How Pro-Israel Politics and Anti-Semitism Coexist in the Alt-Right
Journalist Richard Silverstein says Trump’s nativist populism has emboldened hate groups to commit anti-Semitic attacks
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
An unprecedented number of bomb scares rattled Jewish centers across the country. And anti-Semitic attacks against Jews appear to be on the rise in the U.S. In his speech on Tuesday night, addressing a joint session of Congress, Donald Trump made reference to this.
DONALD TRUMP: As we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path towards civil rights, and the work that still remains to be done. Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.
KIM BROWN: Now, Trump’s remarks here were prompted by the fact that the Trump administration itself has been accused of colluding with anti-Semitic organizations, by way of views expressed in Breitbart News, whose editor had been Stephen Bannon, until he was appointed chief strategist in the Trump administration.
Vice President Mike Pence has also tried to correct this image in the face of such accusations. Trump himself promoted an anti-Semitic stereotype at the very start of the election campaign in 2015, when he told the Jewish Republican Coalition that, “Look, I’m a negotiator like you folks; we’re negotiators.”
The Anti-Defamation League was alarmed by anti-Semitic publications in Breitbart News under the management of Steve Bannon. It has issued a call to Trump’s advisor Sebastian Gorka, to renounce his links to anti-Semitic organizations, with whom he worked with in Hungary. Gorka wore a medal to Trump’s inaugural ball associated with the group, The Vitézi Rend, or Order of Heroes. Those are supporters of the former Nazi collaborator, who used to be the ruler of Hungary.
During his first solo press conference, Donald Trump was confronted by a Jewish reporter, asking about his plans to deal with anti-Semitism, Trump refused to answer, and called it an “insulting question”. Let’s take a look at this here.
REPORTER: There’s been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatened to…
DONALD TRUMP: …He said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not. It’s not. Not a… not a simple question, not a fair question. Okay, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So, here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well, relative to other people running as a Republican…
AUDIENCE: … (murmuring)…
DONALD TRUMP: Quiet. Quiet. Quiet! See, he lied about… he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question, because people that know me –– and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday –– did you hear him? Bibi. He said, “I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,” and then he said, “Forget it.”
So, you should take that, instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like…
CROWD: … (chattering)…
KIM BROWN: Recently Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Europe, and visited a concentration camp in Germany. He then went to Philadelphia where a Jewish cemetery had been vandalized, and had his photo taken cleaning tombstones. Pence then proceeded to meet with the Republican Jewish Coalition, and gave a speech. So, is this a response to the accusations against the Trump administration?
Well, to discuss this further, we’re joined today by Richard Silverstein. Richard writes the blog, Tikun Olam, in which he breaks stories that are under gag in the Israeli media. He is a contributor to the MintPress News, and he also writes for many other newspapers and media channels. Two book chapters by him were recently published in the books, “A Time To Speak Out,” by Verso, and in, “Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood,” by Rowman and Littlefield.
Richard joins us today from Seattle. Richard, thank you so much for being here.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
KIM BROWN: Let’s start with the obvious question here: is Mike Pence now a full time cover-up? Is he trying to constantly be putting out fires, as it relates to this White House? Especially when it comes to trying to repair the image of this White House being anti-Semitic?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, it does seem like that the –– Donald Trump and Mike Pence –– have the good cop, bad cop relationship, where Trump is the one who gets the administration in hot water, by all these sorts of crude generalizations that he makes public. And then Pence has to come along and put out the fires, and be the sort of grownup, and go around to Dachau, to the concentration camp, and then to Philadelphia to make the administration look like it’s a grownup.
This really is a very –– compared to our past administration, where you had Joe Biden and Barack Obama, which both of whom seemed like they were adult and mature individuals — it seems like we have a Keystone Cops administration now in place.
KIM BROWN: Let’s talk about that, especially as it comes to what Mike Pence’s role seems to be. Because he seems to be trying to cover all the bases of Jewish-Americans, in terms of the Holocaust, hate crimes in the U.S. and Israel. But emphasis is clearly on the latter.
I mean, the U.S.-Israeli relationship is very important to this administration. Very clearly, so in his meeting with the Republican-Jewish Coalition, Mike Pence reiterated that the administration contemplates moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Is this really the issue that matters the most for Jewish-Americans, in your opinion?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, it depends which Jewish-Americans we’re talking about. If we’re talking about the leadership of the Jewish community, that is, those who lead the main Jewish community organizations like the ADL or the American Jewish Committee, or APAC. Yes, we’re talking about wealthy, male, older kind of individuals, for whom Israel is the sine qua non. It’s sort of like the raison d’être of the Jewish community.
However, if you’re talking about younger Jews, you’re talking about Jews who are not, kind of, in the hierarchy of a leadership, then you’re talking about something much different. There, the level of interest and commitment to Israel is much lower. The level of resistance, or downright opposition, to Israeli policy is much higher. And the younger you go looking at American Jews, the more strong those responses are to Israel. The less devotion there is to Israel, right or wrong, that sort of approach.
KIM BROWN: After the vandalism of the Jewish cemeteries in both Philadelphia and St. Louis, a group for Palestinian rights — which supports Palestinian rights, more specifically, a BDS group belonging to the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel — raised over $50,000 to help repair the damage done to the cemeteries.
And it was a gesture, I believe, intended to prove that the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic. It makes a clear distinction between the State of Israel, and the Jewish people.
So, in your opinion, Richard, has this message been understood?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, let me add a little bit to what you said. The group that created this fund, which is a wonderful gesture, I think, is two Muslim-American leaders of that community, and they launched a fund, which now has actually raised over $150,000. It is going to be used to repair the desecrated cemeteries in St. Louis and in Philadelphia. And of course, I unfortunately predict there were be similar attacks like this, against both the Muslim-American community, and the Jewish community, so … for other … (audio drop out) … incidents like this.
And I think it’s an amazing gesture of solidarity, coming from the Muslim-American community towards the Jewish community. And in fact, I would like to see the Jewish community respond in kind, and create a fund that would be used to repair mosques which have been burned. There have been four incidents of mosque arson attacks in the last week or two, in the United States, and I unfortunately don’t see the leadership of the American-Jewish community responding in the same creative, and generous way, that the Muslim community has.
KIM BROWN: And talk more about that, if you could, Richard. Because, I mean, we’re seeing some very interesting inter-dynamics coming out of the Trump White House. As we were saying, Mike Pence is appearing to be having to put out Trump’s fires on a variety of issues, not just dealing with the Jewish community.
But also, Steve Bannon, I mean, as Chief Strategist in the White House, who has made comments and in court papers relating to the divorce from his wife, said –– and I’m paraphrasing here –– that he didn’t want his children attending school with Jewish people.
But at the same time Donald Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka Trump, is married to a Jewish man, Jared Kushner, whose family was impacted by the Holocaust. And whose grandmother, I believe, was an immigrant who had been turned away initially, from the United States, after trying to seek asylum during the Holocaust.
So, what exactly kind of message is being sent out by this White House, by this administration, as it relates to the Jewish people?
Because, as we’re seeing, the rise against… of threats against Jewish community centers, I mean, it came as Donald Trump was being inaugurated as president, so maybe these things are not coincidental.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Oh, I don’t think they’re coincidental at all. I think that the anti-Semites in the United States are affiliated with the alt-right movement, that you correctly associated with Breitbart. And this alt-right movement includes a very big cadre of anti-Semites. And they feel empowered by Trump’s victory, and his nativist, kind of populist, extremist kind of views. And that’s why a lot of these anti-Semitic attacks are happening, and they’re very much linked to the attacks on the Muslim community. Which is why American Jews should really be making common cause with Muslims.
I wanted to also go to something else that Trump said two days ago, to the National Governors Conference, when he was asked by one of the Attorneys General in attendance there at the meeting, what was happening in these incidents, and what was Trump’s response? And Trump said, well –– I’m paraphrasing here –– Trump said, “Well, it’s not necessarily anti-Semites who were desecrating these cemeteries. It could be the reverse.”
And the implication there was that this was a false flag attack, by some party that wanted to make Donald Trump look bad. The implication was that it could have been Democrats; it could have been Jews themselves. And I jokingly said in my blog, maybe he thinks that the dead in the cemetery were rising up against him, as well.
That kind of spurious calumny, and smear, against his opponents really is underhanded. And this again, is the kind of thing that Mike Pence has to go around, as the adult in the room, and try to deal with.
KIM BROWN: You just wrote in your blog recently about how the face of the rise of the anti-Semitic tax in the U.S., the Israeli government remains silent. This is unusual for the Israeli government, which did not mince words when Jews were attacked in France in 2015. So, why the silence now, do you think?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, I think that there is a clear alliance between Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. And Israel sees the Trump administration as their candy store. Essentially, giving them whatever they want, in terms of the next thing. Possibly, the West Bank, and the Palestinian population there; if that’s the direction they choose to go.
And I would foresee a huge increase in the number of settlers –– Jewish settlers –– settling in the West Bank. And I see the Trump administration as welcoming that, as opposed to all previous U.S. presidential administrations, going back 40 or 50 years. Which were opposed to settlements, were in favor of a two-state solution. We have lost all of that consensus in U.S. policy, now with President Trump.
And you mentioned at the top of this story, about the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. That’s another factor that will be trouncing Palestinian national rights, by clouding … (audio drop) … recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While not recognizing Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, which is what has been envisioned for many decades by those who want peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
KIM BROWN: You know, the Anti-Defamation League tweeted recently that the amount of anti-Semitism that is being seen right now, in the United States, and being experienced by Jewish-Americans, is at the worst that it’s been since the 1930s. Would you agree or disagree with that?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, you know, there’s an issue here that is a pretty complicated one. I don’t want to overstate the danger of anti-Semitism. I think that some groups like the ADL are really in the business of finding anti-Semitism, whether it exists or not.
But I do think that the Trump administration has really let the cover off of all of these miasmas of hate in certain segments of the American population. Hate of anyone who’s different, hate of immigrants, hate of Jews, hate of Muslims. So, that has now come out of the closet, and is rearing its ugly head, I’m sorry to say.
KIM BROWN: Indeed, well, we have been joined with Richard Silverstein. He writes the blog, Tikun Olam, in which he breaks stories that are under gag order in the Israeli media. He’s also a contributor to the MintPress News, and contributes to many other newspapers and media outlets.
We’ve been discussing the Trump administration’s response to the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, particularly Vice President Mike Pence, who has had to put out fires, and sort of clean up behind his boss’s, not politically correct statements, let’s leave it there.
Richard, we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.