Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, has weighed in on the controversy over President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of the racist former executive chairman of Breitbart News as his chief strategist.
Under Steve Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News “regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white nationalist and white supremacist beliefs,” according to New York magazine.
This so-called alt-right ideology has been described by one of its key promoters as a form of “white Zionism.”
Bannon, who will be one of the most powerful officials in the White House, has himself been accused of making specifically anti-Jewish remarks.
“I feel like putting somebody into that chief adviser role who has a history of connection to white nationalists and anti-Semitism is very, very troubling,” Kaine, currently a US senator and former governor of Virginia, said in reaction to the Bannon appointment, The New York Times reports.
But Kaine goes on to contrast Trump’s pick with the outgoing US president’s record: “I mean, think of President Obama – he comes in, David Axelrod is his lead adviser and Rahm Emanuel, who fought in the IDF [Israeli army], was his first chief of staff. … He fought for the IDF in Israel, and David Axelrod, very proud of his heritage, and the fact that that, that is being replaced by a Steve Bannon mentality that is tied to white nationalism and anti-Semitism – deeply troubling.”
Kaine’s allusion to Axelrod’s Jewish heritage and his assertion that Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, served in a foreign army is presumably intended to contrast Obama favorably with Trump.
Emanuel was, however, arguably advancing a different form of supremacy – that of Israelis over Palestinians.
Fighting for Israel
Rahm Emanuel did not “fight” in the Israeli army, but did assist it during the 1991 Gulf war, when he “served briefly as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli military base,” according to The New York Times.
A 1997 Chicago Tribune profile of Emanuel specifies that he was stationed at a “supply base” where he sorted “tank brakes from jeep brakes from truck brakes.”
The Chicago Tribune suggests that Emanuel is less than proud – or at least less than open – about the episode: “He doesn’t want to talk about it, except to say that he went because many Israelis had fears of a chemical attack and he wanted to provide support. ‘It was isolated,’ he says.”
After Obama appointed Emanuel as his chief of staff in November 2008, Emanuel’s father, Benjamin Emanuel, caused immediate embarrassment when he asserted that his son’s appointment would be beneficial to Israel and made anti-Arab remarks.
Faced with a public outcry, Emanuel eventually apologized for his father’s comments.
Kaine is nonetheless fine with the belief that Emanuel, who held one of the most powerful posts in the US government, “fought” for a foreign army that enforces a military occupation and settler-colonial project that grants full rights to Jewish settlers while denying them to Palestinians.
Trump’s elevation of fringe extremists like Bannon is bringing to the surface the alliance between white nationalists and supporters of Israel.
The brand of right-wing extremism Bannon espouses has come to be known as the alternative right, or alt-right.
Bannon has described Breitbart News as “the platform for the alt-right.”
Even the rightwing radio host Glenn Beck is calling the alt-right “truly terrifying.”
As Beck pointed out in an interview on CNN on Tuesday, the movement’s main thinkers include Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who has advocated “peaceful ethnic cleansing” in order to create “an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups and extremism, Spencer has called his mission a “sort of white Zionism.”
SPLC says that Spencer hopes to “inspire whites with the dream of such a homeland just as Zionism helped spur the establishment of Israel.”
Meanwhile, the most spirited defense of Bannon has come from Joel Pollak, senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, in an article headlined “Stephen K. Bannon: Friend of the Jewish People, Defender of Israel.”
Pollak wrote in 2014 that the “Palestinian cause itself seems to have been reduced from a nascent expression of longing for self-determination in a historic homeland to a pure cult of Jew-hatred and martyrdom.”
“Palestinian nationalism is not actually a form of nationalism, properly speaking,” Pollak added. “It is a mass psychosis.”
“This is not a national movement that can be bargained with, that is prepared to accept compromise. It can only be defeated and contained until the fever passes – however long that may be,” according to Pollak – who now offers himself as a character witness for Bannon.
Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of Israel’s most visible apologists, has also come to Bannon’s defense.
Dershowitz accused Bannon of “ill-advised” comments and “carelessness,” but asserted “I don’t think anybody should be called or accused of being anti-Semitic unless the evidence is overwhelming.”
By contrast, Dershowitz has smeared the entire boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its denial of Palestinian rights as promoting anti-Semitism.
And Yossi Dagan, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party and leader of a council of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, has strongly backed Bannon’s appointment in a public letter.
All of this signals that there is no contradiction between white supremacism laced with anti-Semitism, on the one hand, and fanatical support for Israel, on the other.