In potentially the biggest con ever executed, Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV show celebrity, ascended to the most powerful position in the world – the Presidency of the United States of America. Throughout his election campaign and since his inauguration, Trump has displayed authoritarian rhetoric and tendencies that have begged the question – is the new Republican regime a form of fascism?
To determine whether a regime or politician is fascist in nature it is useful to examine Umberto Eco’s essay “Ur-Fascism”. In it, Eco constructs a list of 14 features typical of Fascism. He states:
“These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”
Trump’s rhetoric and his administration’s deeds so far eerily qualify under multiple categories, including fear of difference, appeal to a frustrated middle class and the practice of what George Orwell called “newspeak”, among others.
The Trump Administration and Anti-Semitism
Since the rise of Trump there has been a spike in incidents of anti-Semitism and a sharp escalation in bomb threats aimed at Jewish community centers. In a recent case that received media attention, a Jewish family was targeted by White nationals and neo-Nazis in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Richard Spencer, an “alt-right” ideologue. Importantly, anti-Semitism is a main principal of the racial theory that guides White supremacy and the “alt-right”.
Trump’s own racist-hued history is well-documented; his campaign received endorsements from famous White supremacists and members of the Ku Klux Klan and he has surrounded himself with the likes of Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart news, a haven for the “alt-right”.
In what many see as an egregious display of anti-Semitism and even Holocaust denial, Trump’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement failed to specifically address the suffering of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, even though racial struggle and the targeting of Jews as an ethnic group set for extermination (i.e. the “Final Solution”) were at the core of Nazi ideology.
Jews, Anti-Semites and Israel
One would logically expect the American Jewish community to unite around vocal opposition and resistance as a response to the new Republican administration’s fascist tendencies and ties to White nationalists and neo-Nazis. Though some rabbis have come out in protest over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, the American Jewish community’s response to the new administration has been weak and split, with one main reason – Israel. Trump and his gang have capitalized on the inherent contradiction between liberal cosmopolitan Jewish values and an ethical emphasis on human rights, and the unjust nationalist policies of Israel towards indigenous Palestinians.
This contradiction was highlighted in a recent debate between Rabbi Matt Rosenberg and Richard Spencer, in which the latter justified the creation of a white “ethno-state” by using the example of the exclusionary Zionist ideology and practices of the state of Israel. The rabbi was left speechless. Accordingly, the term “white Zionism” has been used to describe “alt-right” ideology.
In line with widespread support for Trump in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has been very favorable, even jovial at the prospects of the new Republican administration. With Donald Trump as their champion, the Tea Party represents tribal, misogynist and nationalistic attitudes that are championed by Jewish right-wing Zionists like Netanyahu. In fact, the very idea for the “alt-right” Breitbart news website was conceived in Israel and it has faithfully served as an outlet for the Tea Party, anti-Semitic and Zionist agendas. On a personal level, Trump and Netanyahu are mirror images of each other in their corruption, extravagance and talent in manipulating the press.
But this is nothing new. Zionists and anti-Semites have historically shared mutual interests. While anti-Semites have wanted to get rid of Jews, Zionists have concentrated their efforts on attracting them to Israel’s shores, i.e. Judaizing Israel as a means to fight the “demographic threat” posed by native Palestinians.
Jewish Collaborators and Faux-Friends
In order to guarantee support of the American Jewish community for Israel, which manifests in unparalleled diplomatic and financial backing by the United States government, prominent figures within the American Jewish community have whitewashed and trivialized the contradiction between American Jewish liberal values and the discriminatory policies in Israel. Anyone, but especially Jews, who vocally criticize the injustices perpetuated by Israel against Palestinians or others are marginalized and viciously attacked by Zionist organizations and their members.
Predictably, some of these same apologists are now protecting the new Trump administration. One such example is the lawyer Alan Dershowitz. For years Dershowitz carelessly used the pejorative “anti-Semite” to describe any critics/opponents to Zionism and the state of Israel, including Students for Justice in Palestine and the non-violent Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) organization. When referring to Steve Bannon, however, he claimed that “you should not toss that phrase around casually” and that it is “not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies”. Dershowitz, a so-called guardian of civil liberties, also came out in defense of Trump himself after the recent debacle in which the President disrespectfully called Judge James L. Robart a “so-called judge” on Twitter. Dershowitz remained true to his Trumpophilia stating the President “shows respect for independent judiciary”.
Some claim that it is impossible for Jews or for gentiles who have Jewish friends or family (as in ‘some of my best friends are Black’) to be anti-Semites. In addition, according to Dershowitz and his ilk, those who support the goals of Zionism and the Israeli government are automatically friends of the Jewish people.
This logic is employed to explain away anything reeking of anti-Semitism from Trump’s administration: e.g. the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is married to a Jewish man, Jared Kushner, their family are members of the orthodox politically right-wing Hassidic Chabad movement, and the President has ‘beautiful Jewish grandchildren’. What’s more, Trump’s new appointee for Israeli ambassador, David Friedman, is an orthodox Jew and staunch Zionist who subscribes to the fantasy of Greater Israel. This same sort of rationale is employed by Breitbart contributor and “alt-right” ideologue Milo Yiannopoulos, who has Jewish heritage and is openly gay (another community persecuted by the Nazis).
These anecdotes prove that the exclusionary versions of Zionism that Israel has adopted since its inception are contradictory to an expression of Judaism as an ethical tradition unbound by race or nation state. Instead, Jewish political Zionism developed as a secular ideology, with nationalistic and messianic overtones inspired by and coming from Christian Zionism (which predates the Jewish version) and the more contemporary Jewish far-right. As such, it is directly aligned with (fascistic) racist views that promote a form of global apartheid, now championed by Trump and his new Republican administration.
Against Fascism, White supremacy and Zionism
Israel was inspired by the aspect of Zionist ideology that argued for the necessity of a safe refuge and homeland for the Jewish people who suffered persecution and trauma. Zionism has led to noteworthy accomplishments: Israel has served as a model for nation-building and Israelis have managed to revitalize ancient Hebrew into a modern and vibrant language. Zionism helped create an image of a new Jew – one who works the land, fights in all dimensions for his/her rights, and raises his/her head tall and proud.
However, as with all settler-colonialist and exclusivist projects, the indigenous population has paid the price. As a result of political Zionism and Israeli policies, Palestinians have undergone a process of ethnic cleansing and genocide to make room for non-native Jewish settlers.
As the blooming relationship between the Trump administration and Israeli politicians and apologists shows, the ethno-centric character of Israel shares many attributes with- and has been a source of inspiration for- American White nationalism, now embodied in Trump’s administration.
In order to effectively fight this new administration and protect community members against the growing tide of anti-Semitism, American Jews need to recognize these parallels, come to terms with the failure of political Zionism and renounce collaborators such as Alan Dershowitz and David Friedman.
To counter Trump it is essential that American Jews fight against all ethno-centric, exclusivist forces, including fascism, White supremacy and Zionism. The long history of trauma and persecution must guide Jews in a quest to vanquish these forces alike toward a vision of justice, freedom and equality for all.
This piece first appeared on Mondoweiss.