عرضت الحلقه على قناة العربيه في 9/8/2017
First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/7/2017
With a weak response from Arab and Muslim countries to unprecedented restrictions at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Palestinians are left alone to defend the holy site from Israel’s incursions
Five Israeli citizens were killed during the attack at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is the most sacred site in Judaism and is known as the Temple Mount.
The three attackers, cousins from the Jabareen family, hail from the Arab Israeli city of Um Al-Fahm, which sits just inside the Green Line, and were on the security forces’ radar as a potential threat.
The two Israeli police officers killed in the incident were from Israel’s minority Druze community. One came from the mostly Druze but also Arab town of Maghar and the other from the Druze village of Hurfeish.
The bodies of the police officers were handed over quickly to the families and were buried on the same day, while Israeli officials are still holding those of the attackers.
The Jabareen family established three mourning tents in Um Al-Fahm which were quickly taken down on the orders of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested the attackers homes may be demolished.
The coming days may see a rise in tensions between the Palestinian and Druze communities in Israel following the attack. Druze participation in the Israeli security forces is resented by Palestinian citizens of Israel and by Jerusalem residents who often face them at Al-Aqsa’s entrances.
Not since 1969
Immediately after the attack, the Israeli authorities cleared the Holy Sanctuary of all who had come to pray, religious leaders and the employees of the Waqf, the body which administers the site, and then closed it. The Friday prayers scheduled to take place were cancelled and the call for prayers were silenced.
That had not happened since an Australian set the mosque on fire in August 1969, two years after Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six Day War.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Netanyahu and “expressed his strong condemnation over the fatal Jerusalem shootout and the Israeli closure of the holy Islamic site of al-Aqsa mosque,” according to the Palestinian press agency WAFA.
Abbas stated his “rejection of any violent incidents from any side, especially in places of worship” and called on Netanyahu to “end the closure imposed on the holy site, warning of the consequences of such measures”.
Netanyahu assured Abbas that the “status quo” would not change at the compound, calling for all sides to stay calm. Palestinians did not appreciate Abbas’ condemnation and his standing is likely to reduce further, making him an ever weaker partner for peace.
How we got to here
The “status quo” which was established after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the Holy Sanctuary, Muslims had a right to pray while non-Muslims, including Jews, could visit the site but not pray or perform other religious rituals there.
Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan which stated that Israel “respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem”.
But the treaty stops short of giving Jordan any legal, political or religious authority over Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem.
Israel has repeatedly pushed the limits of the “status quo”, particularly through larger and more frequent visits by Jewish settlers, religious leaders and politicians to the sites which Palestinians and the Waqf see as incursions, because they are not coordinated with the Waqf. This has caused repeated tensions between Israel and Jordan, leading to concerns among Palestinians that Israel is working to impose its sovereignty over the site.
In 2003, fearing that Israel was changing the status quo in Jerusalem, Abbas signed an agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah which solidified Jordan’s custodianship of Muslim and Christian places in the holy city.
A statement from the Jordanian palace said: “In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque.”
The agreement also emphasised “the historical principles agreed by Jordan and Palestine to exert joint efforts to protect the city and holy sites from Israeli Judaisation attempts.”
Lukewarm regional reaction
While Jordan recalled its ambassador in 2014 in protest of Israeli practices at the site, its reaction to last Friday’s incident and the closure of the mosque has been rather low key.
King Abdullah condemned the attack in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, but slammed Israel’s two-day closure of the mosque and demanded it be reopened.
On Saturday evening, before he left for his state visit to France, Netanyahu said: “I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount. We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there.
“I decided that as of Sunday in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures.”
Netanyahu’s statement, in itself, is contradictory because the measures he detailed are not part of the status quo. However, there has been no further reaction from Jordan, which is of concern to Palestinians who had expected stronger action from the king.
However, Palestinians are also dismayed at what they see as a broader, low key reaction to the closure of the mosque from the Arab and Muslim world with the exception of Qatar whose minister of foreign affairs said the closure was “a severe violation of holy Islamic sites and a provocation to millions of Muslims around the world”.
The Arab League called for Al-Aqsa to be opened immediately and for any change in the status quo to be stopped. Egypt and Turkey put out rather mild statements. Turkey expressed its regret over the incident, insisted the site must stay open and Israel’s closure immediately cancelled.
Concern for the third holiest site to Muslims usually triggers demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries in which protestors chant, “We would sacrifice our lives and our blood for you Al-Aqsa”. That chant was heard in Jerusalem and Jordan, but nowhere else.
In fact, the overall response from the Arab and Muslim world ranks amongst the weakest ever recorded. This may be an outcome of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, which was brought about by US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region and the focus during that visit on terror.
While Palestinians will argue that for a people under a 50-year illegal occupation, attacks against “the occupation forces” are legitimate forms of resistance and therefore not terror, the prevailing climate following the Riyadh conference is less supportive.
The issue of terror, though no clear definition has emerged of what it is, is at the heart of the unprecedented standoff between Qatar and four other Arab states including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
While the Palestinians are angered by Israel’s interference in their right to unimpeded access to Al-Aqsa, which Israel may gradually reinstate, albeit under stricter security arrangements, the situation will not return to what it was prior to the attack unless Jordan acts decisively.
With an the Arab world which favours Israel and America’s normalisation-led approach to regional peace, Jordan may feel it lacks the support of its Arab brothers to secure a return to the status quo.
The conclusion for the Palestinian people, especially the residents of Jerusalem, is that they have been abandoned.
Not only have they lost the backing of their Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters in their pursuit of liberation, independence and freedom, the defence of Al-Aqsa, cherished by 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, has been left to the 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who face a most brutal and merciless occupier.
Israeli ministers will be exchanging high fives for making the most of an opportunity to take over the revered site, but history shows that humiliating Palestinians and leaving them with little hope will lead to more violence.
Photo: Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian youth during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound, due to newly-implemented security measures by Israeli authorities which include metal detectors and cameras, in Jerusalem’s Old City on 17 July 2017 (AFP)
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017
Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.”
He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”
In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.
As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.
Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.
Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.
In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.
The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.
Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.
Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.
Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”
Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”
The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.
It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?
The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.
To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.
The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.
First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/4/2017
The Balfour Declaration is a letter from Arthur Balfour, then the British foreign secretary, to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, dated November 2, 1917.
The critical part of this short letter said: “His Majesty’s government view[s] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use [its] best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
For Israel and many Jews around the world, the centennial anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is cause for celebration. After all, the declaration paved the way for the establishment of a homeland for Jews in Palestine, which, 100 years on, Israel would claim has been achieved in what it calls “the Jewish state.”
Palestinians, both informally and at the official level, argued that — at the very least — Britain should use the document’s 100th anniversary to acknowledge the role it played in what the Palestinians describe as the nakba — “disaster.”
After all, peace has not been achieved; the Palestinians continue to exit either in exile, under occupation or as second-class citizens within Israel’s internationally recognised borders.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an apology from Britain during his address at the UN General Assembly last September.
“We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas said. “This is the least Great Britain can do.”
In the Palestinian diaspora, several ideas were considered, including mass demonstrations on or near November 2.
The London-based Palestinian Return Centre secured a petition on the British government’s petitions site calling on London to openly apologise to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration.
“The colonial policy of Britain between 1917-1948 led to mass displacement of the Palestinian nation,” the petition reads, adding that London should recognise its role during the mandate and “must lead attempts to reach a solution that ensures justice for the Palestinian people.”
The government’s response was that the Balfour Declaration is a historic statement for which London “does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the state of Israel.”
It further stated that “establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.”
The statement recognised that the declaration “should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the important thing is to look forward and establish security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.” It then reinstated Britain’s position on how peace can be achieved.
Britain plans to celebrate Balfour or “mark it with pride,” as British Prime Minister Theresa May announced. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will attend and a royal visit to Israel is planned.
In response, Palestinian envoy to Britain Manuel Hassassian said celebrating Balfour “rubs salt in the wounds of the Palestinian people.” He made no reference to the threat made at the Arab summit last July by Abbas to sue Britain in an international court for the Balfour Declaration.
The Times of Israel recently reported that the British government, which has been delaying the issue of a visa to the new Palestinian head of mission announced by Abbas, might be planning to “downgrade” the status of the diplomatic mission in London.
The prospect of the British government responding to the call from its own Parliament in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine seems as distant as ever.
I was interviewed by Pippa Jones for Talk Radio Europe on 20/4/2017
Listen below from 3 minutes into the hour.
First published by the Middle East Eye on 13/12/2016
The definition makes anti-Semitism less about problems an individual or group has with Jews and more a refusal to accept Israeli policies
Britain’s pro-Israel lobby has won a battle, but its win won’t help bring about the peace that Palestinians and Israelis crave.
This week, the British government announced that it will adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism which, in itself, will not provide British Jews with greater protection from hatred any more than the previous definitions and understanding of this scourge did.
However, it could potentially make it more difficult for campaigners for justice for Palestinians, and Palestinians themselves, to speak out against Israel’s 68-year long colonisation and 49 years of illegal occupation. In fact, my previous sentence may itself now be judged to be on the edge of whether it is anti-Semitic.
My contention is that existing definitions and understandings of anti-Semitism were adequate. This was clearly demonstrated by the case of Joshua Bonehill-Paine. His vile anti-Semitic trolling of British MP Luciana Berger landed him with a conviction for racially aggravated harassment last week.
Prosecutor Philip Stott said “the ideology which so stirred Mr Bonehill-Paine is one of fierce anti-Semitism” and that he had demonstrated “hostility based on her membership or presumed membership of a particular racial group, namely Jews”.
On Monday, the British prime minister took time out from her busy schedule and the Brexit shenanigans among her ministers to make a speech to the Conservatives’ own pro-Israel lobby, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). Britain, she announced, will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘formal’ definition of anti-Semitism.
“Just last week we were at the forefront to try to ensure that the definition was adopted across the continent too, at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The result was 56 countries in favour. One country opposed it: Russia,” May told the crowd. “But, as I said, we will adopt it here in the UK.”
Her contention was that “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it”.
The IHRA definition, which is largely based on the discredited European Union’s Monitoring Centre definition that Britain is adopting, is: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
However, had the PM stopped there – and made it clear that the definition stops there – other Palestinians and I would have been able to live with this. In fact, that definition still effectively states the traditional understanding of what anti-Semitism is, namely “hatred of Jews because they are Jews”.
However, May and her team failed to elaborate on the small print which makes this definition problematic, especially for Palestinians.
The small print
The IHRA’s small print moves immediately to bring criticism of Israel into the definition as an example of anti-Semitism stating that “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
The IHRA goes on to offer contemporary examples of anti-Semitism. Some were examples of classic anti-Semitism which most fair-minded people would agree are wrong. However, several were specifically related to Israel including:
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel
Suddenly, anti-Semitism becomes not a problem an individual or group may have with Jews because they are Jews, and more about refusing to accept the policies, practices and actions of a state. Most importantly though, there is no attempt either in the definition or the prime minister’s speech to formally and fully acknowledge that Israel does not exist in a vacuum.
From a Palestinian perspective
No, prime minister. The last time I checked, Israel was created on a land that was not empty against our will, one that was a homeland to my people, the Palestinians. It expanded beyond even the unjust UN Partition Plan to now rule over the whole of the Palestinian homeland. It defies international law, and has been in breach of international humanitarian law, not for a few days or years, but for decades.
It builds settlements only for Jews illegally on internationally recognised land that belongs to another people. It continues to lay a siege on two million people in Gaza for political reasons and has repeatedly carried out wars against the enclave which UN reports concluded may have included the committal of war crimes.
It continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland in defiance of UN resolution 194. It has rejected the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes and evict Palestinian families from their homes, moving Jewish settlers into them.
It continues to demolish ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev and in the case of Umm Al-Hiran plans to build a settlement only for Jews on the same spot. It has some 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. The list goes on. That is how Palestinians see Israel.
However, the prime minister only sees it as “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity and defying disadvantages”. She even agreed with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev who said “we have common values; we work together, on health, counter-terrorism, cyber-security, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims”.
However, what I described above from a Palestinian perspective she reduced to a slight problem, stating that “no one is saying the path has been perfect – or that many problems do not remain”. For the Palestinians, it is not just a few problems but a catastrophe that started in 1947 and continues to this day.
Palestinians had no choice in who had an eye on their homeland and who then settled it without their consent. The Zionist movement chose Palestine knowing it was a land for a people. When we Palestinians criticise the occupier, resist its oppressive regime and ask supporters of justice across the world to help us, we do not target Israeli Jews because they are Jews but because they are our occupiers. That is an undisputable fact.
The new definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted without consultation with the Palestinian people or British Palestinians to ascertain its impact on them. Equality legislation requires that an assessment is carried out to consider the impact of actions in order to avoid unintended consequences.
At the very least, an impact assessment should have been carried out to assess the unintended consequences of silencing Palestinians and their supporters through the adoption of the new definition – unless of course that was the intention. Either way, the Palestinian people cannot afford to be silent. We will not be a ‘model occupied people’.
– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: British Prime Minister Theresa May at a press conference last month (AFP)
First published by the Middle East Eye on Monday 28/11/2016
From MEE. A file photo of Stephen Bannon, who was recently named to be Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House (Reuters)
The cat is out of the bag: Israel is comfortable associating with suspected holding anti-Semitic and extremist right-wing views as long as they support it.
How else is it possible to explain Israel and its supporters’ lack of objection to the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist for US President-elect Donald Trump?
Bannon’s own ex-wife Mary Louise Pickard accused him in court of having a problem with his daughters attending a particular school. The reason given was “the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. He also questioned why another school had “so many Hanukkah books in the library”?
It is important to note that the allegations were made in a custody battle. However, at least one of the allegations regarding the Hanukkah books incident was corroborated by a representative of the school in question.
As has been widely reported since his appointment to the Trump team, Bannon ran the far-right publication, Breitbart News. Bannon was accused of presiding over “the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists” by the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who is a staunch supporter of Israel.
Joining in the criticism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement “the President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House”.
A speedy examination of Breitbart shows it has covered Israel sympathetically, but it also has covered the alt-right movement sympathetically by including individuals who have expressed homophobic, misogynist, white supremacists and anti-Semitic views. Matthew Tyrmand, a columnist for Breitbart News attacked Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, calling her a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist.”
One would have thought that Israel and its supporters would at least raise their concerns with the man Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called “a true friend of Israel”, President-elect Trump, or would at least seek clarification about Bannon’s past views. After all, anti-Semitism is not only wrong in its own right but has recently formed a major plank of attacks both on the British Labour party and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Instead of raising concerns, Israeli officials and supporters have rallied around Bannon. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer praised Trump and his team saying “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel. We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country, and we look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever”.
Emeritus Harvard Law Professor and staunch supporter of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, leaped to Bannon’s support saying “I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel”. The clue is in the last sentence, “supportive of Israel”.
Dershowitz went further in his defence: “so, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the headline (on the Breitbart website) about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness”.
Dershowitz has in the past accused Black Lives Matter, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Richard Goldstone either of outright antisemitism or behaviour that he judged to be problematic in this regard. However, it is behaviour towards Israel or criticism of its practices that has formed the core of his assertions. The contrast with his take on Bannon could not be starker.
It is important to note that his appointment has been widely condemned by Jewish organisations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). In a statement, Rabbi Alissa Wise JVP Deputy Director said:
“In President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon–a leading white nationalist–as Chief Strategist, we are seeing a confirmation of exactly what Trump promised throughout his campaign: the open endorsement of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism”. She reflected on the dangers of a far right Government not with reference to an abstract or theoretical situation but to the reality of Israel adding “From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far right government”.
The National Jewish Democratic Council feared that “Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon is just the first appointment of many individuals who have engaged in, or at least, tolerated anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia”. The pro-Israel Group J Street also joined Jewish groups condemning Bannon. However, it is telling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declined to take a position on Bannon claiming through its spokesman, Marshall Wittmann: “AIPAC has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments”.
However, is it a leap to conclude from the Bannon episode that Israel turns a blind eye to anti-Semites and extremists if they support it and its policies? Well, Bannon is no joe public. He is the most senior advisor to the President-elect of the United States and the future leader of the free world. Israel and its supporters have perhaps judged that they could not have hoped for a better outcome form the US elections than a Trump win. The team he is forming is to their liking, so why rock the boat about an individual who I would contend would have been more problematic to them had he been called to serve in the Obama Administration.
If a President Trump fulfils his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, protects Israel at the UN Security Council and finally scuppers any chances of a Palestinian state, then tolerating a troublesome senior advisor in his administration is a price worth paying.
However, we are entitled to think that those of us who receive accusations of anti-Semitism must feel aggrieved when we criticise Israel without demonstrating any hatred towards Jews. Those people would surely be happy to send their children to a school with Jewish children when Bannon would not. Those people that have been vilified as anti-Semites suggests there is a major antisemitism problem within the right wing.