Mondoweiss / April 22, 2023
Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of self-described “proud racist” May Golan as Consul General in New York will likely alienate more American Jews from Israel.
“I’m proud to be a racist!” shouted Israeli lawmaker May Golan in 2012, when she was an activist in one of the nationalist rallies inciting against African refugees in Tel Aviv. Now she is on her way to New York City. Benjamin Netanyahu has tapped her to become Consul General in NYC, a position that is considered influential because it covers not just New York state but also New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. This means that it covers the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel — nearly 3 million people.
Back in 2012 when Golan was inciting against African refugees she was aligned with Kahanists. In 2013, she officially ran for office with Otzma L’Israel (Power to Israel), a precursor of the now powerful Jewish Power party led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Golan has labeled the refugees as psychopaths, as infectious carriers of AIDS, and murderers — when you’re a Kahanist, it goes without saying that you want Jewish purity, and it’s not only about wanting African refugees out, it’s also about Palestinians. The problem, according to Golan, is that “Palestinian Kids & Teenagers are being brainwashed against Israel day and night,” and that this results in “constant violence against IDF soldiers,” as she tweeted in 2017.
She joined the Likud party and became lawmaker in 2019, and been pushing dehumanizing incitement against Palestinians from her new seat in the Knesset. Two months ago, Jewish Power lawmaker Almog Cohen aired an appallingly inciteful video by him in the parliament, where he likened lawmakers affiliated with Palestinian-representative parties to animals. His targets included the Jewish lawmaker in Hadash, Ofer Cassif, who he heckled by imitating a sheep.
Cohen refused to apologize later, saying lawmakers in the Hadash-Ta’al alliance were “not worthy of being sheep, they’re not humans” and vowed to “make their lives miserable.” Some around him seemed to enjoy his racist incitement, including Shas leader Arye Deri, who chuckled, and May Golan, who came over to Cohen for an extended exchange immediately following his animal-farm comedy. Golan urged Cohen to shout the word “out” in Arabic (“barra”) at an unidentified female lawmaker, as The Times of Israel reported. Cohen answered that he would only shout “barra” to “haters of Israel” — “only to Cassif.”
‘The opposite of what Israel needs’
Yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel was asked during a briefing:
“The Israeli Government has nominated a minister of the current government named May Golan to be the consul general of New York. Ms. Golan has previously described herself as a ‘proud racist.’ She’s said that she refuses to eat with African asylum seekers because she fears she’ll contract AIDS. Does the State Department have any concerns about credentialing this person?”
Patel referred solely to the “rhetoric” but would not comment on the appointment itself, which he maintained was Israel’s business:
“So I would refer you to the Government of Israel specifically on any of their personnel announcements and how that relates to credentialing within foreign missions here in the United States. 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. So – but I don’t have any other updates to offer on that.”
Responses to the reported nomination were nonetheless vociferous among Zionists. The more liberal-leaning were horrified, and several former diplomats called Golan a “divisive and racist” figure and “the opposite of what Israel needs in such an important region.” T’ruah, a progressive rabbinical human rights group, said, “Golan and her far-right cronies are not welcome here.”
The far-right Zionist Organization of America, on the other hand, was elated, with its leader Morton Klein calling Golan “an extraordinary Israeli patriot,” opining that “she will inject a dose of reality to the media in NY and America as well as to the Jewish organizational and political leaders” and “will become one of the finest Consul Generals we’ve ever had.”
That “injection of reality” appears to be a very explicitly racist reality, which Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — may have a harder time swallowing.
Golan would nonetheless not be the first unapologetic far-right Israeli ultranationalist in the post. Dani Dayan, former longtime leader of the Israeli YESHA settler council, was Consul General in NY between 2016 and 2021. The post is about to be vacated because Dayan’s successor, Israeli centrist Asaf Zamir (former lawmaker in Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party) resigned last month in protest of the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul moves.
There is speculation that sending Golan over to NYC is a move intended by Netanyahu to actually weaken support for the judicial overhaul, since Golan is one of the most ardent supporters of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s efforts to pass the legislation, and she would have to resign from the parliament in order to assume her new post. Netanyahu might want this because he now finds himself in need of balancing his act, as polls show markedly reduced support for the Likud following the massive protests against the new legislation attempts.
Netanyahu may thus be attempting to slow down the overhaul, or attempting a kind of “overhaul-lite,” so to speak. Golan might be too fast and furious for that kind of approach.
Likud issued a statement (in response to the news on Israeli Channel 12) claiming that the appointment was simply due to Golan’s “excellent hasbara skills in English,” according to Haaretz, and that there is “no connection to the minister Levin.”
Widening gulf between Israel and American Jews
Golan has also been a vociferous opponent of pluralism, even regarding Jewish worship. Last year, she disparaged Naftali Bennett’s so-called “government of change” for “promoting initiatives” that would provide more worshiping rights for Reform Jews at the Western Wall. She called those who give in to such pressures will become “puppets of the Islamist movement and the de facto Prime Minister Mansour Abbas” (Abbas’s United Arab List was a member of the former government with five seats).
This kind of fundamentalist ideology does not sit well with American Jews, who mainly belong to more progressive streams of Judaism than the Orthodox stream that dominates Israel today — in the U.S., about 35% of all Jews are Reform, 18% are Conservative (milder than Orthodox), and only 10% are Orthodox, according to the Pew Research Center.
Golan’s attacks on non-Orthodox streams of Judaism (even though she considers herself not religious) are part of the reason why the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said:
“We need a thoughtful, diplomatic, morally credible new consul general in NY. May Golan is none of those. Her brand of Zionism is antithetical to the majority of our community. She will harm, not help Israel’s cause.”
In other words, this will distance American Jews further from Israel.
Rabbi Jill Jakobs of T’ruah is also warning of this widening gulf:
“Netanyahu’s anti-democracy, pro-occupation agenda is already alienating both the American government and American Jews, and sending Golan to represent Israel will only widen that gulf.”
Golan herself has tried to be reassuring:
“I want to assure everyone that if I will be appointed, I will represent 100% the mainstream policies of PM Netanyahu and the Likud party to which I belong.”
She also tried to assure all American Jews that they would not be alienated:
“I am completely committed to the unity of the Jewish people, and that is the exact policy that I will follow,” she tweeted. “If appointed, I will work with the leaders of all the Jewish organizations — as part of the effort to strengthen the great partnership between Israel and the American Jewish communities.”
We will see whether Golan’s “excellent hasbara skills” in English will make her a success for Jewish unity in the U.S. or whether it will only widen the gulf. Alternatively, maybe Golan will just be making hasbara more difficult for “progressive” Israel apologists, who still seek to portray Israel as a democracy and the occupation as temporary. Maybe the proud racist will show the true face of Israel, which many have been wary of admitting.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark