By aligning himself with nationalist leaders who foster white supremacy, Netanyahu has abandoned world Jewry in a bid to bolster his own nationalist machinations.
By Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg
For some years now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been forming close diplomatic relations with far-right nationalist world leaders. This alignment might promote Netanyahu’s plan to strengthen Jewish nationalism in Israel, but it concomitantly weakens diaspora Jews and makes them more vulnerable to anti-Semitism and hate crimes in their own countries.
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Over the last five decades, anti-Semitism was in decline, particularly in the United States. Jews in the United States occupy powerful political positions, are key figures in the worlds of business and entertainment, are well integrated into American society. They are American in every sense of the word. However, as the horrific act of terror in a San Diego synagogue painfully reminded us last week, white nationalists and white supremacists have never accepted Jews as equals — or even as white.
White supremacy definitely still exists. Destroying 500 years of institutional structures and the internalization of privileged status is not that easy. Even the election of President Obama was in many ways merely a facade of progressiveness — a false hope. Research has shown that racism against black Americans actually increased during President Obama’s time in office. Furthermore, President Trump’s promise to “make America great again” gave white nationalists and white supremacists a nod to raise their heads and act.
The Anti-Defamation League reported that in the past year, a total of 1,879 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and physical assault were committed against Jews in the United States. This represents the third-highest number of reported incidents since the 1970s.
Netanyahu’s policies and vision for Israel, alongside his narcissism and ambition to stay in power forever, have create divisions not only inside Israeli society but also between Israel and American Jews. Netanyahu’s idea of Israel is not a Jewish nation with equal rights for all, but as an Israeli-Jewish nation — abandoning both non-Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews.
Further, Netanyahu’s my-way-or-the-highway worldview turns American Jews who oppose the occupation or who do not fully support Israeli policies into traitors. To replace the real or anticipated loss of their support, he has looked for allies elsewhere — ones who are comfortable with Israel’s own nationalist underpinnings.
The common denominator between all these leaders — Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Donald Trump — is the often-insinuated but at times overt support of white national supremacy. They endorse and employ hate rhetoric, use racist terms, and undermine the rights of LGBTQ people and women. Their true goal is the promotion of the “old order” — demoting the position of and discriminating against minorities, a category that inescapably and invariably includes Jews.
The national supremacy these leaders promote in their countries is in many ways indistinguishable from Netanyahu’s agenda for Israel. Netanyahu is an intelligent man; every move he makes is calculated wisely and strategically. By aligning himself with far-right nationalist leaders who foster white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and the violence they produce, he has decided to abandon world Jewry in exchange for diplomatic support and the legitimization of his own nationalist machinations.
Israel has become a Jewish state that cares only for Jewish-Israeli citizens, breaking its commitment to protect diaspora Jews, not to mention its obligations to the non-Jews living under Israeli rule.
Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg is an Israeli living in North America. She has a PhD in social work from Tel Aviv University and a post-doctorate from the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on anti-racism in Israel and anti-Semitism in North America. She is also a group facilitator, practices social work, and volunteers with the New Israel Fund in Canada.