One huge benefit of the recent US election is watching appalling Trumpers leave public disservice for ever. Start with the destroyer of public education Betsy Devos, then the bankruptcy lawyer of the settlements David Friedman and finally “the worst secretary of state in American history,” Mike Pompeio Here’s P.eter Beinart’s salute
Imagine you’re in a kid in school. You have a history of being bullied, which makes you anxious about your safety. But, recently, your fortunes have improved. And now you watch with amazement as the school’s newest tough guys not only befriend you but cater to your every desire. To prove their devotion, they turn mercilessly on someone with whom you’ve had a dispute, someone even weaker than you. “We won’t let anyone threaten you,” they cry, as they beat him to a pulp
It’s an imperfect analogy. But it captures some of how I felt watching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit last week to the West Bank. Given Jewish history, I understand why some Jews feel comforted, even exhilarated, when the Christians who run the world’s most powerful country shower the Jewish state with affection. I just wish the affection were not laced with sadism and lies.
Settlements like Psagot, where Pompeo sipped wine named in his honor, don’t just appear. They are generally the product of land theft. It works like this. The Israeli government employs Ottoman, Jordanian, British mandatory and Israeli military law (pretty much whatever it can find) to declare chunks of the West Bank “state land.” In other words, ownerless. Then it parcels that land out for Jewish settlement. The dispossessed Palestinians can lodge legal challenges, but as non-citizens, they almost always lose. The Israeli government is accountable to Jewish settlers, not to them.
By any reasonable definition, this is institutionalized bigotry. In a single territory, two ethno-religious groups live under a different law. Jews enjoy citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives. Palestinians enjoy none of these rights.
But, in an Orwellian irony, mainstream American political discourse describes as bigoted not Israel’s dual legal system in the West Bank—but opposition to it. This irony falls particularly cruelly on Black politicians, who are particularly quick to notice the parallels with American segregation. (When former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards visited Hebron in 2012, she said “it looked like the stories that my mother and my grandmother told me about living in the [Jim Crow] South.”) Thus, Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Martin Luther King’s old church, who is now seeking a senate seat in Georgia, is under attack for alleged anti-Semitism. The reason: Last year he travelled to the West Bank with a group of Black American and South African ministers. He and his colleagues witnessed “The laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians” and felt compelled to demand “justice, equality and human rights.” For this, Warnock now stands accused of anti-Semitism by conservative American Christians and Jews whose own trips to Israel generally shield them from the brutal realities that stirred his conscience. The whole dynamic is deeply depressing.
After his trip to Psagot, Pompeo issued a statement declaring that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” and the “Global BDS Campaign” is “a manifestation of anti-Semitism.” But if you were a Palestinian who had her land stolen, wouldn’t you support boycotting the government that took it from you? And if you were a Palestinian, wouldn’t you oppose Zionism, a movement designed to create a state that privileges Jews over you?
Last year I wrote an essay trying to dissect the arguments equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. One point I made was that the equation doesn’t only render Palestinians anti-Semites simply for seeking equality with Jews, it turns a lot of Jews into anti-Semites too. For most of Jewish history, most Jews have interpreted the Talmud (the key text is Ketubot 111a, for all you Talmud nerds) as prohibiting Jews from trying to reestablish a Jewish state in the land of Israel before the coming of the Messiah. The Zionist movement, and the creation of the state of Israel, have led many Jews to abandon that view. But not all. There remain large ultra-Orthodox communities that still consider Jewish statehood a violation of Jewish law.
Monsey, New York is one of those communities. Last year, a deranged man attacked a Hanukah party there. An ultra-Orthodox man, Joseph Gluck, chased the assailant outside and wrote down the license plate of his car, thus saving many lives. Wanting to honor this Jewish hero, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federation of Rockland County tried to give Gluck an award. But he refused. The reason: He won’t accept money from Zionist groups.
So, according to Mike Pompeo, Joseph Gluck is an anti-Semite.
In the name of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, I’m kind of an anti-Semite too. This summer, after I wrote a column arguing for equality between Palestinians and Jews, the ADL’s deputy national director wrote a letter to The New York Times claiming that “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic.”
I keep waiting for my kids to use this information against me. I can just hear their argument now: “Who the heck is an anti-Semite to tell me I can’t use my phone on Shabbat?”