If you’re Jewish (and even if you’re not) you may be wondering what the hell was going on with yesterday’s MAGA rally and Lootapalooza at the Capitol. And I’m not talking about the overall madness of hundreds of white Supremacists, neo-Nazis and Trump Kool Aid drinkers, who stormed the Capitol and made American democracy look like a beer-soaked frat party.
No, I’m talking about some closely related incidents of special interest to Jews. First, of course was the glaring presence of anti-Semites proudly bearing their “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts or their “6MWE” (“Six million was not enough”) t-shirts. It almost goes without saying that Donald Trump’s most devoted followers are irredeemable anti-Semites. And of course, they’ve committed far worse acts against Jews in other settings than they did yesterday: like Pittsburgh, Poway and elsewhere.
But the real Twilight-Zone-stuff involved Jews who joined in the mayhem. Jews who overlooked the inherent anti-Semitism of the MAGA movement because it fulfills some higher sense of duty.
Exhibit A is Aaron Mostofsky, prominently featured in photographs yesterday donning a coonskin fur pelt, as aother protestor parades past him with a Confederate flag. He looked like a cross between a stoned-out freak and a Yiddishe Daniel Boone. When questioned, Aaron proudly identified himself and his hometown, Brooklyn. This enabled his relatives and NY reporters to expose his family background: his father is Judge Shlomo “Steven” Mostofsky of Kings County Supreme Court. The elder M is a power in Democratic Borough politics and former president of National Council of Young Israel.
I am disappointed but not surprised that while many are calling for the resignations of Sens. Cruz and Hawley for their role in that days proceedings, no one in the Brooklyn political or Jewish community has called for the Judge to consider his own position and acknowledge the evil perpetrated by his son. Nor has the elder Mostofsky made any statement that I’m aware of. He’s refused to comment to reporters who’ve repeatedly sought him out.
Worth noting here is that Young Israel is on the extreme right end of the modern Orthodox movement. It not only ardently supports Israel’s right wing government and Israeli settlements, it was among the first Jewish supporters of Trump’s candidacy. Young Israel threw a gala fundraising event honoring Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, close associates of Rudy Giuliani. Also present were Kevin McCarthy, Mike Huckabee and Giuliani. Hebrew MAGA caps were prominently featured. Among the epithets bestowed that night on the candidate were “Trump, King of Israel.” I don’t know if Judge Mostofsky attended this shindig, but as a past National Council president he very well may have. Only in New York Orthodox Jewish politics could someone be a leader of a Jewish group supporting Trump while being a fixture in the local Democratic Party.
Many New York Orthodox Jews live in majority minority communities in New York. Though relations have been better with local African-American and Hispanics over the past few decades, some of the most conservative of Orthodox Jews continue to mouth racist tropes regarding their neighbors. They view them in much the same way that MAGA and White supremacists view them: with fear and loathing. That may be what fuels the hate of some Orthodox Jews like Mostofsky.
Mostofsky’s brother, Nachman, attended the rally. But he claims he did not enter the Capitol building. Nachman is a local district leader and head of the South Brooklyn Conservative Party. In an interview, he blamed the incursion on Antifa, a concoction invented by far-right conspiracists. He is also the executive director of the political arm of Young Israel, Chovevei Zion, which is all-in for Trump and his agenda.
JTA reports that there were at least eight busses full of Orthodox Jews who traveled from Monsey, Brooklyn and Lakewood to the “festivities.” Of course, there could have been even more than that coming independently.
The three major national Orthodox Jewish organizations made statements of protest against the violence. The most hypocritical of the lot was the one by Young Israel itself. It decried the violence, as if it had never embraced Trump and his mafia clique wholeheartedly:
…The violent protests and wanton attacks that we witnessed today are deplorable and a dangerous assault on the very foundation upon which this nation is built.”
The whole episode reeked of self-interest and dishonesty.
There was another anomalous sight at yesterday’s “festivities.” There among the fluttering flags of MAGA, ‘Trump is My President,’ and Old Glory was the Israeli flag. What was it doing in such a setting? Again, how does an American Jew fly that flag in that place and think it’s an appropriate thing to do?
To understand the answer you have to grasp several complex and contradictory ideas at once. Both anti-Semites and Zionists often make a distinction between Israel and Jews. Jews, especially those in the Diaspora, are bad. Israel is good.
How do they make such a distinction? Anti-Semites who admire Israel, separate it from Jews. They admire Zionism not just as a form of nationalism, but as a movement that proudly boasts of its exclusiveness. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people; just as white supremacists want a state for the white race. In this sense, race and religion become almost interchangeable.
When neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer visit Israel as he has, he marvels at the Judeo-supremacy he sees both in Israel proper and in occupied Palestine. A state offering superior rights to Jews and which has expelled huge numbers of non-Jews is music to his ears. He sees Zionism as the same fight he is mounting within American society to separate from non-whites and empower his own race by demanding sovereignty. He told an Israeli TV interviewer this:
“As an Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identify, 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’m a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
It’s no accident that Bibi Netanyahu’s closest political allies in Europe are anti-Semites: Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Andrzej Duda. It’s also no accident that almost all the Jews in these two countries were exterminated by the Nazis with varying levels of collaboration from local officials. European anti-Semites hate the Jews among them, but love Jews who emigrate to Israel. Because they live in exactly the sort of state these national-supremacists want for themselves: a sovereign state for pure Hungarians or Poles. One that excludes non natives like Roma, Jews, Muslims or African refugees. It is, ironically, the same reason Adolf Eichmann said that if he were a Jew he too would be a Zionist.
The most troubling aspect of this increasing alliance between Israel’s dominant right-wing and its European counterparts is that Israel is rapidly becoming precisely the sort of state Germany was under the Nazis. The same fascist tendencies; the same repression of speech and individual liberty; the same impulse to eliminate enemies, both internal and external; the same readiness to make war as a means of pursuing national interests.
When you look at yesterday’s developments with these phenomena in mind what seems strange becomes clear.