline traitorous and often unworthy of sympathy or help.

Netanyahu is willing to try and placate the American Jewish community and to pretend he cares about them when he feels he has no choice. This is what he planned to do when he still believed that Clinton would win the elections. But now he’s got his new BFF Trump, with his Republican allies and his Evangelical admirers in tow. There’s no reason for him to exert himself. Even if he does finally deign to say something now, his overall attitude over the past few months can be succinctly summed up along the lines of the immortal New York Daily News headline: “Bibi to U.S. Jews: Drop Dead."