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  • Why Is Bannon's Antisemitism Considered Alright?
  • Judith Butler (bio)

White supremacy: the term is in use again, even in the mainstream press. It was for a long time a term that characterized the positions of radical and marginal antiracists, those who tended to see, for instance, links between the U.S. prison system and the institution of slavery. Liberals stopped listening when people—usually people of color—talked about "white supremacy" as a systemic condition and form of power, since they preferred to reference racist attitudes, remarks, or specific acts of discrimination. We need all those ways of naming, to be sure, but my point is that white supremacy—which names a racist doctrine, a systemic condition, and a political bid for dominance—has entered into the mainstream. Now that the fringe Right has assumed power within the central offices of the United States government—parallel to what has been happening in Israel for some time—it becomes all the more necessary to name what we know to be true. Since the emergence of Steve Bannon as the chief political strategist for the current president, debates have emerged about how a person whose news agency, Breitbart, has been so clearly associated with antisemitic and white-supremacist spewing could be accepted as part of the United States government. Let us not be too shocked, as shocking as it is. As many critics have pointed out, it matters that Steve Bannon is a strong Zionist, that his antisemitism apparently does not get in the way of his support for the Israeli state, and that his supporters in the Israeli government do not seem [End Page 182] to mind the antisemitism, against which the Anti-Defamation League, the Anne Frank Center, the Jewish Forward, and the Southern Poverty Law Center have all taken a stand. The case against him is one that I presume most readers know: his use of the word Jewish to imply financial monopoly, bratty behavior, claims to elite status, and "global media" contacts, but also—and inversely—dreaded socialism and communism. Further, he opened Breitbart up to an explicitly antisemitic forum for which he has been openly applauded by white supremacists and explicit Nazis; one former worker at Breitbart claims that Bannon turned the comments section into "a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers."1 So what is the relation between his affinity for white supremacy and his antisemitism, and how do we understand both in relation to his support for Zionism?

Gideon Levy put it succinctly in Haaretz:

All of a sudden it's not so terrible to be anti-Semitic. Suddenly it's excusable as long as you hate Muslims and Arabs and "love Israel." The Jewish and Israeli right has issued a sweeping amnesty to anti-Semitic lovers of Israel—yes, there is such a thing, and they're en route to taking power in the United States.2

He continues, "From now on, anti-Semites are only found on the left. Roger Waters, a courageous man of conscience without stain, is an anti-Semite. Steve Bannon, a declared racist and closet anti-Semite who has been appointed chief strategist in the Trump White House, is a friend of Israel." Finally, Levy remarks, "these racists love Israel because it's carrying out their dreams: to oppress Arabs, to abuse Muslims, to dispossess them, expel them, kill them, demolish their houses, trample their honor. This bunch of trash would so dearly love to behave as we [the Israelis] do."

Levy also points out that the Palestinian American author Susan Abulhawa, a human-rights activist and the celebrated author of Mornings in Jenin and The Blue between Sky and Water, wrote on Facebook that while Palestinians are calling white nationalist Bannon an antisemite, AIPAC and Alan Dershowitz think he is not such a bad guy. Levy adds, "What more proof do you need that Zionism is a face of white supremacy, and ultimately antithetical to Judaism?" So who, we might ask, is really speaking for justice?

Of course, many of us are watching this turn of events with astonishment and curiosity, when we are not sick with outrage, which happens a great deal right now. After all, so...


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