Israeli government representatives, from Benjamin Netanyahu on down, have expressed Israel’s heartfelt condolences in the wake of Saturday’s massacre of 11 elderly Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
Unfortunately, their message of sympathy is being undermined by the shameful effort of Israel’s top diplomats in the U.S. to absolve Donald Trump of any responsibility for fomenting an atmosphere of right-wing hate and, even more outrageously, to implicate anti-Semitism on the left instead.
For many American Jews, Trump’s cardinal sin is the false equivalence he created between neo-Nazis and leftist demonstrators in the wake of the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which Heather Heyer was killed.
There are “fine people” on both sides, Trump said, infuriating Americans in general and American Jews in particular. This did not deter Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and New York Consul General Dani Dayan, however, from using the same odious analogy.
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Rather than focus on the neo-Nazi credentials of Pittsburgh perpetrator Robert Bowers or on Florida’s serial pipe-bomber Cesar Sayoc’s endless admiration for Trump, Dermer and Dayan opted to muddy the waters. The two senior diplomats emulated the U.S. president by obfuscating the clear-cut white supremacist backdrop of the Pittsburgh atrocity and, in Dermer’s case, by commending Trump’s statement after the attack.
The statement was “the strongest ever made by a non-Israeli leader," Dermer said, without batting an eyelid.
“I see a lot of people who attack Jews on both sides,” Dermer added, as if Bowers’ mass murder, the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, was commensurate in any way shape or form with other recent anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israeli attacks.
Both diplomats cited Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s despicable Jews-as-termites slur, ignoring the fact that, given the opportunity, both Bowers and Sayoc would have probably shot Farrakhan on sight.
Dayan even mentioned Minnesota Congressional candidate IIhan Omar, who said that Israel is “hypnotizing the world,” as if Bowers or Sayoc had ever heard of her, never mind being influenced by Omar’s disturbing rhetoric.
Dermer and Dayan could have easily skirted the issue entirely and refrained from blaming either Trump or right-wing incitement for Bowers’ actions. As diplomats, all they had to say was that, as foreign diplomats, they preferred to stay out of America’s internal political debates.
Instead, they pushed the same kind of preposterous theories and immoral equivalences routinely championed by Trump, as if they were voicing talking points issued by the White House. Given their performance, it’s not unreasonable to expect Dayan and Dermer to now follow up on Trump’s tantrum tweet on Monday, in which he blamed the “Fake News Media” for sparking “the flame of anger and outrage.”
Dayan and Dermer’s concerted efforts to shield Trump from criticism can’t be a coincidence. Both are implementing a deliberate policy decision to curry favor with Trump, even if at the risk of exacerbating Israel’s already tense relations with the American Jewish community.
While Netanyahu waxes empathetic from Jerusalem, going so far as to confront Orthodox Israeli rabbis who refuse to describe Tree of Life as a proper Jewish synagogue, his two senior spokespersons in the U.S. are actively defending Trump, who many American Jews view as the main catalyst for their growing insecurity and fear.
Not that either Dayan or Dermer were speaking out of character, mind you. Like Trump, the Israeli right, inspired by Netanyahu, habitually downplays right-wing incitement and routinely magnifies leftist dissent to monstrous proportions. They conveniently ignore the fact that all – not most, but all – of Israel’s political violence in recent decades has emanated from the right, from the settlers’ Jewish Underground through Hebron mass murderer Baruch Goldstein to Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir and many others in between. Like Netanyahu and his acolytes, the two diplomats intentionally conflate classic anti-Semitism, which Bowers’ exemplified in a particularly evil manner, with current anti-Israel agitation on campuses and elsewhere.
Needless to say, Bowers did not shoot elderly Jews in cold blood because he rejects the occupation, supports BDS or opposes Netanyahu. On the contrary, his murderous rampage was sparked by the widespread American Jewish support for immigrants and refugees, which Netanyahu and others view as naive and self-destructive, in Israel as in the U.S.
The two diplomats also reflected the converse view, widely held in the Israeli right, that Trump’s support for Netanyahu’s right-wing policies somehow absolves the U.S. president a priori of encouraging or espousing anti-Semitism. Trump’s anti-Semitic assertion in December 2015 that Jews only support candidates that they can buy with money; his loud anti-Semitic dog whistle in a political ad on the final day of the presidential campaign; his Charlottesville statements and his dogged refusal to clearly condemn white supremacist groups and other troubling incidents are all swept under the carpet by Israel’s official representatives.
After all, Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and turned his back on the Palestinians – what more could a proud Israeli Jew ask for?
Dermer also rejected the claim, acknowledged by a growing number of American Jews, that attacks on George Soros, which have proliferated since Trump began to tear into the Hungarian-born billionaire, are “necessarily” anti-Semitic. He didn’t have much of a choice, given that Netanyahu and other right-wingers regularly savage Soros as the sinister mastermind behind critics of their policies. And yes, in their particularly Israeli way, their attacks also carry the stench of latent anti-Semitism, albeit one limited to fellow Jews who share Soros’ views.
Rather than using the shock and grief that has gripped American Jewry since the attack to mend fences and renew dialogue, Dermer and Dayan chose to add egregious insult to the critical injury suffered on Saturday by American Jewry. Both are intelligent men and must surely realize their statements could enrage many American Jews, in their time of anguish and pain.
Though a minority of American Jews probably agrees with Dermer and Dayan, for many, if not for most, the message conveyed by the Israeli diplomats was loud and clear. Between a controversial U.S. president who serves Netanyahu’s purposes and a grieving Jewish Diaspora in need of reassurance and consolation, Netanyahu and his agents left no doubt which side they’re on.