As news and images exploded out from Gaza yesterday morning, as death counts increased, and the idea that Israeli soldiers opened indiscriminate live-fire on mostly-unarmed protestors became rooted in whatever passes for a public consciousness these days, a sort of counter-narrative began to take place. These protestors, massed against the border, were Hamas operatives. There was some talk of them being paid by Hamas, but the right wing in America and Israel believed, en masse, that these people were at best being manipulated by Hamas and used as human shields in a propaganda war.
Now, it’s not that these fabulists had no point at all: Hamas has never been above sacrificing Palestinians. And the protestors weren’t strictly angry about the move of the US embassy per se, but rather against the occupation as a whole. And it is clear that Hamas certainly encouraged people to mass at the border.
But still: think about it. Think of how little you have to care about Palestinians to think that they’d throw their lives away simply because Hamas said to. Think about how much you’d have to dismiss the daily cruelty and, ultimately, the pointless confinement of their lives. Think about the deep cynicism and reflexive denial you’d have to live in to pretend that there could be no legitimate reasons for a punished and trapped people to be angry.
And that’s when you realize that yesterday represented a kind of culmination, growing for years. The racism and religious bigotry that has been growing and ultimately consuming the GOP has found a full-throated partner in Netanyahu’s Likud, which has dropped even the pretense of peace, and even the illusion of recognizing Palestinian humanity.
The grotesque spectacle of the corrupt and terminally stupid US President sending the smiling emptiness of his daughter and the hollow absurdity of his son-in-law to open an embassy and close the door on any productive US role in the Middle East, to be surrounded and serenaded by bigots and religious hucksters, while a few miles away dozens were killed, is that final fusion.
It’s where the GOP’s ravening viciousness and absolute lack of empathy combined perfectly with the reckless hatreds of Trumpism and the cynical bloody-mindedness of Bibisim. They have been moving together for years, and they met fully and finally on Monday, the ting of clinking glasses drowning out the shrieks and the sound of rivening flesh below.
Ferguson and the Intifada
An oppressed minority has enough, and protests against their oppressors. Years–generations–of systemic abuse come to a head in clashes that turn violent. Official policy is to treat them as hostile, assume the worst, and use the behavior of any bad actor to engage in swift, disproportionate punishment.
You saw the subhead of this section, so you understand the parallels here. The protests in Ferguson in 2014 came from a defining incident, the shooting of Mike Brown and the decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed him. Immediately, a country already on edge after race-baiting demagogues used the fact of a black President to sow even more fear and division split apart.
The conversation quickly turned from the weight of Ferguson’s history (and that of the entire US) to whether or not Mike Brown deserved it.
In the hot summer of 2016, with Donald Trump stoking racial hatred at every raucous, adoring rally, we turned to another killing, in Charlotte, of Keith Scott. I wrote that maybe Scott had a gun or was a bad dude, but that wasn’t the issue.
The problem then is that these normal suspects will use any potential flaws in his character to gloss over the real issue, which isn’t just police violence, but the culture from which it springs. Tongues will be clucked over the defense of the dubious, and the question will be not “why are they angry”, but “how dare they be so angry. This one guy wasn’t a saint!”
It’s the normal dodge– that Mike Brown may have committed petty larceny means the sins of Ferguson don’t count, and that no one should have been mad. History is erased by a couple of cheap cigars.
That’s what has happened in Gaza as well. There’s no question that Hamas is a cruel sort of government, and that surely some of the people who went to protest wanted violence. But that we say, blithely, that they were “protesting at the border” is a benign way to describe the situation. They were at the fence that circumscribes their life, that leaves them in a wrecked and punished enclave, where they are trapped by Israel, and trapped with Hamas.
But none of that matters. The whole goal of the GOP has stopped even trying to understand why people might be upset over hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and the War on Drugs and police brutality. A whole campaign, and arguably an entire Presidency, was based around saying mean things about Black Lives Matter and getting performatively angry about football players kneeling.
That’s not just Trumpism, but he was the snarling completion of the GOP’s transformation, and certainly accelerated it and liberated bigots from using code words anymore. And he decided, without any hesitation (or really any thought) that he’d overturn decades of US foreign policy regarding the Palestinians, and be entirely unconcerned with their national aspirations of even basic humanity.
Again, though, Trump was the culmination of this. Over the last decade, the GOP accepted that Bibi’s particularly cruel and inward version of Likudism wasn’t merely cool, but was the avatar of Israel. That there was no Israel other than Bibi. And Bibi himself, in his rhetoric and cynicism and bigotry, was essentially, or even quintessentially, a Republican. They both decided whose lives were the only ones that mattered.
There is a common denominator between Mike Pence going to an NFL game just to walk out when black players demonstrated that their basic human dignity and lives were worth more than a tuneless poem, and Nikki Haley walking out today when a representative from Gaza rose to speak about the slaughter of his people. They both showed exactly how they felt about the wrong people claiming their humanity.
(The connection between the GOP and Israel is pretty complex, as the Republicans have been more of less taken over my apocalyptic Christians, who despise Islam and therefore love Bibi. It’s a marriage partly of convenience, as these Christians have no love for Jews in any real sense, but it is mostly a marriage of true love, based on mutual hatred.)
Foreign Policy by Politics and Personality
There’s another way that the United States and Israel are in the same trough of historical madness: they are being shaped entirely by the malignant personalities of their heads of state. Those personalities manifest themselves in different ways, of course, but there are parallels that go beyond their racism.
I used to think that Bibi had no ideology other than his own political career, and he was willing to bend as far to the right as possible to create coalitions that would keep him there. I don’t think I was wrong, but I think he calcified into the grotesquerie he always presented himself as. You don’t cater for years to Avigdor Lieberman without eventually believing your own wretched posturing.
But still, the raw cynicism with which he managed his career posioned everything in Israeli politics and its foreign policy. Piece by piece, in order to save his own skin, he destroyed first the possibility of a two-state solution and then even any idea of it. He destroyed hope, and in doing so, he further coarsened Israel. The country has largely washed its hands not just of the national aspirations of Palestinians, but their very humanity.
This was also made possible by the fervent embrace in which he was wrapped by the GOP, who had his back, and who gave him pride of place even over the United States President. Until, of course, that President was Trump, who either through laziness or meanness, tied his foreign policy entirely to Bibism, starting with the JCPOA (which, was always have to remind ourselves, is supported by the Israeli intelligence services, but not Bibi).
Trump’s attitude toward Israel was, by any logical stance, weird. It’s not just that he is willing to give them whatever he wants, and it’s not that he really has no principled reason to support them. It’s that he really doesn’t care, which is why he turned over all his policy to Jared Kushner, who knew nothing.
Our policy is then dominated by Trump’s laziness and ignorance and bigotry, by his idea that he really should listen to Bibi, by his addiction to the strange passions of Fox News, and by his absolute lack of concern for anyone who can’t fete him with red carpets and orbs.
That’s why he moved the Embassy. It is true that many Democrats supported this as well- Chuck Schumer, who is entirely inexcusable, congratulated Trump for doing so. It’s very true that not giving the Palestinians a real chance was bipartisan, but never to this degree. Since the first Bush administration, the idea that the Palestinians had rights was a given.
Moving the Embassy was never done by a Democrat, or a Republican before the zombie fungues took full control of the GOP brain, because everyone recognized that if we wanted any chance of being a trusted broker, we couldn’t honor the Occupation. We could play footsie with it, we could recognize it de facto, but a de jure acceptance of Israeli domination over Jerusalem? That was madness.
Well, it’s madness that the right wing likes. It sticks it to the Palestinians, and gives Bibi a boost. It’s a main cause of Fox News. They’ve been telling Trump to do this for years. And he wants to make them happy. He lives for them to say he was sure tough and he stuck it to the libs.
And so he made a catastrophic move, because that’s who he is. And that’s what our politics are now. That’s also the heart of our international relations.
White Supranationalism Over All
As we’ve argued on this blog, many times, putting Jared Kushner in charge of Middle East peace is one of the most insulting aspects of Trumpism. Even if he’s a bright guy, and that shouldn’t be stipulated as a fact, he knew nothing about the Middle East.
That’s sort of why it was maddening that he and Ivanka, who is a worthless cover for the admin’s depredations, were there dedicating the Embassy in the first place. This was a monumental event, whether you thought it was Brave and Bold or catastrophic. It wasn’t a photo op for a jumped-up empowerment guru and the security-clearance-denied rich kid she married.
But it was doubly maddening when you consider the violence that was happening while they cheered and grinned and celebrated. The contrast itself was sickening; that the Administration literally doesn’t care enough about a razor-edge situation to send anyone competent puts it in stark relief: they just don’t consider Palestinians to be people.
In his rare remarks, Kushner gave boilerplate platitudes about peace, the possibility of which’s death he was overseeing, but then improvised and let us know exactly what he thought about Palestinians.
“As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he said.
That’s really all you need to know about this administration, about the GOP, about Bibi, and about the white supranationalism that is overtaking so much of the globe. You see it in the cruelty shown Syrian refugees in Europe (especially, though not exclusively, in Eastern Europe). You see it in how we treat refugees of all stripes, and how the controlling party treats any minority. Cruelty isn’t the outcome: it’s the entire goal.
It’s the idea that the Other has to be completely dehumanized, that their aspirations treated as worthless, that any violence they commit is inexcusable, and that violence against them is justified, acceptable, and praise-worthy.
That’s Bibism. That’s Trumpism. That’s the GOP. And at the end, that’s America.