Israel-Palestine Conflict Exposes Schism Among Far-Right Activists in the U.S.

Torned flags of Palestine and Israel waving in the wind. Palestinian conflict concept.

Analysis

Last month’s crisis between Israel and Palestinians in occupied Gaza highlighted a growing schism between far-right activists in the U.S.

While prominent far-right figures such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene capitalized on the crisis by using it as an opportunity to label Palestinians as terrorists, others were outspoken against Israel due to their longstanding beliefs in antisemitic conspiracy theories, claiming that Western states are controlled by an evil cabal made up of Jewish people. The contrasting narratives—unwavering support for the U.S.-Israel alliance vs. raging antisemitism and conspiratorial misrepresentations—have resulted in a noticeable rift within the extreme right.

The latest Israel-Palestine crisis began on May 6, 2021, when Palestinians in East Jerusalem protested the planned eviction of six Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a prominent Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. As tensions continued to rise, Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound—a holy site—on May 7 and violently attacked protestors with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. Approximately 300 people were injured, mostly Palestinians, while at least 72,000 others were displaced.

In response to Israel’s aggression, Hamas, the militant authority in Gaza, began firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on May 10, which caused Israel to retaliate with a campaign of airstrikes against Gaza, destroying 18 buildings, 40 schools, and four hospitals. The offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera were also destroyed on May 15. In total, Israel demolished 94 buildings in Gaza, according to the United Nations. A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect on May 21, ending 11 days of fighting that killed 269 people.

While world leaders, including President Joe Biden, welcomed the cease-fire, congressional Republicans from the GOP’s more extreme wing as well as other far-right activists opposed the attempt to deescalate or end the bloodshed, which they claimed would be a victory for Hamas. Their decision to openly advocate for increased violence underscores the GOP’s one-sided approach to politics in the Middle East region over the past few years.

Under former President Donald Trump’s leadership, the U.S. cut off aid to Palestinians, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the conquered Golan Heights in Syria, set to work on a peace plan without Palestinian input, and relocated the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These pro-Israel policy shifts, which were far more radical than those undertaken by previous pro-Israel U.S. presidents, were mainly driven by white evangelicals, many of whom support Israel because they believe it is essential to fulfilling an End Times prophecy.

While Christian Zionism played a significant role in shaping U.S. policy on Israel under Trump, conservatives have long equated Palestine’s liberation aspirations with radicalism and terrorist activity. In outward displays of Islamophobia, far-right Republicans have falsely generalized Palestinians as Hamas sympathizers and used the narrative of “Islamic terrorism” to further its alliance with Israel.

During the latest Israel-Palestine crisis, several Republican lawmakers, including Greene and Sen. Ted Cruz, accused Democrats of supporting “radical Islamic terrorism.” Cruz claimed that the “far-left” traffic in “anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric” while Greene suggested that fellow congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a terrorist for calling Israel an apartheid state. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton also accused Biden of “caving to the Hamas sympathizers within his party” by eventually demanding a cease-fire. None of them showed the slightest concern for the approximately 250 Palestinians who were killed in the Gaza Strip during the conflict, 65 of whom were reportedly children.

Greene has since continued her attacks following the cease-fire. She called for Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, whom she refers to collectively as the “Jihad Squad,” to be expelled from Congress for supporting the Palestinian cause.

“The #JihadSquad stand with the Hamas-supporting terrorists. I stand with our friends in Israel,” Greene wrote on Telegram last month.

Beyond her Islamophobic rants, Greene has also accused the aforementioned congresswomen of antisemitism for supporting Palestine, and blamed Ocasio-Cortez for antisemitic attacks in the U.S. (despite the Democratic congresswoman publicly condemning such attacks). Greene’s accusations of antisemitism come as a surprise given her own history of antisemitic beliefs, which include claims that “Zionist supremacists” were secretly masterminding Muslim immigration to Europe as part of a longstanding plan to outbreed Caucasians. She previously stated that the 2018 California wildfires were caused by Jewish space lasers operated by the Rothschild family, and most recently likened the ongoing mask mandate within Congress to Nazi control of the Jewish population during the Holocaust.

Greene has also previously shown support for the far-right QAnon conspiracy movement, which thrives off antisemitic conspiracy theories and is, at its root, a modern version of blood libel. Many QAnon adherents believe in the so-called Zionist occupation government, which is an antisemitic conspiracy theory that reflects a belief that the U.S. and various other Western governments are being controlled by a secret organization of Jewish bankers and influential figures. The term is used by far-right activists, white nationalists, and antisemites, who believe the secret organization is colluding against their interests. Greene’s “Zionist supremacists” theory regarding Muslim migration is rooted in this centuries-old conspiracy theory and remains widely accepted by QAnon adherents.

This brings in the other stance far-right actors are taking: support for Palestine if only because of their rabid antisemitism puts them at direct odds with a Jewish state.

GhostEzra, one of the most popular QAnon advocates with more than 340,000 subscribers on Telegram, shared a number of antisemitic attacks and conspiracy theories since the Israel-Palestine conflict began. Several of the posts were about Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a favorite boogeyman of anti-Semites and right-wing activists around the world. The account also shared countless antisemitic memes, encouraged followers to seek out “Nazi propaganda,” and even posted a clip from “Europa: The Last Battle,” a 12-hour-long neo-Nazi propaganda film that claims Jewish people were responsible for both world wars as well as communism. GhostEzra’s posts drew thousands of comments from subscribers, most of whom agreed with his blatant lies and misrepresentations.

“The term anti-Semitic is a weapon invented and used by the cabal minions to make people afraid to criticize the Rothschilds or any elites who call themselves Jews,” one QAnon adherent responded. “They are, as the Bible says, of the Synagogue of Satan.”

Another comment followed up: “The Rothschilds, which helped fund and create Israel, are the most evil people on the entire planet.”

As conspiracy theorists and the extreme right reckoned with their conspiratorial and antisemitic worldview, some emerged as ardent supporters of the Palestinian cause—if only to further their false narrative that Jewish people as a whole are responsible for destruction around the world. These far-right actors also appeared to be against a cease-fire, if only to see the destruction of Israel.

“Palestinians are literally the only people today who have been actively, explicitly, and physically fighting the Jews,” read a post shared by The Western Chauvinist, a Telegram account reportedly operated by the leader of the New Hampshire chapter of the Proud Boys, Todd M. Clark. “If you consider yourself an enemy of world Jewry, and want to see it destroyed, how could you not support their fight?”

Other far-right activists who pushed antisemitic narratives over the past few weeks include Nicholas Fuentes, a white nationalist political commentator and founder of the annual America First Political Action Conference, who pushed false narratives about Zionism and falsely claimed that Israel was responsible for “COVID tyranny,” media censorship, and open border policies during a recent InfoWars debate against Robert Barnes, a lawyer for Kyle Rittenhouse. And while he admitted that he does not necessarily sympathize with the Palestinian cause, Fuentes claimed to feel a “little bit of kinship” with Palestinians because he claims to also be on the receiving end of oppression from “Zionist groups.”

“I have had the Zionist organization of America call for me to be censored from the internet because I have been skeptical and critical of Israel,” Fuentes claimed, conveniently ignoring his well-documented antisemitic conspiracy mongering and history of anti-Muslim statements.

Steve Bannon’s “War Room Pandemic” talk show also shared several antisemitic posts during the Israel-Palestine conflict, including a post claims that the U.S.’s unconditional support for Israel is due to the “enormous disproportionate power of political and financial Jewry in the United States.” The Telegram account also shared a second post with a quote from radical antisemitic conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles stating that “Israel will turn the whole world into Palestinians if we don’t stop them.

The increase in antisemitic posts online coincides with a sharp rise in antisemitic attacks and incidents in the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Palestine conflict. According to the Anti-Defamation League, reported antisemitic incidents increased by 75 percent compared to the two weeks before the fighting began. The incidents took place primarily at anti-Israeli government rallies held across the U.S. since the conflict began. “Many of these incidents appear to be perpetrated by individuals scapegoating American Jews for the actions of the Israeli government,” read the ADL’s preliminary report.

In one incident in Brooklyn, New York, three men allegedly drove around Borough Park harassing and assaulting Jewish individuals. They allegedly yelled antisemitic slurs as well as, “Free Palestine.” The men also kicked a synagogue’s doors. While the attacks were condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the systemic targeting of Jewish people in response to the Israeli government’s actions reveals the extent that antisemitic narratives that permeate American society.

Whenever far-right activists in the U.S. have been outspoken about the Palestinian cause, their support is due to raging antisemitism and a hatred for Israel. Conversely, those who favored Israel in the recent conflict did so to further their Islamophobic narratives, label progressive politicians as terrorists, or encourage the conditions they believe will being about the End Times. None appear to have any genuine concern for the Israel-Palestine conflict or for the citizens who bear the brunt of this violence. Instead, these far-right actors are fueled by hatred, violence, and an embrace of white nationalism.