The NY Times yesterday noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu is getting some impassioned but limited flak in Israel for not coming out more harshly against President Trump’s false equivalence between Neo-Nazis and those who protested their actions in Charlottesville.
Netanyahu’s behavior is reprehensible, but not incomprehensible. It is often explained away as a case of not biting the hand that feeds him (massive US military aid). However, while that explanation is undoubtedly part of the mix, it also is a consequence of a complex attitude towards Nazism and anti-Semitism, in general, that has roots within parts of the Zionist movement and helps explain the peculiar alliances of convenience that occasionally have arisen.
Zionism traces its roots, not to the Nazi period (though Israel has found it useful to equate first Nasser falsely, then Arafat, and finally, Hamas with genocidal intentions towards Israelis) to the 19th century. A reaction, both to historic European anti-Semitism and western colonialism, Zionists dreamed of establishing a Jewish nation and, much like America’s black Muslims, never desired integration into any existing societies, which they assumed, sometimes accurately, would never accept Jews as full citizens.
Given that perspective, anti-Semitic groups and their actions, hateful though they might be, had a constructive by-product: talking points for recruitment to the Zionist cause. During the 1930s, some Zionists even negotiated with leading Nazis to allow German Jews to emigrate to Palestine. These efforts were criticized by other Zionists and the far more numerous non-Zionist Jewish majority because, as part of the bargain, Zionists would undermine a worldwide Jewish economic boycott of Germany. The infamous Haavara Agreement allowed about 60,000 German Jews to settle in Palestine in exchange for the confiscation of some of their property but also required the emigres to buy German goods once resettled.
Once Israel was established outbursts of anti-Semitism and Neo-Nazism throughout the world became an occasion for Israeli leaders to encourage emigration. When a small number French Jews in a Parisian bakery were deliberately killed by an Islamic jihadist in France, as part of the larger terrorist attack in 2015, Netanyahu spoke at the Great Synagogue in Paris and encouraged French Jews to move to Israel. However, there was no evidence the French government and citizens were not unconcerned with their safety or that their level of risk was objectively high or markedly greater than that of other Parisians.
Interestingly, the one country in the Mideast where Jews seem safest is Iran, where a stable and secure community of perhaps 25,000 lives and has resisted offers to relocate to Israel, even when offered cash inducements. They can even visit relatives in Israel. The Iranian theocratic state is very repressive, is anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic. Israel ignores this and declares Iran an existential threat to Jews everywhere as well as Israel because it has long found it helpful in deflecting criticism to claim that anti-Zionism IS anti-Semitism. Jewish critics of Zionist are handled by declaring them “self-hating,” something Muslims who despise jihadists would never be accused of regarding their faith.
The one exception to the open encouragement of emigration seems to be in responding to anti-Semitic outbreaks in the US, which have, like those against non-whites and Muslims, spiked since Trump’s election. In these cases, Netanyahu does not call for “Aliyah”—the emigration of Jews to Israel. Because the US’ continued guarantee of political and military support for Israel is so critical and affluent American Jews represent an important source of campaign funds directed to sympathetic pro-Israeli legislators and candidates through PACS, Israel’s interest is in the status quo: staying in place, but doubling-down in support of Israel. In fact, knee-jerk defenders of Israel, such as Alan Dershowitz, can be far more helpful living in the US, appearing on American television or writing op-eds in this country, than being a talking head on Israeli television or writing for the Jerusalem Post.
American Jews need to consider whether their weakening, but still strong, allegiance to Israel is a one-sided love affair and if Israel merely considers them “useful idiots,” essential for defending Israel’s interests, but of no other concern, even when a President unleashes bigotry against all but white Christians.