New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rory Lancman, and press secretary Eric Phillips joined Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon in strong-arming the Queens Museum to host an Israeli-government sponsored celebration of the creation of the State of Israel. The Museum had originally canceled the event out of concern that an event whitewashing the concurrent mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the land, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, by nascent Israel could be controversial and upsetting to “Palestinian friends of the Museum.”
In response to the cancellation, Danon alleged that the museum was engaging in discrimination, and several New York politicians even suggested opening an investigation into possible national origin discrimination for the cancellation. They also called for firing the Museum director, Laura Raicovich. Raicovich is a co-editor of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production, a book supporting the right of Palestinians to use nonviolent boycotts to affirm their human rights in light of war crimes and discriminatory state violence by Israel.
More alarmingly, city comptroller Scott Stringer, who regularly speaks at progressive demonstrations against Donald Trump, compared the Museum’s decision not to whitewash the suffering of Palestinians with the threat of Neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville: “At a time when we literally have neo-Nazis marching in American streets, when bigotry is on the rise, the Queens Museum has sent a disappointing message to New York City and the world,” said Stringer about the original cancellation.
Last weekend’s events, in which one person was killed by a Neo-Nazi terrorist amid clashes between neo-Nazi demonstrators and anti-racists, brought out a near-universal condemnation of racism in America by political figures from all parties. Donald Trump was a notable exception, giving contradictory statements suggesting that both sides were culpable for hatred. With Trump as an exception, virtually all other American political figures responded with unequivocal condemnation of the white supremacist groups, and cities across the country accelerated removals of Confederate statues glorifying those who fought to defend slavery.
But, as others have pointed out, the surge in opposition to racism is inconsistent. While most political figures have disagreed with Trump and vocally condemned white supremacist groups, Israel’s ongoing racial discrimination against Palestinians — including its refusal to allow the millions of Palestinians living in exile since the Nakba to return to their homes on the basis of race and religion — continues to maintain widespread support from the same political elites.
Despite comments from Stringer and others to compare opposition to Israel with Nazism, Israel’s militarized campaign of ethnic cleansing has gained the support of Neo-Nazis themselves as a model for ethnically cleansing America of racial minorities. On Wednesday white supremacist agitator Richard Spencer, who was billed to speak at the Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, told an Israeli news anchor, “As an Israeli citizen…who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogous feelings about whites. You could say that I am a “White Zionist” in the sense that I care about my people [and] want a secure homeland for us and ourselves, just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.” Spencer has invoked this theme before, including during a Texas A&M speech in which he responded to rabbi Matt Rosenberg’s call for “radical inclusion” by asking if the rabbi would want the same in Israel; when the rabbi refused to respond, Spencer argued that his call for a white “ethno-state” was no different from the kind of racial exclusivity embodied by Zionism.
Spencer’s belief that Zionism is a model for white supremacists to follow is unsurprising. Danny Danon, the Israeli diplomat who originally expressed outrage at the cancellation of the Museum event and alleged “discrimination,” has proclaimed that Africans living in Israel are “infiltrators” and should be subject to mass deportations in violation of international refugee law during an anti-immigrant riot in South Tel Aviv. Rioters violently assaulted Africans living in the area while chanting “blacks out,” as Israeli liberals accused Danon of “incitement”. Danon has also released campaign videos portraying himself as a sheriff in the wild west, arresting a left-wing Palestinian parliament member and jailing her with Hamas members. Danon has likewise argued that the hard-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is too soft, believing it has not been aggressive enough in attacking Palestinians during invasions of Gaza. Netanyahu has overseen three major military incursions into Gaza, killing hundreds of civilians with indiscriminate attacks on population centers.
Given that the neo-Nazi marchers appear to have more affinity for the ideas of Danon and other Israeli leaders, it is curious that Scott Stringer and other progressives continue to compare critics of Israeli violence–rather than its supporters–to domestic right-wing extremists.
Palestine solidarity groups have said plans to demonstrate against the museum’s reinstatement of the pro-Israel event are underway.