Egging on the mob - Weekly Worker

Date: unknown



Republicans and Democrats alike brand anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and unleash police and rightwing attacks. But, warns Daniel Lazare, a second-term Trump presidency will move to crush any opposition to Israel

Just when it seemed that US politics could not get any crazier, last week’s over-the-top response to a growing anti-Zionist protest movement shows that things are getting even worse.

Hysteria took a quantum leap on Monday April 29, when Columbia University began handing out academic suspensions to students taking part in a pro-Gaza tent city and protestors took over Columbia’s famed Hamilton Hall (scene of a similar takeover in 1968) in response. The university sent scores of riot police into the building, who arrested dozens of students.

A day later, Los Angeles police did the opposite, as a rightwing mob attacked a pro-Palestine encampment at the University of California (UCLA). The attackers blared the Israeli national anthem from a loudspeaker while hurling bottles and fireworks. “At times, [pro-Zionist] counter-protestors swarmed individuals,” The New York Times reported. “They could be seen punching, kicking and attacking people with makeshift weapons, including sticks, traffic cones and wooden boards.” Yet the cops merely stood by and watched for close to five hours. After analysing hundreds of videos, the Times said that virtually none “show any clear instance of encampment protestors initiating confrontations with counter-protestors beyond defending the barricades.”1

The assault was thus utterly one-sided. On Wednesday May 1, the House of Representatives approved by more than three to one a bill that would endorse a definition of anti-Semitism formulated by the pro-Zionist International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and make it official US law. Backed by three dozen countries, including the US, UK, Ireland, France, Germany and Israel, the IHRA says that anti-Semitism includes:

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination: eg, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

These are all direct quotes. The first is a joke, since Nazi comparisons have long been a stock in trade among Israeli politicians. David Ben-Gurion once mocked Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of the far-right Revisionist Zionist movement, as “Vladimir Hitler”, for example, and described Menachem Begin, Jabotinsky’s successor, as “a distinct Hitlerist type” in 1963. The left-leaning critic, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, famously denounced Israeli military intervention in Lebanon and the West Bank as “Judeo-Nazi”, while opponents of the Oslo Accords paraded about with pictures of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform.2 (Rabin was assassinated by an anti-Oslo zealot in 1995.)

Does that make Ben-Gurion and Leibowitz anti-Semites? How about Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and other prominent Jewish intellectuals who signed a famous 1948 letter denouncing Revisionist Zionism as “closely akin in its organisation, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and fascist parties”?3 According to the IHRA and now the House, they are anti-Semites too.

The second example is absurd, since it is nothing more than an attempt to delegitimise criticism at a time when it is shooting through the roof. As for the third, Zionism has been riddled with anti-Arab racism from the start, as anyone familiar with its history will know. Theodor Herzl described the Jewish state as “a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism”. Ben-Gurion referred to the “wretched and degrading effect of the Arab heritage”. Jewish socialists pointed out that anti-Arab “conquest-of-labour” campaigns mounted by Zionists in 1920s Palestine were all too similar to anti-Jewish boycotts that rightwing nationalists were launching throughout eastern Europe.

“How do we react when the reactionary chauvinists in Poland fight for their ‘conquest of labour’, meaning prevention of Jews working in Polish industrial and commercial enterprises?” one asked. “How do we respond to the ‘conquest of labour’ of the Romanians?”4

Yet mentioning such incidents may soon be verboten.

Including Jews

May 1 also saw a Republican offensive led by Tom Cotton, an ex-army ranger who is now a far-right senator from the southern state of Arkansas. Two weeks after tweeting that “people who get stuck behind the pro-Hamas mobs” should “take matters into your own hands to get them out of the way”, Cotton called a press conference to declare: “These little Gazas are disgusting cesspools of anti-Semitic hate full of pro-Hamas sympathisers, fanatics and freaks.”5

“The line between protesting and rioting has been crossed time and time again,” added John Cornyn, an equally ultra-right senator from Texas. “... Pro-Hamas rioters have taken over buildings [and] threatened Jewish students.”

In fact, protestors - many of them Jewish - have been working overtime at keeping anything remotely smacking of anti-Semitism at bay. A video has gone viral of a young woman walking through a pro-Palestinian protest at Yale with a white T-shirt bearing the words, “Israel” and “Jew”. Strolling past three women holding up a banner reading, “Jews for a free Palestine”, she shouted: “Look at my face. I am not afraid.” Instead of the anti-Semitic abuse she clearly expected to provoke, she was ignored.6

May 2 saw more protests and more violence in response. At Dartmouth University, riot police slammed a 65-year-old professor named Annelise Orleck, a labour historian, to the ground. Orleck, who is Jewish, said she went to the rally in response to New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu saying of the protests: “one hundred percent, this is pure anti-Semitism, this is pure hatred”.

“Leave our students alone. They’re students. They’re not criminals,” Orleck said she told police. “The next thing I knew, I was rushed from the back.”7 After being arrested and barred from campus where she has taught for 34 years, she told a reporter, “My message is stop weaponising anti-Semitism.”8

Biden gave a brief televised White House speech on May 2, in which he hinted that the protests were anti-Semitic without quite saying so. “Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. It’s against the law,” he said - this just two days after peaceful pro-Palestinian protestors had to defend themselves against violence by the ultra-right. On May 3, finally, white students at the University of Mississippi - the same ‘Ole Miss’ that exploded in riots when a black man named James Meredith enrolled in 1962 - mobbed a small pro-Palestinian protest, shouting, “Lizzo! Lizzo!” and “Fuck you, bitch”, and making animal noises at a black woman taking part.9

How did things get so crazy so fast? The reasons are many. America has a highly-developed tradition of street protest - in part because politics are so suffocating that it is the only way to let off steam.

There is also a specifically Jewish aspect. American Jews, well-represented at elite schools like Columbia, Yale and UCLA, are deeply divided between nationalism and anti-racism; between tribalists who believe in Israel right or wrong and leftists who recognise that their well-being depends on the strictest racial and ethnic equality. Highly politicised with regard to the Middle East, they feel duty-bound to speak out against racist policies that Israel is implementing in their name.

But the real reason America is going bonkers is a perfect storm enveloping both imperial policy abroad and politics at home.

In the Middle East, the Biden administration thought it had a free hand to hammer out a Saudi-Israeli alliance, whose goal was to isolate Iran and bury the Palestinian problem for good, even as ethnic cleansing and anti-Palestinian pogroms continued to accelerate on the West Bank. With control of the Persian Gulf and its vast energy resources a top US priority, the White House had been especially nervous since March 2023, when China brokered a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Since the Biden administration saw it as a hostile intrusion onto US diplomatic turf, the purpose of the ‘Abraham Accords’ was to restore exclusive American control and prevent China or anyone else from butting in.


October 7 2023 turned that strategy upside down. Savage as Hamas’s assault was, Israel’s even worse response has not only shocked the world, but has put an end to anything resembling consensus back in the US. Led by Jewish organisations such as If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace, protests erupted within weeks, as thousands of demonstrators took over New York’s Grand Central Station during rush hour and staged a sit-in in Washington.10 Democrats were torn, as members of the party’s liberal wing peeled off in support. Republicans had a field day slandering anti-Zionist protestors as anti-Semitic and slamming Dems as well for coddling demonstrators and failing to support a key ally.

Now history seems to be repeating itself, as anti-Zionist protestors vow to descend en masse on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, as the party prepares to crown Biden as its official nominee. This is just what happened in 1968, when Chicago police used “Gestapo tactics” (to quote a liberal senator named Abraham Ribicoff) against protestors opposed to the nomination of another pro-war Democratic candidate - the now-forgotten Hubert Humphrey. Stunned and demoralised, Dems went on to lose the election to Richard Nixon. Party members are now beside themselves with terror that the same thing will happen again.

They may be right, thanks to Donald Trump’s strengthening poll numbers. Nationwide, he is up a full point over Biden, while his lead in seven key battleground states ranges as high as 6.5%. These are all states that Trump lost in 2020, in some cases heavily, so his comeback is nothing if not impressive. Dems are meanwhile perplexed. After all, Trump was supposed to be behind bars by now, thanks to the party’s ‘lawfare’ strategy. Yet, even though he is on trial for paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels - a nonsense case that amounts to little more than legal harassment - he still meets with enthusiastic crowds whenever he takes time off to campaign. Biden looks frail and infirm in comparison, as he searches for a Gaza ceasefire that somehow never comes.

A Time Magazine cover story last week threw the Democratic predicament into stark relief. Based on interviews with Trump and his associates, it laid out his plans for a second term in shocking detail. Among his promises:

  •  Use the military to round up more than 11 million illegal immigrants and place them in detention camps before booting them out.
  •  Allow Republican states to monitor pregnant women and prosecute violations of local abortion bans.
  •  Order federal prosecutors to go after specific targets and fire them if they refuse.
  •  Pardon hundreds of January 6 insurrectionists.
  •  Gut the civil service, send troops to patrol inner cities, and fill the federal government with true-blue believers that the 2020 election was stolen.11

In short, it is a blueprint for Mussolini mark 2 that Democrats are unable to resist. Trump has also been hitting the party hard on the anti-Gaza protests. On May 6, he slammed Columbia for cancelling its graduation ceremony, blamed Biden donors for backing the protests, and warned Israel to take notice: “OK, are you listening, Israel? I hope you’re listening, Israel. Hope you’re getting smart.”

A newly-released campaign video lays it all out. In it, Trump declares:

This is my pledge to you. We will confront anti-Semitism, we will stamp out prejudice, we will condemn hatred, we will bear witness, and we will act. When I get back into office, I will put every single university and college president on notice. The American taxpayer will not subsidise the creation of terrorist sympathisers on American soil. I will defend our friend and ally, the state of Israel, like nobody has ever defended it before.12

Where Nixon - however phonily - at least ran as a peace candidate in 1968, Trump could not be more pro-war.

The political implications are clear: if elected, the result will be stepped-up political repression, as a second Trump administration moves to crush any and all opposition to American policies in the Middle East.




  4. YN Goldstein Jewish socialists in the United States: the Cahan debate 1925-1926 Brighton 1998, p140.↩︎






  10. See ‘A Jewish crisis’ Weekly Worker November 2 2023:↩︎