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Trump's win poses a challenge we must respond to

The nativist rabble-rousing and promises of expulsion and exclusion that carried Donald Trump to victory are worryingly similar to the resurgence of Meir Kahane’s Kach movement in Israel. Neither can be ignored.

A Donald Trump supporter, November 7, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Donald Trump supporter, November 7, 2016. (Illustrative photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On the eve of the U.S. presidential elections I stood opposite an alcove in Kraków’s High Synagogue, gazing into an empty socket in which a Torah scroll once stood. The synagogue — named for the fact that the prayer hall was installed on the first floor, in order to protect its Jewish congregants from the Christian gathering-places nearby — is no longer active, but evidence of its past remains: the circular window at the top of the building, the case of tattered religious books, the patches of Hebrew murals that look like scraps of parchment rescued from a fire. But it is the Torah ark and its present-absent void that offers the starkest metaphor for what had been and is no longer.

I looked into that empty space believing that the following day, I would watch the U.S. deliver a resounding rebuke to the kind of ideology and rhetoric that can snowball into such crimes. Forty-eight hours later, the extent of my misplaced confidence has been made crystal clear. As a queer Jew, I am deeply disturbed by what has happened in the U.S.; as a woman, I’m furious. And as a British-Israeli, I’m wondering how many more godawful Groundhog Days there will be to come.   

Indeed, the scale of the challenge now facing America, and by extension much of the world, will be familiar to many Israelis. Just like Netanyahu, Trump lied, bullied, fear-mongered and incited his way to the nation’s highest office, and there is so far little evidence to suggest that his approach, demeanor and cataloging of personal vendettas will cease once he’s in the Oval Office. The current witch-hunt in Israel against an amorphous, elastically-defined left-wing “elite” — as the populist Right defines it — is also an ominous portent of what could develop in the U.S., including the demonization of and call for restrictions on the free media

An additional parallel with Israel is more disturbing still. Even if the unthinkable happens and the pivot that Trump proved incapable of as a candidate materializes when he is president, the swirling currents of violent and unabashed misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia will be extremely difficult to bottle back up. In the mid-1980s, the virulent anti-Arab racist and anti-miscegenist Rabbi Meir Kahane — whose philosophy is the engine behind newer radical right-wing groups such as the Lehava — won a seat on the Knesset after running on a ticket of nativism that name-checked expulsion, exclusion and self-ghettoization.

Rabbi Meir Kahane, August 24, 1984. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Rabbi Meir Kahane, August 24, 1984. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Sound familiar? The key difference is that Kahane’s party, Kach, was outlawed in Israel for its promotion of violent racism, and Kahane himself was assassinated in New York in 1990. Yet his failure to build a successful and viable political movement did nothing to stop the spread of Kahanism; the racist, street-level thuggery, anti-democratic discourse and ethnic supremacist posturing that blights Israel today is his legacy. Even as analysts predicted that Kach’s banning marked the decline of Israel’s radical right after the pandemonium it sowed in the 1980s, his ideology somehow bloomed in the desert. But Trumpism has suffered no such setback. On the contrary: his election night victory was the ultimate endorsement of the newly savage sociopolitical reality he has fostered.

Yet there is one more parallel, and one I feel it’s important to end on. Even as the Israeli political establishment gradually catches up to Kahanism, activists, civil society workers and human rights advocates continue, every day, to press for the changes they want to see in their country. In the face of grim predictions for Israel’s future, violence both threatened and inflicted, and the ever-increasing glowering scrutiny of the government, they continue to fight — via campaigns, in the courtroom, on the ground and, yes, at the polls. 

So it can be in the U.S., as well as in the UK, still reeling from a Brexit vote that claimed victory on the back of the same wave of bigoted right-wing populism that swept Trump into power. There can be time to mourn, to give space to our shock and anger, and to question what we got wrong, and how.

But after that comes the work — the organizing, the encouragement, and the challenge of listening when all we want to do is shout. The groups and individuals around us most threatened by what Trump, and to a lesser extent Brexit, represent — people of color, Muslims, LGBTQs, women, and particularly those who inhabit more than one of those identities — have been among the most vocal and effective advocates for change and social justice over the last tumultuous year. We must all play a part in ensuring that work continues, whether we are members of those communities or not.   

I have quoted the poet Dylan Thomas before, but I am repeating these lines here, for never have they felt so necessary:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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    1. Bus189

      Hahahahaha. I don’t like Trump and think Brexit is not a great idea, but I am thoroughly enjoying the collapse in the certainty in the inevitability of a globalized, borderless, and nation-less world.

      What you consistently get wrong is the fact that a very large chunk of the population does not agree with your vision for the world. It wants its change gradually. It wants to see the continuation of the culture it grew up with and is concerned with both the pace and direction of cultural change. And it wants the government to actually care about the interests of people born in a country more than the interests of immigrants or foreigners. It gets a sense of meaning from belonging to a culture, to an identity and to a country.

      And when you disregard that chunk of the population or treat it in a condescending and dismissive way it will eventually make its presence felt. And if you spend long enough pushing all the legitimate voices from that population into a corner which you persistently label sexist, racist, homophobic, or just plain evil, eventually you get a candidate like Trump.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “I am thoroughly enjoying the collapse in the certainty in the inevitability of a globalized, borderless, and nation-less world….eventually you get a candidate like Trump.”

        The mind boggles at the hypocrisy and self-dealing. And the fake comparisons. The upside-down-ness. From an apologizer for the nation that refuses to draw borders and refuses to stop molesting another people.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bus189

          Yep. Intolerant opinions like that got Trump elected. Keep going. I am having a ball.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            If I were an average West Bank Palestinian and I saw what the Israeli occupiers do to my land and my people, Trump of Palestine would be my guy. I’d be thinking:

            “Truly, as opposed to the false case made in the USA, truly people who should not be are pouring in to my land illegally. And some of them truly are ‘rapists’ of one kind or another. Taking my land. My life. My history. And no one cares about me. Neither Crooked Binyamin nor Compromised Mahmoud. I want the government to actually care about the interests of people born in my country more than the interests of foreign settlers. Trump of Palestine does. He understands how we are being humiliated. We have to do it or we won’t have a country. Build that wall! At the Green Line and between East and West Jerusalem. And make the Israelis pay for it. Or tear down all the walls and give the people the vote.”

            Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      That’s the darned thing about democracy, everyone gets a vote and sometimes the side you want loses and the other side gets to run things. If you don’t like that, what can you do? Some have suggested here in Israel that there should be a left-wing military coup? Or how about an armed insurrection. People have tried these things in different countries but they generally don’t work out so well. I suggest you roll up your sleeves and try to convince people you are right. However. people in Israel saws the failures of Oslo and the destruction of Gush Katif and in the US they see the economic stagnation and the collapse of American prestige and power in the world and the public decided they don’t want any more of these things. Too bad.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “the destruction of Gush Katif”

        Oh my. Your vaunted General withdrew from Gush Katif in the East because he wanted to distract from the depredations his troops were causing in the West.

        “the destruction of Gush Katif and in the US they see the economic stagnation“
        Wow, you’re fixin’ to displace Oswald Spengler with that powerful synthetic analysis, junior.

        “the collapse of American prestige and power in the world”

        Now here you may have an uncannily prescient point, junior, given the elevation two days ago of a complete jackass to President of the United States. God works in wondrous ways.

        Hey, you like Trump’s rabid anti-Semitic followers? Yeah? Bibi doesn’t mind so much. It’s true. Because Bibi has the moral consistency that Trump has.

        Have a nice day.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Typo correction: “East” = West and “West” = East.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Your vaunted General withdrew from Gush Katif in the East because he wanted to distract from the depredations his troops were causing in the West.”

            Anything short of cutting our own throats collectively is just a ploy according to Ben. No Ben, don’t lick your chops. We ain’t gonna do that. Not even if you ask us nicely. On another thread Ben actually suggested that we should and he promised that if that doesn’t work out, we have his permission to turn Palestine into a parking lot ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I have never seen you not grossly distort what people write here. Ever.

            Your motto: Dulce et decorum est, pro patria [distort things].

            Which reminds me, today is Veteran’s Day in America. where President Obama remembers and honors all the American dead that he actually cares deeply about, and some of the right wingers here seem to treat casually as chaff for the Israeli cause, because any American policy that is not simply an extension of Israeli territorial designs is regarded as simply “weak.” Thousands of American boys dead and maimed. But the terrible pain over each and every Israeli casualty is of course an unspeakable horror, unmeasurable, nothing can compare. We get it.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “because any American policy….”

            We were talking about your suggestion and carpings, Ben. Not American policy.

            And this man is complaining about my distortions. Gotta laugh ?

            Reply to Comment