by: Rebecca Vilkomerson on February 14th, 2017 | 1 Comment »
Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, we can look to Israel as an alarming roadmap for where the Trump administration would like to take the United States. The two leaders, who share a similar worldview, will likely compare notes on building walls and banning people due to nationality and religion, and discuss their hawkish policies on Iran, expanding illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Its recent mild criticism of settlements notwithstanding, the Trump administration has demonstrated a disturbing alignment with the far-right in the Israeli government and settler movement that is encouraging Israel to further cement its occupation and a de facto one-state reality with separate and unequal policies for Jews and Palestinians. In other words, apartheid. Israel may be a few years ahead of the U.S., but the “shared values” of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are increasingly manifest here too.
Standing outside Terminal 4 at JFK the morning after Trump’s executive order barring refugees and Muslim immigrants – with hundreds, and then thousands, of people protesting, I thought about my recent trip to Israel. Israel already has its own walls and restrictive, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim immigration policies, and I have plenty of Palestinian and Muslim friends who have been turned away when they try to enter. But I sailed through border control without even a question due to my Jewish identity and Israeli family. Israel employs a discriminatory immigration system that encourages Jewish immigration from around the world while preventing Palestinian refugees, who it expelled, from returning to their homeland. Israel also has laws denying entry to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, and takes a hard line against asylum seekers. In short, all the policies that have inspired protests not seen in a generation in the U.S. have already been in place in Israel for decades.
This isn’t a coincidence. Trump has surrounded himself with hardline supporters of the Israeli right and anti-Muslim ideologues, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, his appointee as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, whose confirmation hearings may begin this week, and his son-in-law and top advisor, Jared Kushner, who like Friedman has close ties to Israel’s settler movement.
Emboldened by the Trump administration, in recent weeks Israel has announced accelerated settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the construction over 6,000 new units in existing settlements and the first entirely new settlement in over two decades. In the latest escalation, the Israeli government passed a law last week that legalizes settlements built on stolen land. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israel is dropping the pretense that their military rule over Palestinians isn’t permanent, flying in the face of international law.
There’s every indication that Trump and Netanyahu will deepen the already close ties between their administrations during their meeting this week. On the campaign trail, Trump didn’t miss an opportunity to point to Israel to justify his proposal to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border. In fact, there is already a wall and militarized enforcement at the U.S. border that has contributed to the deaths of over 6,000 people in the last 20 years and the Israeli wall he was likely referring to is built mostly on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law, dividing people from their loved ones and land. Netanyahu recently caused a diplomatic spat with Mexico when he tweeted his support for Trump’s proposals, citing Israel’s wall on the southern border that blocks African asylum seekers.
The alliance between Trump and Netanyahu is bad for everyone. First and foremost, it’s bad for those in the immediate crosshairs of both administrations, especially Muslims, Palestinians, other people of color, and immigrants. But it’s also bad for Jews in the U.S. and around the world, who are seeing an alarming increase in anti-Semitism fueled by Trump’s rise, including bomb threats at 48 U.S. Jewish community centers in the last month, and a White House that omitted any mention of Jews from its statement commemorating the Holocaust. Netanyahu and his government have remained shamefully silent in the face of this disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitism, even defending members of Trump’s administration like Bannon against accusations that they have promoted anti-Jewish hatred.
Building walls to keep out people seeking to return to their homes and reunite with families and migrants seeking safety and opportunity, discriminating against people of color and minorities, cracking down on human rights defenders and keeping them under surveillance, and religiously profiling people at borders, are all hallmarks of Israeli policies that Trump has embraced. In the short term at least, we can expect to see an acceleration of these policies in both the U.S. and Israel.
Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs for the future. Americans are using tools including boycotts targeting Trump’s brand in protest of his administration’s infringement on basic rights, in much the same way that Palestinians have been using boycott, divestment, and sanctions to bring about pressure on Israel over its denial of their freedom and rights. And polls show that Americans are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, particularly young people, people of color, progressives, and others who are taking the lead in standing against Trump’s regressive policies.
As we move forward in this new and dangerous era, we need to unite under a broad, cross-border progressive coalition if we are to successfully resist this growing onslaught and stand up for equal rights, for all people, everywhere. The hardline, xenophobic right in Israel and the U.S. are uniting and learning from each other. Progressives and all those who believe in justice and equality for all peoples, regardless of religion or race, need to do the same.