“Fire up the bulldozers,” says Trump’s biggest fan in Jerusalem

Ben Packer, second from right, runs a hostel that houses foreign recruits to the Israeli army. Despite its embrace of white supremacists, he is cheerleading for the incoming Trump administration. (via Facebook)

Who is Donald Trump’s biggest fan in the Middle East? Ben Packer, a right-wing rabbi living in occupied East Jerusalem, has the required credentials.

For a start, Packer and the president-elect both have reputations for extremely abrasive behavior.

In 2013, comments of Packer encouraging Israeli soldiers to make “Rachel Corrie pancakes” were posted on the Internet by the Jerusalem Heritage House, a Jewish-only hostel that he runs.

By so doing, Packer mocked a courageous activist, killed with a bulldozer by the Israeli military as she tried to prevent a home demolition in Gaza.

Heritage House hosts so-called “lone soldiers,” recruits from overseas who join the Israeli army.

With that background, it is not surprising that Packer swiftly celebrated Trump’s election victory.

On 9 November – the day Hillary Clinton conceded to Trump – Packer wrote on Facebook that it was “time to make the Middle East great again by significantly strengthening the Jewish presence throughout our ancestral homeland.”

Later that day, he implied that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, should waste no time in expanding Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.

“Bibi, fire up the bulldozers let’s get to building,” he posted, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “No more excuses.”

Compliments for racists

Israel’s annexation of the West Bank was “inevitable,” Packer wrote later that month, adding “it’s likely going to be easier with Trump and his administration.”

When he is not soliciting donations for Israel’s settlements, Packer has been paying compliments to white supremacists.

In December, he offered praise to Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who has professed a desire for the US to become an “ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans.” Spencer has made clear that the “ethno-state” he covets is influenced by the Zionist movement and its 19th century plans to colonize Palestine. He has even said that he wants a type of “white Zionism.”

Packer shared a video clip on Facebook that features Spencer answering a question from Matt Rosenberg, a Texas-based rabbi who identified himself as belonging to a tradition of “radical inclusion and love.”

Spencer defended his views by likening them to Israel’s exclusion of non-Jews.

By sharing that post Packer prompted an online discussion. One Facebook user drew attention to how participants in a far-right rally gave Nazi-style salutes after Spencer chanted “hail Trump” during a speech. Another commenter described Spencer’s racism as “very dangerous stuff.” Yet Packer replied that Spencer “doesn’t seem so dangerous to me.”

Packer may have a different idea of what constitutes “dangerous” than most observers. His social media postings indicate that he is supportive of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the late hatemonger who inspired a US-born Israeli settler to commit a 1994 massacre in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque.

Kahane was so extreme that his party, Kach, was banned by Israel for its racism.

In November 2014, Packer announced on Facebook that he was honoring the anniversary of Kahane’s death by “facilitating the purchase” of his books.

Kahane notoriously favored the wholesale expulsion of the Palestinian population, with one of his books calling Arabs a “malignant” population.

Packer has also defended Steve Bannon, who Trump has selected as his chief strategist in the White House. Until last year, Bannon headed Breitbart News, describing it as “the platform for the alt-right.”

The term “alt-right” is a euphemism for white supremacy and white nationalism.

When news of Bannon’s appointment to a senior position in the Trump administration broke in November, Packer was asked by a Facebook user if he still regarded Trump as “a friend of the Jews.”

“Yep,” Packer replied. “Doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”

Packer has been particularly enthusiastic about Trump picking Stephen Miller as a senior policy adviser.

Miller spent much of his youth honing his writing skills as a columnist with The Chronicle, a student newspaper at Duke University. His articles smacked of thinly concealed racism.

In 2005, for example, he compared multiculturalism to segregation, accused the writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou of “racial paranoia” and lambasted Duke’s president for allegedly allowing a Palestine solidarity movement conference to turn the university “into another pawn” in a “vast terrorist campaign.”

While studying at Duke, Miller lent his support to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a staunchly pro-Israel group that promotes bigotry against Muslims. Its founder, David Horowitz, has long claimed that African Americans have “benefited from slavery” and that reparations would be “racist.”

Richard Spencer has also asserted that Miller helped him organize a 2007 on-campus debate about immigration.

In a recent blog post for the Israeli website Arutz Sheva, Packer recalled first meeting Miller while attending the screening of an anti-Muslim film at Duke.

Packer claims to have been a “Rabbi on Campus” at Duke. But Keith Lawrence, a spokesperson for the university, told The Electronic Intifada that “To the best of our knowledge, Rabbi Packer has never had a formal role or position at Duke.”

The bonds between Packer and Miller became stronger. Packer once took Miller on a guided tour of East Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied West Bank.

“Stephen Miller is not just my friend, he’s not just our friend, he is us,” Packer wrote. “He is part of that new proud generation, no longer relegated to the fringe. His appointment is spectacular news for the Jewish people and he should be blessed with everything to do great things.”

Packer is, needless to say, wrong. The emboldening of white supremacists is not a positive development for American Jews or Americans as a whole. It will, however, be seized upon by Israeli government officials intent on furthering the colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

This week, Packer hailed the “proud, committed Jews” who are “streaming” to Washington, DC, to celebrate Trump’s inauguration.

He derided young Jews protesting silence in the American Jewish establishment over the racism and bigotry being ushered into the White House as “whiney sore losers.”

Ben Packer’s cheerleading for the incoming Trump administration is telling. Bigots such as Packer are expecting serious action for Israel and its bulldozers.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.