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A new Jewish Defence League?

March 4, 2017 at 6:26 pm

The formation of the so-called alt-right and its closeness to the new American president is a worrying phenomenon. The “alt-right” is little more than the old white nationalism beloved of neo-Nazis. While its leading figure Richard Spencer denies being a neo-Nazi, the whites-only state he advocates for the US very closely resembles Nazi ideology.

Donald Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller worked directly with Spencer when the pair were at Duke University a decade ago, as my colleague at the Electronic Intifada Michael Brown revealed last month. Both have a disturbingly racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideology.

Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon ran hard-right news website Breitbart as what he called a “platform for the alt-right”.

With this many hard-right figures high up in the White House it should not be surprising that white nationalists and racists are having a field day.

The Zionist hard-right is in hog heaven too, since Trump made clear that his position on Israel would be one of uncritical support.

The Zionist Organisation of America has defended Bannon and Trump from accusations of anti-Semitism. Despite serious concerns, time and again the same defence is trotted out: Trump is pro-Israel; the Israeli prime minister loves him, therefore he cannot be anti-Semitic.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

As I have argued in this column before, the Trump era is bringing into ever sharper relief the fact that Zionism – the Israeli state’s ruling ideology – and anti-Semitism are in no way incompatible.

In fact Spencer – an anti-Semite and white nationalist– even explicitly describes his ideology as “a sort of white Zionism”.

There is another force which is supporting Trump: the Zionist hard-right – even more extreme than the pro-Trump Zionist Organisation of America.

The Jewish Defence League was founded in 1968 by Meir Kahane, a New York rabbi who went on to be elected to a seat in Israel’s Knesset on a platform of forcibly removing all Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Rea.

In the 70s and 80s, the JDL embarked on a series of bombings and other violent attacks against Soviet, Palestinian and Arab targets. It also targeted Jews it considered to be “traitors” – in fact the JDL’s first fatality was a Jewish office worker who worked on bringing Soviet musicians over to the US.

The JDL is thought to have been behind the killing of Alex Odeh, a Palestinian-American civil rights activists whose office was pipe-bombed in the 1980s.

Once classified as a terrorist organization by the FBI, the JDL’s membership and activity waned, and the group split and turned in on itself. But in France in recent years, the JDL has been a serious and growing extremist threat, whose street thugs specialise in attacking Palestine solidarity activists – especially those who happen to be Jewish.

The rise of Trump seems to have given the JDL in the US a new lease of life.

US paper the Jewish Daily Forward and Tel Aviv paper Haaretz both in January reported on a re-founding event for the JDL in New York – the same city where Kahane’s original hate group was founded.

Undeterred by Trumps coddling of anti-Semites, some 20 or so activists gathered in a room near Times Square to watch on TV and celebrate as Trump was inaugurated president.

“We support him,” JDL leader in New York, Karen Lichtbraun, told the Forward. “Trump is supporting many of the ideals that we have.”

Comparing the Kahanist movement to the “alt-right,” Jonathan Stern, a younger Kahanist activist, told the paper that, “a lot of our ideology is similar … I see this as a priority – to reach out to the people in the ‘alt-right’ that are pro-Jewish, pro-Zionist and pro-Israel.”

“Trump is just making it easier to emerge,” Yaniv Baron, another Kahanist said.

“Donald Trump brings a lot of similar ideology. He speaks in the same language as Kahane,” another said.

While one of those assembled do not like Spencer, another of them told the Forward, “we’re not going to work with Nazis – God forbid – but there are factions within the ‘alt-right’ where there is a commonality … Why shouldn’t we associate ourselves with a charismatic and extremely popular rising figure within the MAGA movement who agrees with us on most issues, but has some problematic followers?”

A look at this new New York JDL’s online presence shows that is already active, at a low level, mostly by harassing and heckling Palestine solidarity demonstrators. They are currently promising to oppose demonstrators against the AIPAC policy conference later in March – an important annual event in the Israeli lobby’s calendar.

Will this new JDL embarks on a violent campaign of bombings like its predecessor? It’s too soon to say, but it seems unlikely. While Kahane was something of an outcast in the Israel of the 70s and 80s, many of his racist precepts have now been adopted by the “mainstream” Israeli parties.

Any new JDL branch, however, is certain to be bad news.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.