On Wednesday, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, alt-right luminary Richard Spencer declared himself to be a “white Zionist.” Just as Jews want a state of their own, the Charlottesville far-right organizer argued, he merely seeks a state for white people.
“As an Israeli citizen,” Spencer told his Israeli interviewer, “someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogous feelings about whites. I mean, you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one. At the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in June, I explained why:
Essentially, the alt-right maliciously appropriates the deeply held values of liberals and minorities in order to attack them. This is not because the alt-right shares those values, but because it wants to troll those who do. Thus, it wrenches causes like affirmative action, black pride, and Zionism from their historical and moral context—as defenses of minorities against long-standing majority oppression—and inverts them to serve white supremacist aims against minorities. In this manner, the return of Jews to their indigenous homeland is recast by white nationalists, who are not indigenous to America, to justify kicking Jews and other minorities out of the country. Similarly, in 1979, David Duke left the KKK to found the so-called “National Association for the Advancement of White People,” a white supremacist inversion of the NAACP.
This disingenuous dynamic of using liberal values to troll liberals has been documented elsewhere by journalists who have followed the alt-right. And it was understood long before these bigots sought to rebrand in the 21st century. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1946 treatise Anti-Semite and Jew:
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.
That the alt-right does not genuinely support Israel or Zionism—that “they delight in acting in bad faith” on the topic—is readily apparent from how its members talk about Israel when they are not engaged in trolling. This was particularly evident when Trump launched air strikes in Syria and the alt-right promptly blamed it on the very Zionists they previously claimed to admire:
ya dun goofed. We don't want Syria to become the next Lybia. Don't fall into the Zionist trap dad
— Der Frosch (@cartoonfrog) April 7, 2017
The NeoCons and Zionists must be estatic now they have their war with Syria. North Korea and Russia next? Cabinet purge is needed.
— Memory Holed (@Rep_of_Kelly) April 7, 2017
Sarah I am pissed! I didn’t vote 4 zionist warmongering. I voted 4 peace & non intervention. Trump is a NeoCon in populist clothing. #Syria
— D.Goyim-Know (@mrtruthlvnv) April 7, 2017
This insanity shows again that Russia is on the right side, and Zionist ruled America is on the wrong side. Attacking Syria supports ISIS!
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) April 7, 2017
Among alt-right luminaries, antipathy towards Israel takes many other forms, such as the conspiracy theory that the Jewish state is allied with ISIS:
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) July 14, 2014
Needless to say, these are not Zionist sympathizers. These are classic conspiratorial anti-Semites who hate the Jewish state with passion and see it as the source of the world’s ills. They know quite well that Israel, with a population that is 20 percent Arab and full of Jews of all hues from Mizrahi to Ethiopian, is nothing like their desired white nationalist paradise.
Now, maliciously lying about Jews and their state is to be expected from Jew haters. Less explicable, however, are those far-left critics of Israel who uncritically accept and amplify these alt-right claims equating Zionism with white nationalism. Take, for example, anti-Zionist Omri Boehm in the New York Times (“an argument that does not embrace a double standard [on Zionism and white nationalism] is hard to come by”) and Jewish Voice for Peace’s Naomi Dann in The Forward (“what’s so chilling about Spencer’s comparison of white supremacy to Israel [is] not its anti-Semitism but the kernel of truth at its core”). These self-styled progressives, who otherwise rightly dismiss and deride everything Richard Spencer has to say, suddenly hold him up as a trustworthy authority when it comes to the Jewish state and its ideological underpinnings. They bend over backward to cast his demonstrably disingenuous fulminations about Israel as an exception to his hate, rather than an obvious example of it.
Such specious conduct raises the question: If you consider everything an anti-Semitic far-right leader says to be vile and hateful, yet nonetheless present him as an honest expositor on the home of half the world’s Jews for your own political purposes, are your moral scruples any less corrupted than his? When you find yourself suggesting that the Nazis are right about the Jews, perhaps it’s time to rethink your life choices.
In any case, while Spencer may have fooled a handful of leftists with his crude caricature of Zionism, he should not fool the rest of us.