In the latest example of Republicans wrongly conflating disparate crises in order to whip up anger and fear, former President Donald Trump and others in his mold are responding to attacks on Israelis and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza by spreading disinformation about the Mexican border and promoting extremist anti-immigrant policies such as reviving the ban on travelers from majority-Muslim countries that Trump pushed since 2016.
The rhetoric became increasingly unhinged on Thursday after right-wing commentators interpreted a call for global action in solidarity with Palestine as a call for terrorist attacks. Khaled Meshaal, the former leader of Hamas in Gaza and the chief of the group’s diaspora office, reportedly left Reuters a voice message urging Muslims globally to take the streets in support of Palestinians.
“[We must] head to the squares and streets of the Arab and Islamic world on Friday,” Meshaal said.
Meshaal also reportedly made an appeal to intellectuals who teach “jihad,” which means “struggle” or “struggling,” but is a hot-button word in the United States, where some people associate “jihad” with extremism and the Bush administration’s brutal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Social media lit up with evidence-free warnings about that Muslims in the U.S. would turn to violence during a “day of jihad” on Friday, but NBC News reported on Thursday that the FBI knows of no credible terror threat. Friday saw protests in the U.S. and across the world, but came and went without serious violence outside of Israel and Palestine.
Hamas took responsibility for a cross-border attack launched from Gaza in southern Israel last weekend that saw Palestinian militants target civilians and take dozens of hostages. Israel quickly declared war and began an unprecedented bombing campaign of Gaza, where 2 million people are caged in by walls and militarized border crossings.
The Israel Defense Forces told 1 million Gazans on Friday to leave homes that are not already destroyed as Israel prepares for a ground invasion, but in such a small area, Palestinians have virtually nowhere to go unless Egypt opens a southern border crossing. United Nations experts say indiscriminate airstrikes and the forced relocation of civilians is creating a mass refugee crisis in violation of international law.
More than 3,600 people have died across both Palestine and Israel as a terrifying humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Gaza. Israeli airstrikes have leveled entire residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure while a blockade starves Gazans of food, fuel and water. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians are displaced and crowding into hospitals and shelters.
At a rally on Monday following the Hamas attack, Trump baselessly claimed that the “same people” were crossing the southern U.S. border to commit terrorist attacks. Trump would go on to criticize Israeli leadership in comments that are now facing harsh blowback.
Trump is also using the moment as an excuse to revive his pledge to reinstate the notorious “Muslim ban” he attempted to place on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries after taking office, which sparked protests at airports across the country and was initially struck down by the courts. When running for president in 2016, Trump proposed the travel ban to exploit the public’s fear following the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, by attackers who claimed they were inspired by ISIS.
Stephen Miller — the architect of the Trump administration’s disastrous policy of separating migrant children from their parents, and who cited white nationalists in emails — suggested on social media that one should “design your nation’s immigration policy so you don’t have to worry about a global day of jihad.”
“This is just one more demonstration that Trump and those who share his impertinent geopolitics are not going to miss taking advantage of this moment of human suffering in order to, yet again, make an absurd parallelism to their base — one that only exists in their mind and their perverse politics — speculating about the border and, in general, the issue of immigration,” wrote Maribel Hastings and David Torres, advocates with the immigrant rights group America’s Voice, in an op-ed this week.
The crisis in Gaza stems from a complicated history of war, occupation and apartheid and has nothing to do with the large numbers of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border, but these happen to be two of the biggest challenges facing President Joe Biden, which explains why Trump and others in the GOP are pouncing without providing any concrete proposals for solutions.
Republican presidential candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy echoed Trump’s fearmongering with comments that amounted to “if could happen to Israel, it could happen here.” Some Republicans even attempted to blame Biden for the war, which is the culmination of decades of conflict and simmering tensions over Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. (Though as Sa’ed Atshan reminds us, Israel enjoys billions of dollars in U.S. aid despite apartheid conditions in occupied Palestine.)
The White House has consistently called on Congress to pass comprehensive reforms to fix a broken immigration system, but Republicans have been content to throw rhetorical bombs while their own caucus in the House devolves into chaos without a speaker.
“They do it to inject panic into a segment of the population that doesn’t lack for much, so that their anti-immigrant sentiments can flourish,” Hastings and Torres wrote. “All of this leads us to conclude that they do not want to look for solutions, because doing so would eliminate their favorite weapon in their demographic arsenal: the border and immigrants.”
Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has escalated in recent weeks as his campaign aggressively raises money for a former president that faces a litany of criminal charges across multiple jurisdictions. Immigrant rights groups say Trump’s words are putting people at risk of violence.
“Donald Trump has denigrated undocumented immigrants in recent weeks by accusing them of ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’ associating them with drug and alcohol use and portraying them as dangerous threats to Americans, prompting widespread criticism and denunciations of racism and xenophobia from immigrant and civil rights groups,” according to Marianne LeVine and Meryl Kornfield at The Washington Post.
Federal law enforcement has reported that the greatest domestic threat of terrorism comes not from immigrants or Muslims but the far right, including groups that align with Trump’s MAGA movement. Faced with a dearth of Muslim terrorists on U.S. soil during the “war on terror,” the FBI attempted to literally manufacture them by offering down-and-out Muslim men large sums of cash to participate in mock attacks that were entirely plotted by informants.
Hastings and Torres pointed to recent mass shooting in the U.S. perpetrated by racists and white nationalists who “destroyed the dreams of hundreds of migrants and other minorities by perpetuating mass attacks on schools or supermarkets.”
“The pot calling the kettle black has been practically a constant from Trump and his movement, to try to distract attention from their own atrocities,” they wrote.
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