There’s nothing new in white supremacists and settler-colonists co-opting the notion of equality to justify their racism and illegitimate power over those they consider to be less than human.
American racists long used the slogan “separate but equal” in an attempt to disguise the brutal system of Jim Crow segregation they imposed on formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants.
And South Africa’s white supremacist rulers eventually tried to market apartheid not as the racist, colonial domination and exploitation that it was, but by claiming that “separate development” would supposedly allow Black South Africans to have full political rights in Bantustans.
So, it is no wonder that Israel’s Itamar Ben-Gvir and fellow anti-Palestinian racists have adopted a similar strategy.
Now as senior members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, Ben-Gvir and company have sought to portray Jewish access and Israeli annexation and domination of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount, as an “equal rights” issue.
Ben-Gvir – a disciple of genocidal anti-Palestinian rabbi Meir Kahane and a fan of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler who murdered dozens of Palestinians at Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994 – is now Israel’s national security minister.
On site, the lifelong racist and head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party outrageously claimed, “In the government which I’m a member of, there won’t be racist discrimination.”
Evidently, he was speaking very specifically of his “right” to take occupied territory and wasn’t suddenly championing the rights Israel has long denied to Palestinians.
The Kahanist leader may succeed with far-right stenographers at Fox News and Newsweek, where opinion editor Josh Hammer is an anti-Palestinian racist who hobnobs with the anti-Semitic Viktor Orbán and just last year enjoyed spending time with the anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian election-denier Donald Trump.
(Late last year, Hammer did criticize Trump for meeting with anti-Semites Nick Fuentes, Milo Yiannopoulos and Kanye West – now known as Ye – while nevertheless saying that his favored pro-Israel organization, the Zionist Organization of America, had “properly honored” Trump for his “incredible contributions during his presidency to secure the health, safety and security of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.” Hammer, however, also noted that he stands by an article he wrote in October 2020 calling Trump “the most pro-Jewish president ever.”)
In November, Hammer thanked God for the electoral success of Ben-Gvir, a man who has been convicted of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism.
Neither Ben-Gvir nor anyone else in Israel’s government has any interest in equal rights, certainly not where Palestinians are concerned. This is, after all, a coalition which assumed office asserting that “the Jewish people has an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel.” Netanyahu grotesquely seeks to make all Jews complicit in his actions through the wording that announces the lawbreaking of his government.
Ben-Gvir’s talk of rights is empty. This government will be staunchly committed to opposing self-determination and full rights for Palestinians, opposed to the right of dispossessed Palestinian refugees to return home, and opposed to full access to religious sites in Jerusalem. The Israeli government is determined to seize land for settlers while denying the return of much greater amounts of land to Palestinian owners, much has been the case in East and West Jerusalem.
What Ben-Gvir wants, just like American segregationists, is perpetual domination re-branded as “equality.”
Jewish Power lawmaker Zvika Fogel, for his part, threatened genocide in relation to the visit by Ben-Gvir.
“If Hamas violates the current existing peace and opens fire on Israeli territory, we will respond as I think we should, and yes it would be worth it because this will be the last war and after that we can sit and raise doves and all the other beautiful birds that exist.”
Suggestions of genocide, however, profoundly undercut right-wing claims of an interest in equal rights.
International law and Israel’s chief rabbinate
It must also be recalled that the al-Aqsa mosque compound is part of East Jerusalem, occupied territory which Israel seized by force in 1967 and then illegally annexed. As such, Israel has no legitimate jurisdiction or sovereignty there whatsoever.
But Palestinians are well aware that Israel uses Jewish beliefs and traditions as a means by which to assert illegitimate political sovereignty and physical control, which is why they resist the routinely intimidating and violent incursions promoted by Ben-Gvir and other far-right leaders into the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Following the 1994 massacre at the Ibrahimi mosque by Ben-Gvir’s hero Baruch Goldstein, Israel forcibly partitioned the mosque and gave most of it to the settlers. Israel’s anti-Muslim violence, segregation and discrimination there remains very real.
Palestinians understand that this is Israel’s blueprint for Jerusalem as well, especially since so many Israeli Jewish political and religious leaders support the so-called Temple movement.
This fanatical messianic movement, which enjoys funding from the Israeli government and support from top political and religious leaders, aims for a complete Israeli takeover of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the destruction of the ancient mosques standing there and their replacement with a new Jewish temple.
Palestinians also no doubt recall well how immediately after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 it bulldozed the 700-year-old Moroccan Quarter, including a 12th century Islamic school and mosque, to create the so-called Western Wall Plaza.
It is the desire for domination, sovereignty and control that drives Ben-Gvir and his fellow apartheid advocates. From a Jewish theological perspective, Jews are barred from praying or even setting foot on the Temple Mount.
Indeed, Israel’s chief rabbinate explicitly warns Jewish visitors that “According to Torah Law, entering the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site.”
In recent years, far-right activists have challenged and eroded this religious ban in furtherance of their political aim of taking over the site.
Obviously none of this has anything to do with “equality” or equal access for people of various faiths to religious sites.
It is a power play in keeping with Ben-Gvir’s determination to show Palestinians who the “masters of the house” are.
Ali Abunimah contributed research and analysis.