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Netanyahu's silence on Trump and anti-Semitism

Netanyahu built his career on the idea that only he can protect the Jewish people. Yet his silence in the face of Trump’s disregard for rising American anti-Semitism speaks volumes. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One year ago, former president Barack Obama delivered a speech on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in which he declared, “We are all Jews.” This is a far cry from the statement issued by the Trump Administration last week, which made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism at all. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has since said that he does not regret the omission, but that “obviously” all of the Jewish people were “affected in the miserable genocide.” Apparently so obvious it does not warrant mention. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went on to call the widespread backlash from both Jewish groups and Democrats as “pathetic” and added that “the president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.”

It is hard to say whether the omission was a deliberate calculation that, as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and others have already deemed, “soft-core Holocaust denial,” or simply an incredibly insensitive and disingenuous oversight. But what I can say is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s silence on the matter is resounding. The Israeli leader who never misses an opportunity to invoke the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, or the threat of the elimination of the Jewish state has remained utterly silent on this matter.

This is the same prime minister who never missed an opportunity to criticize or outright undermine Obama. Yet in this case he seems to be going out of his way to avoid any criticism of Trump. When asked for comment, Netanyahu spokesperson David Keyes told me, “I don’t have anything on that.” Netanyahu’s silence is even more deafening considering that staunchly conservative, pro-Trump, pro-Israel hawkish groups like The Republican Jewish Coalition, and the Zionist Organization of America broke ranks and criticized the White House statement.

At Yad Vashem on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu implored: “Any person of conscience should speak out about resurgence of same attitude that decades ago openly said we are out to destroy Jewish people…. As prime minister of Israel I will not be silent, I have not been silent.” He only mentioned Europe and “the East.” When it comes to growing anti-Jewish rhetoric in the U.S., he has been deafeningly silent.

Where was he in the last few weeks as 48 Jewish institutions across the U.S. faced bomb threats? Why did he suddenly refrain from tweeting? Where was Netanyahu when Trump tweeted an anti-Semitic image of Clinton’s face superimposed on piles of money and a six-pointed Star of David? Where was Netanyahu when Trump essentially justified anti-Semitic attacks on journalist Julia Ioffe? And where has he been for the last year, with the upsurge in anti-Semitic hate crimes, the rise of the alt-right, unchecked neo-Nazi support for Trump, and his appointment of white supremacist Steve Bannon?

Netanyahu has already shown he has no problem commenting and imposing his views on Trump’s administration. Last weekend, he tweeted in support of Trump’s plan for a wall along the border with Mexico:

Mexico’s Jewish community, which historically leans right, condemned Netanyahu’s comments and demanded an apology.

Netanyahu — who has branded himself more than any other Israeli prime minister in history as the representative and savior of the Jewish people — continues to be silent on the issues most important to them. Perhaps most disturbing is his decision to remain silent in the face of Trump’s executive order, signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day no less, banning entry into the U.S. to people from seven Muslim countries — a ban all too reminiscent of the ones Jews have faced, and a blow to all minorities in the country who started out as refugees and immigrants. The U.S. Holocaust Museum issued a statement condemning Trump’s ban and directly linking it to the situation in the 1930s and 40s.  Jews across the U.S. have been protesting the ban by sharing stories of their grandparents who managed to flee persecution in Europe and reach the U.S. – as well as those who were turned away and perished. They have increasingly expressed that they feel unsafe and fearful under Trump, and Netanyahu is nowhere to be found.

Netanyahu’s silence on this issue speaks volumes about where his priorities lie. One likely answer is that he is focused solely on ensuring Trump’s support for continued settlement growth, disbanding the deal with Iran, the denial of Palestinian rights, and continued U.S. military aid – all at the expense of Jewish values.

Protesters hold Israeli and Likud flags as they gather to show their support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, January 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protesters hold Israeli and Likud flags as they gather to show their support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, January 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It could be that Trump’s racist and exclusionary policies tacitly jive well with Netanyahu and Zionism’s fundamental vision that Israel is the only safe place for Jews in the world — the place they should and will eventually end up once the rest of the world spits them out. This demonstrates the dangerously smooth convergence between rising anti-Semitic white nationalism and the right-wing Zionism that Netanyahu is peddling. It exposes the fact that the Israeli leader isn’t interested in defending the rights of Jews as human beings, and that he is totally out of touch with the values of the majority of American Jews.

A much more appropriate statement from the self-proclaimed leader of the Jewish people would have been what was so eloquently stated last year by the former president with a Muslim middle name: “Because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history, and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil. When any Jew anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond as Roddie Edmonds did — we are all Jews.”

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    1. AJew

      Give it a break. Just give it a break!

      This type of criticism is just criticism for criticism’s sake. Grasping at straws!

      Of course everyone knows that the Holocaust involved Jews. In the same way that everyone knows that the Pope is Catholic.

      Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      Yeah dude, it is SO CRAZY that the PM of a country would put vital security interests and lives of millions of actual human beings above moral posturing, right? Honestly, I’m not sure if it would be worse for Mairav to not to understand how statesmanship works (being a blogger accountable to nobody might explain it), or if its worse for her to pretend not to understand. Either way, +972 generally seems to have a habit of insulting readers’ intelligence with these j’accuse! hypocrisy pieces that make no sense whatsoever except to the most sanctimonious, self-righteous leftists. Edo Konrad probably #2 culprit based on recent piece comparing American Jews to Richard Spencer, which was lovely of course.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      AJew, R5: You two are displaying maximal hypocrisy. Had Obama done the same thing you would have savaged him. And had anyone else said, “oh, you know, the Holocaust isn’t really about the murder of the Jews, they killed Catholic priests and gypsies and homosexuals and communists too…” you would savage him too. Unless you were rooting for that person to move the embassy to Jerusalem and give carte blanche to the settlers and stick it to Muslims. In which case, “oh it’s no big deal! Whatever!”

      Listen to Chemi Shalev:

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        And then listen to him here:

        Haaretz’s @ChemiShalev gets very personal about White House Holocaust denial, and Netanyahu’s deafening silence

        Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Oh Benny, how do you know what I would have said about Obama? Show me even one post in which I criticised Obama?

        The truth is that I don’t comment too much on American politics. Be it Obama or trump.

        Nice try though. Keep up your good work of putting words into my mouth. It only shows you up as a crude propagandists. People who read this site may be silent but they are not blind.

        Reply to Comment