On Sunday, December 4, the Mehdi Hasan Show on MSNBC reached a new low when one of Mehdi’s guests argued that Jews promote antisemitism to advance “Israeli Zionist ideology.”
Responding to Mehdi’s question, “Have you been surprised at the speed with which antisemitism has become publicized, mainstreamed, normalized on the right,” guest Eric Alterman, a professor at City University of New York, responded:
“What’s so interesting is the marriage between pro-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. The alt-right is very pro-Israel because they like the fact that Israel kicks Muslim ass. They also like the idea that Richard Spencer has said ‘I’m a Zionist,’ because I want all the Jews to go to Israel so we have a good Christian country here. And Israeli Zionist ideology is consistent with this. Netanyahu likes antisemitism in the diaspora because it’s consistent with this idea that Jews are not safe anywhere but Israel. So the right-wing in both Israel and the United States are united in either turning a blind eye or promoting antisemitism, whereas American Jews, like most diaspora Jews, are very happy where they live. They want to be Jewish and they want to be loyal to the country they’re living in. Yet, politicians like Trump, Netanyahu, and many others are trying to make it a false choice.”
Mehdi, unsurprisingly, expressed his agreement with Alterman’s answer.
It’s a shameful, victim-blaming answer replete with non-sequiturs.
Begin with the attempt to link Zionists with Richard Spencer and the alt-right movement. Alterman suggests that since Spencer claimed he’s a Zionist, because he wants Jews out of the United States, that somehow reflects upon American and Israeli Zionists.
Best case scenario, Alterman is exposing himself as shockingly naïve for believing Spencer. That, or the professor is displaying extraordinary intellectual dishonesty by trying to manufacture a link between Zionists he doesn’t like and antisemites.
The naivete to believe that the notorious racist troll Richard Spencer actually considers himself a Zionist is the same level of naivete that led many to actually believe that the same alt-right Richard Spencer endorsed Joe Biden for president. Even right-wing Zionist groups didn’t fall for Spencer’s trolling. The Zionist Organization of America even unequivocally condemned Spencer and the alt-right movement.
While naivete on the part of Alterman is the more desirable explanation, it’s the less plausible one given the rest of his remarks, which attempt to portray “consistency” between those who believe in Zionism and those who hate Jews.
In doing so, he attempts to turn a cosmetic similarity into something much more. Alterman glosses over the obvious difference between antisemites who want to drive the Jewish people out of the United States, and those who believe Israel is the only place the Jewish people will be safe from those exact same antisemites. Spencer’s aim isn’t to build a flourishing state for the Jewish people; his desire is to get the Jews out of the United States.
Alterman also credulously suggests that Richard Spencer and the “alt-right [are] very pro-Israel,” notwithstanding Spencer’s history of promoting conspiracies that U.S. politicians are “more loyal to Israel” and that Jewish “neocons” are causing the U.S. to “equate its interests with Israel’s.” The obviously absurd charge comes across as a particularly bad faith attempt to besmirch an entire category of Jews, which Alterman clearly dislikes.
The guest even turned towards conspiracy theories when he suggested, without a shred of evidence, that “Netanyahu likes antisemitism” and that Israelis are “turning a blind eye or promoting antisemitism” because “it’s consistent with this idea that Jews are not safe anywhere but Israel.” The conspiracy theory echoes those promoted by antisemites like Noura Erakat, who claim that “Zionism is a bedfellow of Nazism and antisemitism.”
To suggest that Netanyahu and many other Jews want to be hated because it provides evidence for their conclusion that the Jewish state is necessary to protect them from that hatred is a special kind of victim blaming. Certainly, it’s an incredibly irresponsible, and highly offensive, charge to make without clear evidence. Moreover, by these standards, one could argue that Alterman’s answer is “consistent with” the white supremacist David Duke, who also thinks Jews use antisemitism “to generate sympathy for Israel and Zionist Supremacism.”
It’s also the exact same kind of conspiratorial logic that thrives in the same circles as those of Richard Spencer. The idea of Netanyahu and other “right-wing” Jews duplicitously promoting antisemitism isn’t that much different than the many antisemitic conspiracy theories of “sinister, string-pulling Jewish cabals.”
The accusation looks even worse when taking into account that Alterman has a very broad description of what is “right-wing.” Later in the show, he declared that the current Israeli government (written while Yair Lapid is still the prime minister) is a “right-wing” government, notwithstanding it includes the left-wing parties Labor and Meretz, as well as the United Arab List, and that the current prime minister is the centrist Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid.
Alterman obviously has disagreements with the “right-wing,” however he chooses to define it, and that’s almost certainly part of why he was invited on to the Mehdi Hasan Show, which has a history of politicizing topics of antisemitism.
However, rather than responding professionally and dealing with the disagreements themselves, Alterman, with Mehdi Hasan’s agreement and prominent platform, instead used the opportunity to distastefully slander large swathes of the Jewish community.