After reviewing my original post on Jewish settler ideology, I don’t think I adequately addressed the critical question, what is ancient Judea and Samaria? And furthermore, what is the biblically based claim to its divine bestowal upon the Jewish people? I hope this brief history lesson will suffice. Further, I hope the biblical passages quoted below will provide some insight into how easily violent settler ideologies can draw upon scripture to justify their point of view.
This morning’s joint press conference between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump was packed with a mix of salient foreign policy revelations and awkward jokes about Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. It marked a clear departure from the often turbulent, yet hardly obstructing and exceedingly financially generous Obama-era relationship with Israel’s hard right head of state. Although Trump has recently moved to moderate his earlier statements supporting Jewish settlement construction, the already well-formed personal friendship between the two leaders and their alignment on various political issues—including national security strategy, Iran, the “unfair” UN, as well as a fondness for walls—suggests the bond between the US and Israel may be stronger than ever.
This is good news for Netanyahu’s far-right friends within the Jewish settler movement, a growing group of largely Israeli and Israeli-Americans living on illegal towns and rogue outposts in the West Bank, an area captured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967 and which has remained under military occupation for almost 50 years. Today it is home to approximately 3 million Palestinians, 550,000 Jewish settlers, and an unknown number of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers stationed at military checkpoints and watchtowers sprinkled throughout the territory, including within settlement blocks, where they serve as guards.
The language one uses to describe this disputed area is highly informative of their political, even religious leanings. For instance, for many Palestinians residing in the cities and villages west of the Jordan River (and in the Gaza Strip), this land is “Palestine,” their promised share of the larger historic Palestine that will one day be part of a two-state solution. For moderates respecting the neutral definition of the area as a still-to-be-determined not-yet-quite-a-county, the term “West Bank” is considered most PC, although its etymological objectivity is debated. Some instead prefer “Occupied West Bank” or “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” However, for hardcore Zionists holding to the belief that all of Israel—including the area west of the “Green Line”—is the God-given gift to the Jews, this land is “Judea and Samaria,” reclaiming its biblical name and hoping for its ultimate official annexation by the state of Israel. This term is also used in an official capacity by the government of Israel.
Pertinent to a discussion of Netanyahu’s remarks during his first press conference with our Dear Leader is some background information on the settlers’ biblically-based claim to “Judea and Samaria.” After all, Mr. Netanyahu evoked this notion while responding to a question on whether or not there was room for the two-state solution in a Trump-brokered peace process, stating,
“Jews are called Jews because they are from Judea. This is our ancestral homeland. Jews are not foreign colonists in Judea.”
It’s clear from the start that fact-checking this claim will not provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to its validity; that just isn’t possible with such deeply-rooted religious convictions that are based on ancient historical evidence. I hope that this post will instead draw attention to some of the divisive rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, informed through the context of the religious ideological foundation of Israel’s settler movement, a dominating force placing enormous pressure on the leadership bodies of both the Israel and the US.
This post comes to you on the heels of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—a day when the world comes together to acknowledge the vicious state-sponsored genocidal extermination of an estimated six million Jews and millions more “racially inferior” and politically dissident Europeans and Soviets POWs. Typically, providing a citation for that claim would be unnecessary, as these facts are deeply rooted into our collective historical memory, and yet, there are some who doubt them.
For this growing minority, modern tributes to the victims of the Holocaust do not serve to help heal old wounds or learn from the past; rather they mark a grand institutionalized manipulation reaching across all social, academic, and political spheres. According to these self-described “Holocaust Revisionists,” the world has fallen pray to a malicious and highly elaborate lie. Holocaust Denial—as it is more commonly called—is the belief that the Holocaust never really happened, or that the “facts” of the Holocaust are deeply flawed. Through decades of “research,” this political subculture has collected a vast library of information around which they view a legitimate field of study has been established. They are quick to assert what they see as an objective basis to their viewpoint, not an ideology or belief system, but an indisputable scientific reality to which the rest of the world is naively unaware.
I started my quest to pinpoint the social, psychological, and religious backstory to this belief system a few weeks ago. A close friend (let’s call him “Rick”) expressed the he had been dealing with a great deal of emotional distress and insomnia following a disturbing revelation from a childhood friend (whom let’s call “Paul”). During a heated conversation about politics, Paul confessed that he did not believe the Holocaust happened. Rick said he was in shock, and wasn’t really sure how to respond. He asked his longtime friend for more details about how he came to this conclusion. Paul told him that he had been researching it for many months; he had read information on the Internet, including sitting through hours of YouTube videos, and he had come to the conclusion that the Holocaust narrative as we know it is a complete hoax.
That same day, an article was published by the Guardian, titled, “New online generation takes up Holocaust denial.” The piece reports on research by historian Dr. Nicholas Terry, the UK’s “foremost academic on the subject” of Holocaust denial. Dr. Terry claims that denial is currently enjoying a period of growth thanks to “‘gateway’ conspiracy theories,” confusion stemming from a thriving divergent news market, anti-Semitism, and the Internet “free-for-all” that naturally gravitates users toward far right ideas.
I decided this couldn’t be a coincidence. Rick’s story seemed to confirm Dr. Terry’s claim that Holocaust denial was on the rise, and based on the online origins of Paul’s “evidence,” and what I know of Paul’s online presence prior to his introduction to Holocaust Revisionism (he’s a heavy 4chan user), I decided that there must be something to this theory. After all, I routinely forage the dark depths of the Internet for xenophobic lies to debunk. In its ability to bring together like-minded people in complete anonymity, I have come to view the web as the ultimate emboldening instrument for hateful ideologies.
I ended up posting a question on a forum for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), which was founded in 1990 by Bradley Smith, known as a “principal architect” of American Holocaust denial. As of today, I have received replies from eight different individuals sharing their experiences with and motivations for entering into this belief, and how it has impacted other lives. In the commentary that follows, I will quote these individuals to provide some insight into how this movement recruits and sustains its membership.
This post is another deviation from fact checking; instead, I’ll be profiling a group of political extremists, whose dismissal of the historical trauma of an entire religious community represents its own odd system of belief. From a purely socio-psychological perspective, Holocaust Revisionism and post-World War II Judaism offer their adherents similar rewards. Both provide members with a solid community foundation, a bond that is strengthened by a feeling of collective persecution.
The rise of Donald J. Trump has been attributed to a variety of identity-driven frustrations spilling out of the dark depths of the American political right,, but Trump’s loyal supporters did not always include the heavy-hitting Republican demographic bloc of white Christian Evangelicals, estimated to make up one-third to half of the party’s active voters., As Trump’s political prospects steadily increased, and while many Evangelicals grew fatigued from his unrelenting vituperation of their preferred candidate, Ted Cruz, they grew to embrace Trump’s message, and later the man himself, voting overwhelmingly for him and now-Vice President Mike Pence in the general election.
Two days ago I witnessed President Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s speech was disturbingly nationalistic, hostile, and devoid of historical perspective. The crowd’s ecstatic response to his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism” certainly caught my attention as the line garnering the loudest applause. But today, that is not what haunts me most. Rather, I keep returning to the comment made by (noted Islamophobe) Rev. Franklin Graham directly after Trump’s speech. The reverend said, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”
Graham’s statement suggests divine intervention, or at least approval, at Trump’s ascent to power, a common theme applied to both Democratic and Republican presidents throughout history. George W. Bush was also thought by many to be directly anointed by the Lord and was said to have embraced the grandiose attribute dangerously in his role as Commander and Chief of the US military, employing a “messianic militarism” internationally., Not unrelated, Barack Obama was commonly believed to be the Antichrist, (by approximately 20% of registered Republicans, according to one poll), but so was Ronald Wilson Reagan, whose three six-letter names was thought to be a sign of the beast.
So which will it be for Donald Trump: good or evil? I imagine that among many Christians strongly adhering to some form of End Times theology, he will embody one archetype or the other, conveniently conforming to a pattern of events corresponding to whichever prophetic fantasy the believer already prefers. For me, Trump is at once definitely human in his dopey egotism and yet frighteningly threatening—not the second coming of Christ by any means, but nonetheless just as suited to bring about a catastrophic apocalypse.
A quick disclaimer before I begin: this post is not meant to serve as a fact-check to any one’s religious or spiritual beliefs. I consider that practice—trying to argue for one religion over another, or the existence of the divine—to be needlessly anti-social and entirely futile. This piece will not meet typical standards. Instead, it is meant as an illustration of the absurdity of absolute, fundamentalist beliefs in general. These beliefs, not based in facts but reinforced through a biased approach to interpreting significant events, can make us intransigently hateful, with the added severity of the perception of some sort of moral, divine mandate encouraging us to fight on. Furthermore, as we must now confront the reality that Trump’s fascist-style campaign promises and anti-media attitude will now be the official voice of the White House, it is more important than ever to recognize the absurdity and danger of idolizing our political leaders. And of course, it’s always fun to heckle DJT.
I really didn’t want to do another “Muslim thugs” post. However, as I cruise the dark depths of the Internet for potential leads on deceptive news stories, I can’t ignore this hateful virus taking over the /r/The_Donald subreddit. To be fair, this subdomain is mostly harmless, layered with various pro-Trump messages and attacks on Megan Kelley (and her poor ratings). However, peppered throughout, I have found posts reading, “Michigan has a NO GO ZONE for Christians where Sharia Law rules and Police do not enter. And MSM will NEVER report on it” and “CHRISTIANS WIN BIG LAWSUIT AGAINST MUSLIM THUGS IN DEARBORN, MICHIGAN!”
So what the hell is going on in Dearborn, Michigan? Well, if your someone who will believe anything they read or (more realistically) someone who will believe anything that they want to believe, this tiny mid-western city is the epicenter of a plot to Islamize the United States. The total population of Dearborn is roughly 100,000, and it is home to somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Arab Americans of various national backgrounds. According to the 2000 US Census, this ratio (30%) represents by far the largest concentration of Arab Americans per capita in any place in the US. Assuming that the city’s reputation as a jihadist utopia is unfounded (see analysis below), I have a feeling that this demographic reality in Dearborn is the real source of its mythic reputation.
With the anticipation of the US quickly becoming a “majority minority” nation and the rise of White Nationalism into mainstream politics, Americans are looking for a scapegoat. Muslims are a natural target; Americans already hold very negative perceptions of Muslims as compared with other religious groups according to the Pew Research Center.
Demographic fears and racial hate have materialized into narratives used to justify their own existence. Swarms of Muslims men mindlessly rampage through Western (White Christian) cities, assaulting people and property, imposing Sharia Law while waging jihad against our freedom and individuality. This trope, similar to an impulsively violent zombie horde or an assimilating pack of Borg invaders, is well played out in fiction but also mirrored in the real world, providing a disturbing insight into our social psyche. These false narratives serve to simultaneously dehumanize and vilify the target group, labeling them as both inferior and evil, but even more importantly, they induce a sense of combat urgency. Fear of imminent harm leads to irrational judgments, even more so if one is already predisposed to think the enemy is subhuman.
Before I dive into this week’s analysis, I want to be clear: I do not intend to only focus on Islamophobic misinformation with this blog. I recognize bigotry and ignorance within and against all religions, cultures, and individuals. However, as an American, in this time, I am exposed to certain political and religious beliefs more often than others, and am prone to responding to my direct social environment. With that, I’ll start by listing some of the trouble the Muslims of Dearborn have been causing lately.
While poking around the Internet last week for some foul piece of reporting to fact-check, and eventually landing on Breitbart’s article about a 1,000-man mob of Muslim hooligans tormenting a sweet old German town, I first eyed a piece written for Bare Naked Islam, an openly anti-Muslim site boasting the tagline, “It isn’t Islamophobia when they really ARE trying to kill you.”
I was drawn to a post describing a flurry of New Year’s Eve car burnings “by Muslims” in France. This piece was published a day before the Breitbart story on January 2nd, but has some striking similarities to its more famous cousin. The story claims that a mass torching event, which damaged or destroyed hundreds of parked cars across France on New Year’s Eve—what has now become somewhat of a “sinister annual tradition”—was carried out by Muslims and went unreported by French officials in an effort to “minimize the anti-Muslim backlash”.
I ultimately contacted someone from the site for some clarification via email. Briefly, here’s what I found out.
On January 3rd, a story appeared on Breitbart’s website titled, “Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany’s oldest church alight on New Year’s Eve.” Since then, multiple US and international news outlets have hit back against the conservative-learning news site with claims of false or distorted reporting of the event, branding the story under the topical “fake news” rank, with some even going so far to label it a work of, “hate and propaganda”.
Breitbart’s critics included Tehran’s AFP News, the Guardian, the Independent, POLITICO, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, and a few German-language papers. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, in reference to the article, stated (as translated by the Straits Times), “Breitbart has used exaggerations and factual errors to create ‘an image of chaotic civil war-like conditions in Germany, caused by Muslim aggressors.” This idea is at the core of my interest in this story—and so many other like it—and the more broad relationship between so-called “fake news” what some, including myself, identify as the existence of an increasingly false perception of hostility, even downright “culture war” between religious groups, leading to actual acts of discrimination and violence.
I will not go into great detail here about what does or does not constitute “fake news;” that discussion is beyond the scope of this post. However, I will say that I am conscious of the concerns many have raised about the misleading nature of the term, and I will avoid using it in my writing. Instead, I prefer to label misleading or inadequate reporting individually and with more nuance, on a case-by-case basis.
A fuller discussion of Breitbart’s ideological viewpoint and professionalism may be warranted at a later time. Briefly however, I would like to draw your attention to a New York Times op-ed published on January 7th, which profiles an environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips, whose criticism of Breitbart is fierce, labeling it “hate news,” that which the Times defines as “a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African-Americans and others.”
My analysis is unqualified to come to any similarly definitive conclusion. Instead, I will identify and evaluate only the “facts” reported and language employed by Breitbart in their coverage of this New Years Eve event. I will present the points of contention within the original article, highlight responses from critics as well as Breitbart’s defense of the piece, and make a decision about the informational value of the article, and the implications of any misinformation presented by this increasingly popular news platform.