The election of Donald Trump as the next American president has opened the floodgates to wild expectations, exaggerated hopes, much speculation, and a range of conflicting emotions. These include hope, prosperity, and family security at one end, and terrible fears, racism, and hatred at the other end. As we now try to sort out what is lasting from what is fleeting in the entertainment-based American public sphere, it is important to identify which of the new strands of political sentiment are deeply rooted in society and can cause great harm, and therefore should be taken seriously.
The old barriers that neatly separated and differentiated distinct groups of people (blacks, Jews, Italians, women, laborers, Hispanics, youth, Arab-Americans, Muslims, etc.) suddenly have become meaningless. For people like myself who have an interest in the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict, this may be an important moment of both danger and opportunity. This may be the time when the real fears and narrow self-interest of Jewish-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Muslims in general should come together in a larger movement of Americans and others around the world who stand for equal rights for all, and decency and dignity as the anchors of public life.
I have followed the presidential elections from within the United States for the past few months. I still maintain the position I adopted 18 months ago when the election campaign was first launched: Most of what politicians say in the heat of an electoral battle can be safely discarded once the election is over. This is not about Americans; it is about politicians in general, all over the world, who will reverse their positions or ignore their past promises in an instant, if doing so ensures their incumbency. So while much of what Trump and his right-wing extremist supporters have been calling for may not come to pass, we do need to remain vigilant against racist views that are actually put into practice and supported by law in some cases.
One of these arenas is likely to be the convergence of anti-Semitism directed against Jews with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments that are part of a wider anti-immigrant wave among a vocal minority of Americans. Anti-Semitism that singles out Jews has long been an integral strain in both European and American societies, but in recent decades it has been suppressed by law and majoritarian political sentiments. It is now coming out into the open again, including with the appointment of anti-Semites to some of the most powerful positions in the land, such as White House senior advisors like Steve Bannon who has been a leader in American white supremacist movements.
The gross irony here is that some anti-Semitic sentiments that scapegoat American Jews also proclaim total support for the rightwing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Give the inconsistency of Trump’s statements on Israel-Palestine, and the fickle nature of politicians’ promises, if I were Israel I would see the appointment of anti-Semitic officials in the White House as a more telling reflection of Trump’s views than his campaign promises to be Israel’s best friend.
The double danger for Palestinians—and Arabs and Muslims in general—is that the current streak of anti-Jewish anti-Semitism in the American political arena will combine with short-term support for hardline and colonial-expansionist Israeli policies to end up making Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims the secondary but equally real victims of the American anti-Semitism.
This is why it is critically important for all people who are threatened by such dynamics—and who share the core American call to equality, opportunity, and dignity under the rule of law—to work together closely to push back against this dark and dangerous streak of racism, whose adherents now wander the halls of the White House.
The push back has already started, with street demonstrations and local mobilizations across the country. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum has just released a statement calling on all Americans to “confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech.” Several new groups have been formed that bring together leading Jews and Muslims at the national level as well as in local communities.
The anti-Semites, Islamophobes, and anti-Arab racists in the United States are mostly ignorant, angry, fearful men and women who find easy targets in isolated and vulnerable minorities. The antidote to their vulgarity is for those groups they target and all other decent Americans to join forces in a great movement that affirms the rights of Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Israelis, and every white, brown, or black person in the United States and the world to live together with equal rights. It’s that simple.
I am awed by those who are now organizing and mobilizing to achieve this basic but critical goal, against very powerful currents of darkness and demonization.Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School. On Twitter @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global