Skip to main content

Trump and Netanyahu are enabling anti-semitism, Jewish American activist warns

Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace tells MEE that the global far-right is being emboldened by Israel and pro-Israel politicians
Demonstrators with Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago protest President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (AFP)

LONDON - The head of one of America’s leading Jewish pro-Palestine groups has warned that the global far-right is being emboldened by Israel and pro-Israel politicians in the US, who are turning a blind eye to rising anti-semitism.

Her warning comes in the wake of the worst anti-semitic attack in US history on a Jewish synagogue in Pitsburgh that left 11 elderly worshippers dead, with some US Jewish groups blaming Trump's rhetoric for stoking hatred.

I’ve never experienced anything like I did after Pittsburgh and it was exclusively from right-wing Jews - Israeli and American. It was shocking

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace

Speaking to Middle East Eye ahead of attending a conference hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in London, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Rebecca Vilkomerson said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump were both complicit in allowing the spread of anti-semitic ideas.

“One thing that has definitely happened in the Trump era is that supporting Israel has become a stand-in for supporting Jews," she said.

"In the Trump era you can love Israel and still hate Jews and often I think a deal with the devil is being made by a lot of Jewish organisations, that as long as a person supports Israel they give them a pass on anti-semitism."

Jews being blamed

She cited the tendency of US Republicans, including Trump, to increasingly push anti-semitic tropes online, particularly with reference to the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. Soros has also been criticised by the American right for holding pro-Palestinian positions.

“People in power are using these anti-semitic memes - it all feels very different to me. Even three years ago there was no proximity to power. Anti-semitism was there very much on the fringes. It’s still not structural, thank God, but it’s in the air," she said.

"There’s maybe plausible deniability still, but it’s getting weaker and weaker."

Although though there has been an outpouring of support for the Jewish community in America since the Pittsburg massacre, it has also sparked a great deal of controversy.

Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 31, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (AFP)

Left-wing Jewish groups say Trump has helped create the conditions for the massacre through his inflammatory remarks and policies, as well as his apparent tolerance for racist rhetoric.

Meanwhile Vice President Mike Pence's decision to appear alongside Loren Jacobs, a defrocked rabbi from the messianic Jews For Jesus group, as he led prayers two days after the event was roundly criticised by a number of Jewish groups.

According to Rabbi Efraim Davidson, of the Torah Atlanta group, "Jews for Jesus use aggressive proselytising to target disenfranchised or unaffiliated Jews, Russian immigrants and college students.

“Their techniques are manipulative, deceptive and anti-semitic,” he added.

Conversely, Vilkomerson said that in the days following the killing she recieved repeated messages from Jews accusing her and JVP of being "part of the problem" and helping to stoke the flames of anti-semitism themselves with their activism.

“I’ve never experienced anything like I did after Pittsburgh and it was exclusively from right-wing Jews - Israeli and American. It was shocking," she said.

"I think we have a fairly constant, fairly low level of attack on us that occasionally spikes, but in general it’s both from right-wing anti-semites and right-wing Zionists.”

JVP has long been considered one of the most radical of the Jewish pro-Palestinian organisations in the United States. Compared with groups such as J Street or Americans For Peace Now, JVP actively support the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a position that has led to the group being blacklisted in Israel.

Banned from Israel

Despite Israel's laws on "aliyah" officially allowing Jews anywhere in the world to emigrate to Israel and acquire citizenship, a law passed in January targeting the BDS movement means that Vilkomerson and other JVP members have found themselves banned from the country.

It’s very difficult for me and my family - my husband is Israeli and my kids have Israeli citizenship and my in-laws are both 80 years old and I can’t go anymore and it’s extremely hard

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace

“It’s very difficult for me and my family - my husband is Israeli and my kids have Israeli citizenship and my in-laws are both 80 years old and I can’t go anymore and it’s extremely hard," she said.

She added, however, that recent cases of American Jewish activists being denied entry to Israel, or being detained while attempting to enter, have raised the profile of Israel's treatment of Palestinians and other Arabs at the borders.

“Israel has targeted Palestinian activists in this way for a long time, but it's getting attention now because it’s Jews that are being targeted, but in a lot of ways what it's done is brought out into the air policies that have been underground for a long time."

Neo-fascists

The links between the Netanyahu government and hard right parties worldwide was seen again this week with the warm welcome in Israel for the election in Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro as president.

On Sunday, shortly after Bolsonaro - a man who has been branded a fascist for his support for Brazil’s previous military dictatorship - was elected, Netanyahu called to congratulate him.

“I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our nations and to a strengthening of Israel-Brazil ties,” he said, adding that he was "looking forward" to Bolsonaro visiting his country, as he has promised to do on his first foreign trip.

In an interview with the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, published on Thursday, Bolsonaro reiterated a promise to move the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following on from a similar move by the Trump administration in May.

Whose freedom? Israeli niqab ad for clothing brand sparks controversy
Read More »

Brazil would be the third country to do so, breaking with years of global consensus which views such a move as tantamount to recognising Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war.

Vilkomerson said that Netanyahu, who was first elected prime minister in 1996 and has been in office since 2009, had been in the "avant-garde" of a wave of right-wing politicians who were taking power across the globe.

She cited his willingness to turn a blind eye to racist and anti-semitic behaviour and language by the like of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Bolsonaro in exchange for strengthening an international ultra-nationalist alliance.

“I think he’s making a pretty conscious choice that the alliances that are worth it for him are with these right-wing, authoritarian, neo-fascist governments,” she said.

“There’s a real global trend of these neo-fascists taking power and the Israeli government is really at the forefront quite proudly, and they’ve made a clear choice."

Plummeting support

Despite the resurgence of the far-right, Vilkomerson said that she was pleased to see that the reign of Trump had provoked a similar resurgence in left-wing, progressive politics, which - possibly in contrast to the right's embrace of Israel - included a heavy dose of pro-Palestinian attitudes.

A poll released by YouGov last week appeared to show that support for Israel in the US was "plummeting" among liberals, women and the young - three demographics that are also among the most hostile to Trump.

Two Muslim women in Congress: What can they achieve in Washington?
Read More »

This has coincided with a rise in new left-wing, pro-Palestinian candidates in the Democratic party, as bipartisan support for Israel fragments.

Over the summer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Illhan Omar and Rachida Tlaib all won victories or nominations for the Democrats while espousing viewpoints sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

“It’s part of a broader agenda - they’re not pro-Palestine candidates, they’re candidates who support a living wage, they’re candidates who support single-payer healthcare, they’re concerned about police violence and they’re concerned about Palestinian rights," said Vilkomerson.

"Palestinian rights are being integrated into that progressive agenda and there’s sort of a recognition that that’s one of the things you beleive in if you have this broad-based progressive coalition.”