Barely a day after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s self-styled spokesman for the Jewish people, praised the murder of an Iranian general as part of a “struggle for peace,” some 25,000 American Jews — augmented by powerful New York officials and the predictable sprinkling of celebrities — tramped en masse across Brooklyn Bridge in a well-orchestrated display of Jewish political muscle.
The organizers, and their sycophants in the media, called the event on Sunday, January 5 a protest against “hate” and “fear.”
Allow me to differ.
Notwithstanding its anodyne facade, not one of the Jewish organizations that sponsored Sunday’s march spoiled the self-congratulatory atmosphere with a single word against the intensifying American violence in the Mideast. Not one criticized the continuing, brutal U.S. occupation of Iraq (of which the assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport was just the most recent bloody detail). And none of them expressed the slightest objection to Israel’s continuing depredations against occupied Palestine.
So — as my grandfather might have said — what else is new? After all, the march’s organizers were only being themselves: to those with Higher Purposes, mass slaughter and war crimes are details hardly worth mentioning. The transcendent objective of Sunday’s jaunt over the bridge was “to fight anti-Semitism” with “love”; at least that’s how one of the marchers, Rabbi Avram Mlotek, put it in an interview with the Jewish Week. And who could question such serene self-righteousness?
Admittedly, it does take chutzpah for a rogue’s gallery of international crime boosters (with some timely help from a protégé of a convicted Jewish terrorist) to hand out tens of thousands of banners reading “No Hate — No Fear” and pretend to have rebranded themselves as peace activists. But if there’s one thing the Anti-Defamation League, the AJC, and the other official backers of last Sunday’s power trip don’t lack these days, it’s chutzpah.
Former assemblyman Dov Hikind perfectly set the hypocritical tone four days in advance, when he tweeted, “We ask our friends in the Black community to join us & send the message loud and clear that we are one & together [and] we stand up and say NO to Anti-Semitism.”
Maybe some of Hikind’s “friends in the Black community” have forgotten his background in Meir Kahane’s racist Jewish Defense League — not to mention his feverish lobbying on behalf of Yitzhak Shuchat, a Hasidic Jew charged with assaulting a black man in 2008 who fled to Israel to avoid prosecution. But why, amid all the fawning press accounts of the march, didn’t anyone ask the newly-egalitarian Hikind where he’d been the night before his tweet, when 250 people — blacks, Muslims and Palestinian-Americans among them — met in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza “to express their solidarity with the Jewish community”? But then, I suppose revealing Hikind’s true colors might have done the same to Sunday’s march. And where the incantation “anti-Semitism” is uttered, truth is an unwelcome guest.
Hikind (I confess) is almost too easy a target. But his two-faced approach to “hate” — bad when it’s bad-for-the-Jews, fine and dandy anywhere else — is getting to be a staple of mainstream Jewish organizations. Just two days after the rally it co-sponsored, the AJC proclaimed its continuing allegiance to love and peace by praising the reactionary government of Ukraine for withdrawing from a U.N. committee devoted to the rights of Palestinians. Never mind Ukraine’s continuing flirtations with neo-Nazis. As long as it supports the persecution of an underclass troublesome to Israeli power, that regime gets a kosher stamp from AJC. And you won’t hear a peep from the other heavy hitters behind Sunday’s march — no matter how loudly they complain when a Jew gets his hat knocked off somewhere in Brooklyn.
And while we’re on the subject of hate crime, why haven’t the march organizers had anything to say about bigoted attacks committed by Jews? In 2013, Taj Patterson, a gay black man, was beaten so badly by a gang of Williamsburg Hasidim — who yelled homophobic slurs throughout the assault — that he was left blind in one eye. Two of his alleged assailants went free altogether, while several years later, another pair — both of whom were linked to a Jewish vigilante patrol — took a sweetheart plea deal that didn’t include a single day in jail. Remember the big march against “hate” New York’s Jewish organizations staged when that outrage went down? Of course you don’t. It never happened.
Propaganda is seductive, and the rhetoric of last Sunday’s Svengalis took in some genuinely decent people. The anti-occupation Jewish group IfNotNow joined the march, its leadership said, because “[t]he fight against anti-Semitism is part of the fight for collective liberation for all people.” Some members of Jewish Voice for Peace were there too, because “ending antisemitism requires ending Islamophobia here at home and supporting Palestinian self-determination in Israel/Palestine,” as one of them (correctly) wrote afterwards. The right-wing American Forum for Israel returned the compliment by branding all such conscientious Jews as traitors: “These organizations…are by their nature supporting anti-Semitic initiatives and partner with anti-Semites…. You can not pretend to stand in solidarity with Jews when you stand against the Jewish State and Jewish communities in its indigenous and ancestral homeland [that is, illegal Israeli colonists in occupied Palestine].” So much for “inclusiveness.”
However loathsome their politics, though, I’m afraid the Israel-Firsters offered a more correct assessment of January 5’s march than the anti-occupation folks who tagged along. This was not an event aimed at ending racist violence or enhancing inter-communal solidarity.
This was a war rally. Its objectives were to drum up increased hysteria in support of U.S. and Israeli violence abroad, and to bring even more police repression to black and Latino Brooklyn neighborhoods. Anyone who doubts that wasn’t listening to the speeches. (The choice by two of the march’s chief institutional backers of the sinister Mitchell Silber, former anti-Muslim spymaster for the N.Y.P.D., to head a “Community Security Initiative” for “Jewish institutions in the New York region” was another giveaway.)
And I think Rabbi Avram Mlotek — the marcher who insisted he was there to fight “anti-Semitism” with “love” — is worth mentioning again, because he came to the rally armed with liberal credentials: an Orthodox rabbi, he supports officiating same-sex marriages. But Rabbi Mlotek has also praised the illegal transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move celebrated in Israel by the massacre of nearly 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters on the same day.
And here, it seems to me, is the real key to understanding last Sunday’s rally. Its right-wing organizers may have cloaked it in gauzy rhetoric about “solidarity” and “love” — but anyone genuinely attuned to its message knew better. Inside the silken glove was the familiar iron fist.