On Tuesday Israel, emboldened by the inauguration of President Trump, approved the construction of 2,500 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank. The move comes in defiance of widespread international opposition, which was underscored less than ten days ago at a conference of world leaders in Paris arguing for a two-state solution and in a December U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement building, which the U.S.—in a pointed departure from precedent—refused to veto. Trump had criticized the U.N. resolution, pledged greater support for Israel, and chose an ambassador to Israel who is not only virulently pro-settlement, but also ran the fundraising branch of an organization that financially backs settlements.
This creates a curious duality. Trump has made much of his support for Israel, a position that allows him to paint himself as a friend to Jews. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even said that Trump feels “very warmly” about the Jewish people. And yet Trump entertains a degree of anti-Semitism unparalleled in recent American administrations. At home, Trump is responsible for stoking a resurgent white nationalist movement that’s still divided over the “Jewish Question”—whether or not Jews are tolerable in a nationalist America—as the New Republic reported yesterday. He galvanized these anti-Semites when he suggested the existence of a globalist Jewish conspiracy during his campaign, and his election may offer them unprecedented access to the political establishment. During the campaign, Jewish journalists reported facing a wave of anti-Semitic harassment, and since his election hate crimes against Jews have spiked. He also chose to elevate Steve Bannon, head of white nationalist favorite Breitbart News, to chief strategist.
Despite giving a platform to anti-Semitic rhetoric, Bannon, like Trump, is also a staunch Israel supporter. That position is not as contradictory as it might seem. Their support for Israel is not about Jews—it’s about signaling hawkishness and, perhaps most importantly, pursuing anti-Islamic policy in the Middle East. Support for Israel isn’t even necessarily contradictory with the new white nationalism, which advocates for separate ethnic nations—a Jewish state in a separate, strategic position as an ally against a perceived Arab enemy is one thing, the safety of Jews from persecution at home is another.