Those folks who are advocating, “Let’s just wait and see” or “Every president moves to the center,” or “Give him a chance, we just need to listen to each other and respect our differences,” are ignoring some very poignant lessons of history. And there is some very recent history that is let’s just say, very instructive. I am going to call this the Israelification of US politics.
This is no longer about which tail is wagging which dog but about two canines snarling in the same kennel and plotting the control of the whole doggy universe. Netanyahu’s twin has come galloping into the White (man’s) House from that great golden golf course in you-name-the-moneyed place, a great tsunami of rage, alienation, lies, and discontent. Now, what exactly does that say about us?
First, let’s be clear, while we have a deeply polarized and unhappy citizenry, with a unique blend of racism and misogyny recently unleashed, he did not “win” the election. He “won” the Electoral College which has been corrupted by years of Koch brothers and friends building on the aristocratic insecurities and rural biases of our founding patriarchs. For decades these mostly rich white males have been gerrymandering, electing conservative school boards and judges, and plotting voter suppression/ID laws and other sinister rightwing strategies, reminiscent of the poll tax and worse, aided and abetted by lax media reporting genuflecting to the gods of ratings and profits. Add to this the massive disenfranchisement of mostly Black and Brown men who have spent some critical parts of their lives in the Drug War-induced web of incarceration and post imprisonment disenfranchisement that has left vast swaths of our society totally invisible as American citizens. This is exacerbated by the consequences of Citizens United where large corporations with armies of lobbyists and lawyers loaded with bags of money are legally empowered to tilt the scales of justice in the name of free speech for all “people,” (the little man and the big corporation person alike).
All of this has deeply corrupted the political process and the ability of every man and woman and gender dysphoric person in between to understand what and why things are happening, who can actually address their concerns, and how to be thoughtful and heard when it is comes time to be counted. And I am not referring to the currently inadequate and moneyed Democratic Party, though I do hope to live long enough to see a woman president that I can embrace with some mixture of joy and relief.
So back to Netanyahu. While there are obvious differences, the State of Israel, much like the US, shares a history of immigrants fleeing oppression, a faith in manifest destiny, a Messianic belief in the rightness and righteousness of the national cause at the expense of an indigenous and mostly ethnically cleansed native population, a can-do spirit that is a blend of hard work, determination, creativity, and a willingness to rewrite the ugly price of nationhood in the name of an inspiring national mythos. We both share a variety of progressive movements that have rarely addressed our core contradictions or challenged the assumptions that have led to our dominance in the global, industrial, and militarized world.
In 1993, after the Oslo Accords, the Israeli left took a deep sigh of relief and went home. Over the subsequent decades, fueled by a belief in a glorious ancient past, an exploding fear of Arabs at home and abroad, (see Intifada one and two, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Daesh), and a defiant expansionism into land the entire world considers occupied, the ruling class moved right, and the racism that girded the state from the start, became mainstream and more thuggish. Government officials called Arabs “snakes,” “monkeys,” “beasts,” a “cancer,” and asylum seekers “infiltrators” as Benjamin Netanyahu built a belligerent coalition of the ultraorthodox, national religious settlers, and (mostly Russian) immigrants. He appointed an ultranationalist, fascistic Defense Minister, Avigdor Leiberman, who talked up loyalty oaths and bombing Iran, and an Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, who supports extra-judicial killings of Arabs and has stated that the inculcation of right wing religious Zionist values is his top priority. Moshe Ya’alon, a recent, now former, Defense Minister talked of managing rather than solving the conflict, discouraged criminal investigations into war crimes by the Israeli Defense Force, and suggested that the peace process is responsible for terrorism.
There is growing chatter about annexing the 65% of the West Bank known as Area C, of prioritizing Jewish rights over democratic rights, and most disastrously, of building the mythic third temple on the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, a move guaranteed to inflame the Muslim world until the Messiah actually shows up. More Palestinian homes have been demolished in 2016 than in any year in the past decade and the Jewish settlements are expanding like yeast on a warm summer afternoon. Israeli police officers are (officially) authorized to use live fire against stone throwers and sling shots, regardless if stones are thrown at moving cars, armored vehicles, armed security forces, or the separation wall. NGOs and human rights organizations from Breaking the Silence in Israel to the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah report rising numbers of attacks, confiscations of computers, and trashing of offices. In November 2016 the Israeli Knesset members approved a bill banning the use of public loudspeakers to summon Muslims to prayer.
I will pause to refer to the Israeli Declaration of Independence that may just remind you of our own founding document (emphasis mine):
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Israeli Medical Association is facing international criticism due to longstanding allegations of doctor participation and complicity in the torture of Palestine prisoners in Israeli jails. The Israeli military and judicial systems are under attack for their widespread arrests of Palestinian men in general and night time raids grabbing children in particular and for the extensive and prolonged use of administrative detention, no charges, no trial, and needless to say, no justice. It has been reported in the press that the fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel includes both black ops and friendly front groups in the US especially on college campuses, as well as multimillion dollar campaigns from the likes of Sheldon Adelson and colleagues.
The Israelis continue to build their eight-meter high (apartheid) wall with its barbed wire and military buffer zones and surveillance cameras mostly snaking within the West Bank on Palestinian agricultural land and water aquifers in an impressive move towards self-ghettoization. Meanwhile 20% of the Israeli population is still Palestinian and tens of thousands of mostly Palestinian men enter the country legally and illegally every year to pour concrete, pound nails, and work in the factories, trim the hedges, water the pomegranates and care for the elderly at low wages and without worker protections. And then there is the steady parade of high level officials facing trials and imprisonment for offenses ranging from rape to obstruction of justice to Bibi’s latest purchase of $1.5 billion in German submarines. He shares his personal attorney with the German sub company, but how could that be a conflict of interest?
So in what alternative universe are we living post November 8th?
In less than two weeks, our President elect has reiterated his bromance with Netanyahu (and let’s not forget Putin). He has gloried in a mythical past when America was great and the steels mills were belching great clouds of black smoke, which has nothing to do with the melting ice caps and the risks to the 11.6 million US coastal citizens who live below a three meter elevation from the sea. In blatantly racist, Islamophobic, misogynist, anti-immigrant language, he has appealed to the fears and discontents of tens of millions of mostly white people who have found themselves at the middle to bottom of the 99% with a scattering of right wing kabillionaires thrown in. The enemy has been clearly identified: brown, hijabi, accented, coming from “terror prone nations” whatever that could possibly mean, guilty until proven innocent. Children of immigrants and their parents, the undocumented millions who spray our fields and harvest our lettuce and study in our universities, now lie awake worrying about ICE and massive deportation. Since election day, the Southern Poverty Law Center has received more than 430 reports of anti-immigrant and anti-Black behavior, most of it in elementary, middle, and high schools. Our children are listening. All of them.
And let’s review (briefly) our dear President-elect’s appointments to date (11/21):
- Steve Bannon as senior White House strategist: former head of Breitbart News, an avid white nationalist who has promoted anti-Semitic, misogynist and anti-Muslim ideas, embracing the resurgence of the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy and the old “war of civilizations,” the enlightened West against the religion of Islam.
- General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser: twitter post: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” Islam is a political ideology turned into a “malignant cancer.” He favors an immigration ban and registering US Muslims.
- Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General: favors Muslim immigration ban, voted against laws that protect gay people and guarantee equal pay for women, supported efforts to roll back the Voting Rights Act, believes the Justice Department should do more to crack down on illegal immigration, supported stricter enforcement of drug laws, favors waterboarding and other torture techniques as legal and effective, voted against the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 that prohibited cruel or degrading treatment of detainees and against legislation requiring all government agencies to use only interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual.
- Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA Director: “Most Islamic leaders across America” are complicit in terrorist attacks for not speaking out more forcefully. He has denounced efforts to rein in some of the most polarizing post 9/11 counterterrorism programs, advocated returning to the bulk collection of Americans’ domestic phone records, and denounced the closing of CIA black-site prisons and the requirement for government interrogators to adhere to the rules of the Army Field Manual. He has close ties to and support from the Koch billionaire brothers.
Trump has expressed his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively killing any pretense of a Palestinian state, and the Israeli right is cheering. Meanwhile he has been embroiled in thousands of law suits, just settled the Trump University sham for $25 million dollars, and is facing numerous questions about his legally-challenged business deals and conflicts of interests. What exactly is a blind trust when Ivanka is in charge and daddy knows exactly what she is in charge of?
Let’s be real. He is doing exactly what he promised to do. Listen up. Racist nationalism feeding on fear and economic discontent directed by an obviously-corrupted leadership with a tendency towards an optional and creative approach to truth is really dangerous. This is not the time to be patient or to normalize the fact of his presidency. Right wing nationalism is not only an Israeli or European phenomenon. The alt-right celebrating with “Heil Victory” should send shivers up our collective spines.
But we can be different. We can protest and organize like our lives and our children’s lives depend on it because this time they really do. We can upset the Republican governors on the state level and the US congress in two or four or maybe– gasp– eight years, but the Supreme Court is definitely going south (and I mean that literally and figuratively) for a generation. Think about all the things you value and struggle for that make this a tolerant, cantankerous, multicultural society, like Roe v. Wade, the ACLU, the First Amendment, Black Lives Manner, religious tolerance.
The mask is off. The hard work begins in our neighborhoods, our schools, all the way to the halls of Congress. So support your Muslim neighbor, your sanctuary city, every grassroots organization working for economic and racial justice and prison reform and solar panels; listen to Bernie Sanders and John Oliver and fact check your Facebook now and again. If you see little boys grabbing a girl on the playground or hear a woman catcalled on the street or a Mexican American trashed with some racist garbage, do not be quiet. You are next. That’s how this works.
And if they come to register your Muslim neighbors and coworkers, let the two thirds of the US population that didn’t vote for DT, all sign up to register without ambivalence. And ladies, remember to wear that sisterly hijab with pride and defiance. That is what we are going to need.