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Pro-Israeli groups are pushing the White House to transition from neoconservativism to Alt-Right, says Shir Hever

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Remember Lieutenant-General Herbert Raymond McMaster? He was appointed as President Trump’s national security adviser back in February. He was then moved quickly to contain the influence of chief strategist Steve Bannon, who McMaster removed from the National Security Council. If you recall, he was appointed to contain other Trump loyalists such as Michael Flynn, as well. Recently, a campaign accusing him of being anti-Israel has been waged with the support of billionaire Sheldon Adelson by a coalition of alt-right nationalists that includes Steve Bannon and extreme right-wing Zionists such as the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, as well as by Israeli journalist Caroline Glick from the Jerusalem Post. President Trump, in response to all of this, called McMaster “a good man, very pro-Israel,” and Israeli officials have also come forward calling McMaster a friend of Israel. On to talk about these connections and tensions is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. Of course, he covers Israel and Palestine for us extensively. I thank you so much for joining us, Shir. SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, President Trump is now six months into his office as president. He initially has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to take up the Israel file, but there are these allegations flying against General McMaster. Explain to us what’s going on. Why are these individuals like Sheldon Adelson even concerned about how Trump is responding in terms of Israel and Israel policy? SHIR HEVER: I think there’s very little that General McMaster can actually do about Israel or against Israel. It really doesn’t matter much. The only issue that has come up was the Iran nuclear deal, and I think this is going to be a decision taken directly by President Trump and not by McMaster. Also, what exactly is the Israel interest regarding the Iran nuclear deal? It is not so clear. Obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu has a certain opinion, but other Israeli politicians have other opinions. I think this is really a symbolic issue. There are people in the alt-right and also the extreme Zionism who are using this old worn-out accusation that somebody is anti-Israel in order to get their own people into the National Security Council, in order to exert influence on the Trump administration. This coalition between extreme right nationalists, white nationalists in the United States, and Jewish Zionists, which traditionally were on opposing sides, are now working together because of this very strange rise of this alt-right. SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, give us a greater sense of the connection or the tensions between these alt-right organizations and McMaster and Bannon. Map this for us. SHIR HEVER: Yeah. I’ve been looking through these accusations that Caroline Glick, deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post, and Steve Bannon himself, and also Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America. What problem do they have with McMaster? They make very vague things about some statements that he made, but they couldn’t put them in context. He said that Israel is an occupying power. Of course, Israel is an occupying power, but they couldn’t place that statement. The only thing that their criticism boils down to is they say McMaster is a remnant of the Obama administration. He continues the Obama policies, and therefore he’s not loyal to Trump. I think this is the crux of the matter, because actually, for people like Caroline Glick and I think also for Sheldon Adelson, their relation to Trump borders on religious. They consider Trump to be some kind of messiah or savior that will allow Israel once and for all to annex the occupied territory, expand its borders, and then the land will be redeemed. They talk about this in religious terminology. Here’s the problem. Trump has been president for six months now, and Israel did not annex the territory. It did not expand its borders. In fact, it has gone from one crisis to the next, and the Israeli government is not able to cement its power over the Palestinians. Palestinian resistance is not tied down. They’re looking for an explanation. The explanation is that something is not pure in the Trump administration, and they’re pointing the finger at McMaster saying, “Because of people like him who are sabotaging Trump’s own policies from the inside, then this is preventing the Trump administration from reaching its full potential.” SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Obviously, Netanyahu and the Israeli government doesn’t agree with this assessment. In fact, they have come out supporting McMaster as being a good supporter of Israel. How does this play out here? SHIR HEVER: Absolutely. Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing real politics. He knows that there’s nothing that President Trump can do that will actually make Israel suddenly conquer more territory. That’s not the point. Netanyahu is trying to balance a very complicated system with pressure from different points, and he is a populist, and he’s only in power because of his populism. Now, his administration is under threat because of corruption allegations, so this is a problem for him. When people expect that the Trump administration will free his hands to do whatever he wants, Netanyahu suddenly has a problem because he needs to come up with a new excuse. Why doesn’t he annex all the occupied territory? Of course, for him, it’s not a good time to get into a fight with the Trump administration. He wants to create the impression that things are happening under the surface, that he is in the know, that his friends are involved in this, but I think the fact that Sheldon Adelson, the big financial supporter of Netanyahu, is now switching to support extreme right groups that have nothing to do with the interests of the Israeli current administration, but are actually trying to push the Israeli administration to move further to the extreme right and to annex territory, that puts Netanyahu in trouble. I think it also spells some clouds over the warm relationship between Netanyahu and Adelson. SHARMINI PERIES: Coming back to this side of things here in the United States, in light of the events of Charlottesville, Shir, showing a direct link between the alt-right and hardcore racists and neo-Nazis, why would extreme right-wing Zionist Jewish organizations and individuals like Glick and Klein agree to cooperate with the alt-right in this way? SHIR HEVER: I think people on the left tend to forget that, just like the left considers itself to be a kind of universalist movement, and that leftists around the world should have solidarity with each other, the right also has a kind of solidarity, especially the extreme right. Extreme right movements in different countries consider the extreme right in other countries to be their allies. One of the things we saw in Charlottesville is that some of these neo-Nazi groups and white nationalist groups are big supporters of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, because they see him as the kind of strong leader they would like to see in the United States as well. For people who see Donald Trump talking about America first, then they’re saying, “Okay, that’s exactly the kind of administration we want to see in Israel, somebody taking about Israel first.” For Caroline Gluck or for a Morton Klein, they are willing to accept a very heavy load of racism and even anti-semitism against Jews from the Trump administration and from its supporters in exchange for being allowed to copy that same kind of racism and that same kind of right-wing policy towards their minorities. Just like the American administration has its minorities, Muslims, Mexicans which are being targeted, Israel also has its minorities, Palestinians and asylum-seekers, and they want those people to be targeted in the same harsh language and the same harsh policies, so that we can [inaudible] a great compromise. I have to say, the events in Charlottesville had a profound impact on Israeli public opinion. In fact, there are a lot of Israelis who are very concerned about this kind of coalition. They are saying, “No, there’s not that much that we’re willing to take in order to keep the relations with the Trump administration on good footing.” Because of that, the president of Israel, President Rivlin, and also the education minister Naftali Bennett issued statements condemning white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. I think Naftali Bennett, who is the head of the Jewish Nationalist Party in Israel, and he’s actually of the same political camp as Caroline Glick, as Morton Klein, when he makes that statement, that shows that even he thinks that they have gone too far. SHARMINI PERIES: Interesting analysis, Shir. I thank you so much for joining us today. I guess the situation in Charlottesville is evolving, and it would be interesting to continue to keep an eye on what’s developing here against what’s happening in Israel as well. Thank you so much. SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.