The contrast between Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Jared Kushner and other great statesmen of our age under investigation swanking it up at the new US embassy in Jerusalem while Israeli troops shot down Hamas demonstrators, hid as much as it revealed. Not only Jews should notice how Israel has become a member of, and justification for, a Western authoritarian right that shows every sign of reviving the anti-Semitism of its predecessors.
The EU might have put up a common front against Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. A child could have told him it would lead to violence and lessen the pressure on Israel to cut a deal with the Palestinians. But Israel’s ally, Viktor Orbán, blocked the EU’s diplomats. That Orbán was running an election campaign which cast him as the defender of Christian Hungary against the supernatural power of the Jewish financier George Soros in no way embarrassed either him or Netanyahu.
What is left of the Hungarian Jewish community after Auschwitz protested to the Israeli ambassador about the posters across Budapest that cast a sinister Jew as the enemy of the people. A British expat, who until that moment had thought Jeremy Corbyn’s friends had made Britain a more anti-Semitic country than Hungary, told me he came out of the subway one morning, saw the anti-Soros propaganda, and decided it was time to reassess.
The Israeli ambassador agreed with the protest, and with good cause. Orbán was outflanking his last, significant rivals for power in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party by moving further right. Until that moment, Jobbik had been the heirs to the Hungarian fascist tradition. Now Orbán was praising Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s anti-Semitic wartime leader and Nazi ally, as an ‘exceptional statesman’.
Netanyahu overruled his diplomats. On no account must Hungary’s corrupt clique of thugs be criticised. Far from being a race-baiter, Orbán was now his ally as Horthy had once been Hitler’s.
The reasons for the friendship are easily grasped once you cast off the notion that the Israeli right is opposed to anti-Jewish hatred at all times and as a matter of principle. Netanyahu, like Orbán and Putin, wants to cast NGOs funded by Soros and others as foreign agents undermining the state. Orbán’s charge that Hungarian human rights groups would take over the country and flood it with Muslim refugees may have been preposterous even by the standards of today’s fake news. (There was no Soros party standing in the election. Soros controls no armies that might invade Hungary and force Muslims on white Europeans.) But the Israeli right is as keen to blame foreign-funded charities for stirring up the Palestinians and present them as a clear and present danger, and had no desire to object.
Orbán, and the leaders of the Czech Republic and Romania, can on the one hand show their anti-Muslim bigotry by supporting Israeli hardliners. On the other, they can reject allegations they are reviving European anti-Semitism by using Netanyahu as a human shield. ‘How can we be racists, when Bibi is our buddy?’
Hungary may provide the most striking example of a new twist to the Jewish conspiracy theory but it is hardly a lone wolf. There is a pack that roams the earth howling out a combination of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish bigotry. If you do not see how they can exist together, read the theorists of the old neo-Nazi movement and of the new alt-right. Vengeful Jews want to destroy Christian civilisations by importing brown and black immigrants, runs the reasoning. In this typical example from the Counter Currents white supremacist site in Seattle, Jews are not white, they are the prime agents of ‘white dispossession’. They supported ‘massive non-European immigration throughout the twentieth century’. For them, ‘the non-Europeanization of America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality’.
Such is the pool Trump swims in, even if he does not always drink the water. Instead, as the disastrous opening of the US embassy proved, he prefers to share a glass with the messianic wing of the Christian right, which believes heaven will not come to earth until the Jews are converted in the end of days. As Israeli forces slaughtered Gazans at the border (and yes, thank you, I know Hamas sent them and it is an Islamo-fascist organisation, but if a man with a gun shoots an unarmed demonstrator he carries the moral responsibility), Trump welcomed two preachers to the embassy to lead the guests in prayer: pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress. Hagee, who bashes his Bible in San Antonio, Texas, is remembered for his assertion in the 1990s that God says in Jeremiah 16: ‘Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers.…Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters, and they the hunters shall hunt them’. Then God sent a hunter, Hagee continued, ‘Hitler was a hunter.’
Not content with that scriptural exegesis, Hagee blamed Jews for anti-Semitism. They showed their disobedience. God in his mercy, mandated the ‘opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day’.
Robert Jeffress is a slightly more restrained fanatic, but a fanatic none the less. Mitt Romney yesterday quoted him as saying ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell’ and Islam no better. Such a ‘bigot,’ Romney continued ‘should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem’.
And yet he was. And Netanyahu was bowing his head and mumbling his prayers alongside him. As with Orbán, the Israeli right can accept any amount of anti-Semitism from preachers who believe paradise will not come until the Jews accept the punishment of a jealous God and stop being Jews, as long as they see the temporary expansion of Israel’s borders before the end time as part of His divine plan.
Three consequences flow. First, no one can take lectures on anti-Semitism from the Netanyahu government. It is the ally of anti-Semites when it suits its purposes, and has no standing to speak on behalf of others. Second, the Israeli right does not care if it alienates liberal European opinion and American opinion, let alone the opinion of Muslim dominated countries. The right is betting everything on the support of Trump and leaders and theocrats who follow him. Despite the superiority in American and Israeli arms, I am not certain that bet will pay off. Finally, whether you are fighting the anti-Semites of right or left (or preferably both) you must do so for your own reasons: to defend democracy, and to oppose racism, fake news and conspiracy theory and the wreckage they bring. Israel as it is currently led has nothing to do with you or you with it.