By Benay Blend
“Whatever you think of her being cast as Cleopatra,” tweeted Steven Salaita, “never forget that Gal Gadot proudly served (and continues to support) a colonial army notorious for maiming and murdering civilians.” Almost immediately, Salaita said, Richard Spencer, quote-tweeted his criticism, thereby opening Salaita’s thread to Spencer’s 80,000 Nazi followers.
“For the next few hours,” lamented Salaita, “I couldn’t figure out if the hideous racist comments pouring into my mentions were instigated by defenders of the Jewish state or the anti-Semitic white nationalist.”
In those few words, Salaita encapsulates the conundrum of Zionists being indistinguishable from white nationalists. In the long run, Spencer’s followers don’t like Jews any better than they like anyone else who is not like them, so this alliance makes about as much sense as Gal Gadot, strong supporter of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) cast as Cleopatra, an Egyptian (although of Greek origin) queen.
Indeed, shortly after the passage of Israel’s “nation-state” law in July 2018, Spencer tweeted:
“I have great admiration for Israel’s nation-state law. Jews are, once again, at the vanguard, rethinking politics and sovereignty for the future, showing a path forward for Europeans.” He continued that: “The liberal media’s critique of the nation-state law as “undemocratic” reveals their own mendaciousness. When they say ‘democratic,’ they don’t actually mean rule by the people; they mean a liberal, multicultural social order.”
It is that very “liberal, multicultural” environment that provided a safe haven for refugees like my family, but which some now decry because it clashes with the notion of the Jewish state of Israel. During its establishment in 1948 Israel refused to acknowledge nationality, thus making a rare distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality.” Though all Israelis then are citizens, the state is termed a “Jewish nation,” belonging only to Israeli Jews as well as those in the diaspora.
In July 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition codified the “nation-state of the Jewish people” into law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians acknowledge his country’s existence as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” In effect, it codifies into law what was already present in Israeli institutions and daily life. By declaring the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people”—it takes away that right from its Palestinian citizens and also shreds any semblance of democracy or equality of its people.
In essence, the Nationality Law did not change much. Instead, it turned de facto racism into de jure racism, very much like what white nationalists would prefer to happen here.
“At the fulcrum of the problem,” notes Salaita, is Stephen Miller, speechwriter and policy adviser to Donald Trump. Drawing from research funded by eugenicists and white nationalist writing, Miller also helped shape Trump’s assaults on Mexicans and Muslims who sought to enter the country.
In Hate Monger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda (2020), Jean Guerrero traces Miller’s rise to become the draftsman of Trump’s border and immigration policies.
Of particular note, in 2004, while a student at Duke, Miller launched a chapter of David Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom in order to protest the university giving a platform to the Palestine Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement focused on resisting the Israeli occupation through the use of non-violent, direct-action principles (Guerrero, p. 90).
In March 2007, Miller organized an immigration debate with Richard Spenser, then a graduate student. As Guerrero explains, Spencer calls himself a “Zionist” for white people, thereby appropriating a phrase associated with support for the Jewish state despite the anti-Semitism in his “alternative (alt) white” sphere of influence (p. 101).
Adding to the confusion, Guerrero labels this a “Jewish” term, thus compounding the confusion (at least for me) by equating Zionism with Judaism rather than a separate political movement.
In this way, Miller very early served as what Salaita calls a “fulcrum,” thereby making it possible for both white nationalists and Zionists to hurl insults at Salaita’s critique of Gadot’s latest starring role.
Spencer has called his goal a “sort of white Zionism” that would encourage whites to build a homeland similar to Israel, an Altneuland—an old, new country—he explained, using a term attributed to Theodor Herzl, a founder of modern Zionism.
“I’ve said this to Zionists,” concludes Salaita, “when Nazis like what you’re doing, you really need to rethink things” .
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.