The invitation was met with harsh criticism. Many US Jews see Bannon as a radical right-wing ideologist and as an anti-Semite. But ZOA President Morton Klein claimed Bannon was “a great friend of Israel and the Jews.” That’s what he was told by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, he said.
For a long time now, official Israel and the American liberal Jewry have been on a course of collision on issues of state and religion, on matters related to “the quality of Israeli democracy” and on the “occupation” issue.
Former US President Barack Obama, who was perceived as representing the liberal Jewish stance, said that in the battle against anti-Semitism “we are all Jews.” But the Jewish American right and the Israeli government want to erase the Obama legacy. For them, saying “we are all Jews” is essentially different from saying “we are all Israelis.” This statement focuses on anti-Semitism and on the memory of the Holocaust as universal lessons, and indirectly indicates that right-wing Israel is on the problematic site in the battle on universal values.
Jerusalem is no longer preoccupied with the “Jewish weaknesses” of the Diaspora and with the past. State officials are talking about reinforcing a strong State of Israel, and any attempt to restrain the Judea and Samaria settlements is perceived as betrayal.
When the alliance between the Jewish American right and the pro-Israel Evangelical Christians was born in the 1980s, liberal Jews raised an eyebrow: They had always thought the Evangelicals were dangerous, as they seek to convert the Jews after the “resurrection of Jesus.” But the Jewish right in America and in Israel is no longer afraid of the “old anti-Semitism.” Abraham (Abe) Foxman, the former leader of the Anti-Defamation League, said to me during the second intifada: “We have an alliance with the Evangelical Christians, and when Jesus the messiah arrives we’ll discuss religious conversion.”
ZOA’s praise for Bannon expands the pro-Israel circle in the American right, while driving the American center away from Israel. Many Jews, including conservatives, harshly condemn what they see as the Israeli alliance with “Zionist anti-Semites.” Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens wrote in the New York Times that the alliance between the Jewish right and Bannon was a disgrace on a historical level.
The relationship between the American right and the Israeli right is throwing the liberal Jewry into a state of anxiety, and the American Jews affiliated with the center feel they are being pushed by Israel beyond the boundaries of the Zionist consensus, while at the same time being exposed to the threats of the US nationalistic right. As a result of the fact that there are people in Israel who define progressive Jews as accomplices of Israel’s haters, the relations with America’s Jews have become quite explosive.
The Israeli government is indeed focusing exclusively on “the new anti-Semitism,” the one affiliated with those who support the BDS movement and refer to Israel as “an apartheid state.” All the “old anti-Semitism” issues are being pushed aside. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no sympathy for liberal Jews, who have become in his mind a foreign element among the Jewish people.
It’s interesting that the greatest fear of right-wing Israelis is President Trump and his plan to lead a two-states-for-two-people solution. In their battle against Trump, elements in the Israeli right are enlisting the “moderate” Bannon, who is fighting for the Greater Land of Israel, which he binds with the vision of bringing the Judeo-Christian forces together with the national (white) elements in the United States. Bannon fits like a glove to Jerusalem's right-wing hand, and the authorization it gives the right-wing ideologist as “a lover of Jews and Israel” strengthens him in the US.
Is it possible that liberal Jews will eventually see President Trump as the person who will execute a peace plan in the Middle East that could bring them back to the Jewish-Israeli consensus? Is it possible that Trump, who is perceived by progressive Jews as an anti-Semite himself, will become their last barrier against “the Zionist anti-Semites”? Who knows, the Messiah may arrive after all.