Israel finding it harder to push its racism in US‘

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 28, 2023

Note: This post includes quotes containing sexually explicit and violent language.

Israeli hasbara, long weak, has collapsed. Propaganda attempting to explain away clear racism no longer flies so well as it once did.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, last week wanted Likud Knesset member May Golan – a notorious racist – to be the next Israeli consul general in New York.

There, she would have conducted relations with elected officials and numerous organizations, while engaging with the largest Jewish community outside of Israel.

Amid an outcry, Netanyahu apparently reversed himself on 22 April.

Golan did receive support from the Zionist Organization of America and the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce. ZOA national president Morton Klein, also well-known for his racism, called Golan “an extraordinary Israeli patriot.”

Prior to the reversal, Golan said she was “very flattered” to be under consideration for the position, which would have required ratification by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The idea should have been ludicrous.

Instead it’s instructive as to how the racism that has always been openly expressed in Israel is now becoming de rigueur even in job postings that the apartheid state previously used to try to present a softer side to the world.

In fact, the move would simply have built on the more rhetorically restrained racism of settler Dani Dayan who also held the position while backing Jewish supremacy and inferior rights for Palestinians. Dayan, former chair of an organization representing Israeli colonists in the occupied West Bank, was well liked because of his outreach within New York’s Jewish community; anti-Palestinian racism certainly didn’t rule him out and presumably ruled him in.

The prime minister apparently figured that Israeli racism from Tel Aviv to the Kiryat Arba settlement in occupied Hebron would fly just as well in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the US and one that recently rejected the anti-Palestinian, anti-Semitic and anti-Black Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Netanyahu was only partly right: Politicians in New York routinely accept anti-Palestinian racism. But because they have constituents to answer to, most draw the line at anti-Black racism. Palestinians are evidently too numerically insignificant to merit inclusion in these politicians’ anti-racism stance.

The question avoided for now is how these politicians, mostly Democrats, would have responded when they learned that Golan once said, profoundly misrepresenting the situation, “If I’m racist in order to preserve my life, then I’m proud to be racist.”

Similarly, how would New York politicians have responded to Haaretz reporting, “She also said she wouldn’t eat in a restaurant that employs African workers because ‘one of every three infiltrators has AIDS or tuberculosis.’

Golan additionally stated it had been a ‘great honor’ to speak at a memorial rally for Rabbi Meir Kahane, and that ‘being called a Kahanist doesn’t insult me in the least.’” Kahane advocated that Palestinians should be expelled from their homeland and was recognized as a racist extremist even by many American and Israeli politicians.

Those Democrats who seek to obscure that racism can breathe more easily now that she’s out.

Such an appointment, if adequately covered by mainstream American media, might have driven home to many New Yorkers – and Americans more widely – the contradiction between the image liberal Zionists try to present of Israel as a multicultural country with “shared values” and the crude reality of racial supremacism practiced in Israel and the occupied territories.

That coverage quickly began in The New York Times, where Jonathan Weisman wrote on 20 April that the Golan nomination had “yielded criticism.” He linked to a Haaretz article noting in the title Golan’s self-identification as a “proud racist.”

Interviewed Sunday on Face The Nation, Netanyahu tried to walk back Golan’s proximity to the job. What wasn’t spelled out during the interview is that Netanyahu’s self-declared “mainstream positions,” which the forever politician insisted would be put forward, are virulently racist. Notably, the interviewer raised Golan’s anti-Black and anti-Muslim bigotry, but avoided any mention of her anti-Palestinian racism.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid of Walla News earlier tweeted that Netanyahu wanted to appoint the “racist and xenophobic” Golan. This would put her “in charge of the relations with the biggest Jewish community in the US and the ties with the big Jewish organizations.”

Yair Rosenberg, a staunchly pro-Israel writer for The Atlantic, noted before the reversal that “Netanyahu has a long history of shipping often mediocre lawmakers he wants out of his hair to places like the UN and New York, but this would be exceptionally dumb even by that standard.”

These comments highlight how pro-Israel advocates like Ravid and Rosenberg – who routinely ignore or downplay anti-Palestinian racism – are troubled by further damage to Israel’s “brand.”

Grassroots Democrats are already moving toward greater sympathy for Palestinians than Israel as polls continue to indicate.

They are not interested in obscuring Israeli racism but ending it.

Democratic lawmakers, however, generally remain opposed to the views of the people they supposedly represent when it comes to Palestinian equal rights and freedom. Key Democratic leaders have just traveled to Israel to celebrate the Nakba or ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by the nascent state of Israel and its militia forebears in 1948.

The Democratic leaders ignoring this Palestinian history also fund the racist practices of Israel and disregard whatever lessons they learned from the fight against racial oppression in apartheid South Africa – which they surely recall – and the Jim Crow American South.

Jay Saper, a member leader of Jewish Voice for Peace in New York City, rejected the naming of Golan in a comment sent to The Electronic Intifada prior to the reversal. “The Israeli government’s promotion of racist officials is a reflection of the underlying logic of Zionism, consistent with the 1948 Nakba that displaced 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and laid the groundwork for today’s apartheid state.”

Saper added, “We refuse Israel’s attempt to take further racist action in our name and will continue to speak out until Palestinians live with full freedom and dignity.”

Racist start

May Golan’s appalling bigotry has been well-known for nearly a decade. Her profile has only risen since then from anti-immigrant activist to member of Knesset, and very nearly minister for the advancement of women’s status.

Golan’s move to New York would have put on pause her work related to women, hugely suspect after she referred to “radical feminism as a hate movement.”

At a 2012 Tel Aviv protest against African immigrants, Golan attempted to take down one of their tents despite it being December. She screamed at a young woman, “She wants cock in the face” and then added, “The ‘infiltrators [African immigrants] you help will give you cock in return.”

Netanyahu’s willingness to put forward someone who employs such language remains bizarre, even after the walkback.

At a different 2012 rally, attended by Itamar Ben-Gvir who is today Israel’s national security minister, Golan shouted at a counter-demonstrator, “Just as women here are raped, may you be raped in your grave.” This was soon followed by the crowd making monkey noises.

Golan’s rhetoric is undiminished by the passage of the last 10 years.

Just this month, referring to the Dee family of colonists living illegally in the occupied West Bank, she blasted the “damned terrorist who brutally murdered these three pure and righteous souls.” Golan then said those carrying out the act “should be eliminated on the spot” and argued this should occur “without a court, without arrests, without favorable conditions in prison!”

Judging from her tweet, in Golan’s view, a mob or the Israeli army should serve as executioner without the involvement of the Israeli judiciary, which is despised by Golan despite the fact it generally upholds the apartheid practices pushed by the Israeli Knesset. Indeed, Golan has expressed dismay over calls to arrest violent settler mobs that attacked and intimidated Palestinians in the village of Huwwara earlier this year.

Washington’s response

The Biden administration now won’t even have to debate whether to reject Golan.

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesperson, did condemn her racist comments.

“But broadly, we would condemn such kind of rhetoric and believe that such kind of language is also particularly damaging when it’s amplified in leadership positions.”

Still, Netanyahu’s reversal provides only a temporary respite. Israeli racism and Islamophobia will be back in the news and social media soon enough.

The racists in the current government are unwilling to “restrain” themselves as much as their anti-Palestinian predecessors who caused enormous harm in their own right, but managed to get more support from Democrats by downplaying their actions.

Within days of Netanyahu’s change of mind, Democrats were right back at it feting apartheid Israel and happily meeting with the prime minister who had briefly put forward the racist Golan.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist