By Jonathan Ofir
President Trump’s racist comments regarding Congresswomen of color Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, saying that they should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, are the news the world over.
They are so virulently racist, that the House passed a resolution yesterday condemning him. The Democrats were unanimous in the condemnation, and only four Republicans joined them.
Trump is not backing down – quite the contrary. He suggested that the condemnation is a conspiracy, tweeting:
“Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap.”
It’s hard to keep up with Trump. He has intensified his racist attacks, also by hitting more directly, and more mendaciously, against Ilhan Omar, in attempt to paint her as a “terrorist”.
In a press conference two days ago, Trump misquoted Omar, suggesting that she supports al-Qaeda and the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center.
These falsifications concerning Omar seem to have had their own life in the conspiracy theories of the white-supremacist right that Trump traffics in. By transmitting them on the official POTUS platform, Trump has been disseminating virulent and dangerous incitement. One can easily imagine the vigilante who will come to help the land of the free defend itself from the terrorist, in seeking to harm Omar. And Trump has also extended the accusation to the other three – notice how ‘anti-Semitism’ and Israel come into his comments at the White House Monday:
“When I hear the anti-Semitic language they use, when I hear the hatred they have for Israel, and the love they have for enemies like al-Qaeda…,”
So not only is Omar a terrorist– also Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib are, and by extension, the people who support them.
Now, let’s talk about the ‘anti-Semitism’ and Israel. Even the Anti-Defamation League is feeling uncomfortable here. Jonathan Greeblatt tweeted:
“#AntiSemitism is on the rise. @realDonaldTrump using Israel to defend his blatant racism only hurts the Jewish community. He doesn’t speak for any of us. We call on ALL leaders across the political spectrum to condemn these racist, xenophobic tweets & using Jews as a shield.”
In other words, Greenblatt is not buying Trump’s claim of protecting Jews from anti-Semitism and sees his usage of Israel (a repeated theme for Trump in this context) as hurtful to the Jewish community. In other words, Greenblatt sees Trump as “bad for the Jews”. The logic is obvious. Although ADL have themselves been part of the false-accusation campaign against Omar, they are now seeing this as going beyond the pale: it is so obviously racist, that they don’t want Israel and Jews being directly associated with it. Thus Greenblatt added in a statement:
“While ADL has publicly disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, the president is echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks. Politicizing the widespread, bipartisan support for Israel and throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism is damaging to the security of Israel and the Jewish community. He should lead by example, stop politicizing these issues and stop smearing members of Congress. ”
Read: There’s a danger to bipartisan support for Israel, and the ‘anti-Semitism’ accusations could backfire at Jews – in that order.
Let’s look at what this means for the more direct and obvious victims – those who are now being framed as “terrorists”. The charge is very well known in Israel. It has also been used against sitting lawmakers, like when former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Hanin Zoabi a terrorist in 2016. It is a classical racializing rhetoric. If you express resistance or dissent, you’re a terrorist.
Likewise, Israel has attempted to make the young Palestinian resistance icon Ahed Tamimi, who is famous for having slapped an Israeli soldier occupying her backyard, her town and her land, a “terrorist”. As with Palestinian-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour, who was under house arrest and prison for nearly three years, for her poem “resist them,” the suggestion of “terrorist” doesn’t have to be very explicit. It just needs to be a supposed incitement to terrorism, suggested through various means of word-twisting, that makes it so.
And when people think it, when they associate you with “terror”, then they are sold. You’re just too dangerous to be around, and so the people will easily approve your isolation, your incarceration, even your death: as shown by the ongoing massacre of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence with overwhelming approval of Jewish Israelis (and influential American supporters). Lieberman has associated the Gaza protesters squarely with Hamas (thus “terrorists”), and emphasized that there are “no innocents in Gaza” – so why care too much about terrorists?
Trump is apparently seeing Israel’s institutional racism as his operational model, which may go to explain why he mentions it so often in that context. He seems to think that using the ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘Israel-hater’ charge will whitewash his racism, as even ADL seems to fear. Yet his warm and reciprocal embrace of Israel is exposing the affinities between his person, his racism, and Israel’s character – as the new Israeli settlement Trump Heights on the occupied Syrian Jolan (Golan) will tell.
Trump is pushing a very dangerous, fascist notion: that those racialized people who do not agree with the ultra-nationalist, essentially white-supremacist vein of the state should somehow disappear. In Israel, one of the worst epithets against Palestinians is supposed to be “go to Gaza”. That means, disappear from our sight and we’ll bomb you once in a while. In Trump jargon it might be “go to your shithole countries” or something similar. It’s basically the same thing.
It’s good that Trump is being condemned for his racism (mostly by Democrats, but still). Now they also need to understand that Israel is his model, and that it needs that condemnation too (and far more than that). And you don’t need to listen to Trump’s garbage in order to figure that out. But Israel is still largely protected in US politics. Especially Omar and Tlaib have pointed to the need to break that taboo, and this is also why they are being targeted. In protecting them and their allies, we must also protect the points that they have been making.