The Right’s Anti-Israel Insurgents

A burgeoning anti-Zionist strain in the America First movement looks to capitalize on popular disaffection over Palestine for its own ends.

Ben Lorber
May 15, 2024

Munther Isaac appears on Tucker Carlson’s show to discuss the plight of Palestinian Christians on April 9th, 2024.

On April 9th, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson hosted an unexpected guest on his independent show: the Palestinian Christian pastor Munther Isaac. During the broadcast, which has been viewed over 18 million times on X (formerly Twitter), Isaac detailed the impact of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza’s Palestinian Christian community, criticized Israel’s entrenched occupation, and challenged the theology of Christian Zionism. The host was receptive to his message. “If you wake up in the morning and decide your Christian faith requires you to support a foreign government blowing up churches and killing Christians,” Carlson offered, “I think you’ve lost the thread.” As Isaac described how Israel’s Kafkaesque checkpoint and permit system makes it near-impossible for Palestinian clergy like himself to travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Carlson responded with outrage: “It’s just hard to believe we would send any money to a government that would do something like that to Christians.” Five days later, supporters of former President Donald Trump began chanting “Genocide Joe,” a slogan popularized by Palestine solidarity protesters, at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. “They’re not wrong, they’re not wrong,” Trump responded. “He’s done everything wrong.”

These moves from two of the American modern right’s most influential figures reveal cracks in the movement’s historically ironclad support for Israel. As Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip approaches its eighth month—bolstered so far by $17 billion in emergency supplemental aid from the US, on top of the regular $3.8 billion yearly aid package—dissent is growing across segments of the MAGA movement’s leadership and base. The trend recalls an earlier era in which a sizable right-wing bloc opposed US support of Israel on nativist grounds. And like its earlier manifestations, today’s right-wing anti-Israel sentiment frequently dovetails with broader racist and anti-Jewish sentiment. Indeed, while the left at its best adopts a structural understanding of US imperial support for Israel, the America First right almost axiomatically arrives at antisemitism when it slots anti-Zionism into its pre-existing nationalist frame, positing that a shadowy Zionist cabal is subverting American sovereignty from within. As mounting pressure from progressives over Israel’s war on Gaza finds little outlet in an obdurate bipartisan establishment, this insurgent right threatens to capitalize on this opening to build power and reshape the political landscape.

The precedent for a right-wing anti-Israel movement can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century, when a prominent “Old Right” coalition of Midwest conservatives, Southern Democrats, and libertarian intellectuals—known chiefly for its opposition to the New Deal and to US entry into World War II—combined America First isolationism and nativism with cultural conservatism and anti-Zionism. Wary of all foreign entanglements, the Old Right saw support for the fledging quasi-socialist Jewish state as detrimental to US interests, which it believed were better served by rolling back, rather than expanding, overseas commitments. After the Holocaust, as America inherited the role of global hegemon, the Old Right was gradually sidelined. Especially after the 1967 Six Day War, the Republican Party’s ascendant “fusionist” coalition of hawkish foreign policy boosters, evangelicals, and free-market ideologues came to see Israel as either a crucial Western bulwark against Soviet-backed Third Worldists, a sign of the “end times,” a “shining city on a hill,” or some combination of the above.

But as the Cold War drew to a close, fissures emerged in that fusionist consensus. Beginning in the 1980s, a new generation of conservative leaders like Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis lifted the Old Right torch. The paleoconservatives, as they came to be called, combined thinly veiled white nationalism and opposition to neoliberalism with anti-interventionist foreign policy. A dissident yet vocal minority in a stridently pro-Israel right, the paleocons claimed the “Israel lobby” drained the coffers of Middle America while sending its children to die in overseas wars. And much like his Old Right predecessors, Buchanan’s protestations that “Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory” carried more than a whiff of antisemitism.

After 9/11, paleocons like Buchanan remained staunchly opposed to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and helped form the “alt-right” coalition that heartily cheered Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. Of course, Trump’s anti-interventionist promises failed to materialize in the Middle East arena: Instead, the former president has backed the Israeli right and its ultra-nationalist agenda to the hilt, sporadic chants of “Genocide Joe!” at his campaign rally notwithstanding. Still, the isolationist current in the MAGA movement has only deepened, animating opposition to US participation in NATO, funding for Ukraine, and more.

Since October 7th, the anti-Israel inclinations in the America First movement have emerged with new energy. From the beginning, popular right-wing pundits have led the charge of Israel-skepticism: Carlson openly challenged neoconservatives’ saber-rattling against Iran in October, slamming the “bloodthirsty” and “reckless” rhetoric of GOP figures like Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, and Den Crenshaw. Candace Owens, a former host on Ben Shapiro’s conservative news site The Daily Wire, has asserted that “no government anywhere has a right to commit genocide, ever,” slammed AIPAC, and insisted that nefarious Jewish cabals worked to silence her dissent. In major flare-up that dramatized the conservative movement’s growing divides, Owens parted ways with the Daily Wire in April, after months of public clashes with pro-Israel stalwarts like Shapiro.

Seven months in, this neo-isolationist commentariat camp has grown to include everyone from other right-wing pundits and YouTubers (like Tim Pool) to “New Right” commentators (like conservative operative Nate Hochman) and MAGA conspiracy theorists (like Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich). Right-wing critics typically charge that the US–Israel “special relationship” leads US politicians to neglect the interests of American taxpayers; those “interests,” in an exclusionary MAGA lens, often involve funding for border security to keep out immigrants. In November, for example, MAGA kingpin Steve Bannon declared “No Money for Ukraine, No Money for Israel. UNTIL we STOP the Invasion of America.”

As Israel’s genocidal war on the Gaza Strip has progressed, this mounting criticism by right-wing pundits has mirrored increasing disapproval from the conservative base. Recent polling data has shown that more than a third of conservative voters disapprove of Israeli military actions, support a permanent ceasefire, and oppose US military aid. The shift is especially pronounced among younger conservatives, including in the young evangelical community, while hard-right Young Republicans chapters and national campus MAGA organizations like Turning Point USA have criticized US support for Israel. One leader of the New York Young Republicans Club, for example, tweeted that “the fealty so many outlets and orgs have for Israel, a foreign nation, is highly troubling . . . I don’t want AIPAC or ADL running the American government or media.”

Many figures in this camp still admire Israel as a model ethnonationalist state, but oppose foreign aid across the board. Ben Braddock, the editor at the vanguard “dissident right” journal IM1776, exemplified this sentiment when he approvingly called Israel “the last bastion of European settler colonialism” but maintained that “if Americans want to fight for Israel they can join the IDF. Israel is more than capable of taking care of itself.” Calling for a re-evaluation of the US–Israel relationship, however, has not led many right-wingers to support Palestine solidarity protests. Like their pro-Israel bedfellows, most isolationists view the rallies as symptomatic of rampant leftism and the perils of diversity. They tend to slander Muslim and Arab protesters as terroristic fifth columnists, criticize calls to resettle Gazan refugees in Western countries, and blame protests on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, especially on campuses. For one, popular manosphere influencer Raw Egg Nationalist—star of Tucker Carlson’s 2022 documentary The End of Men and occasional dabbler in neo-Nazism—railed against “the conservatives and Christians shouting so loudly now about Israel” in October, but also called on the right to use “state power” to “degrad[e] the ability of radical leftist groups to organize freely” amidst widespread protest.

Others, however, do caution against state repression. “The last thing on earth we need is the deep state to be encouraged to persecute more Americans over constitutionally-protected speech,” argued white nationalist Scott Greer in October. “This is the tyranny you get with anti-Israel speech bans.” And in May, 21 House Republicans joined 70 Democrats in voting against the Antisemitism Awareness Act, a bipartisan bill, long a centerpiece of Israel advocacy, that progressives have warned stands to restrict criticism of Israel in the name of fighting antisemitism. Some on the right echoed this concern about banning Israel speech— for example, TPUSA head Charlie Kirk called the bill an “appalling attack on the First Amendment . . . [which] must not pass,” while also calling for state repression against campus protesters. To be sure, these figures mostly worry about liberals using state power to suppress their speech, and would likely have fewer qualms under a right-wing administration. Indeed, MAGA figureheads Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz opposed the bill on non-Israel-related grounds: The legislation, they argued, would restrict Christians’ freedom to say that the Jews killed Jesus, one of the oldest and deadliest antisemitic canards. Still, this breadth of dissent illustrates that MAGA leaders and pundits can no longer be counted upon to march lockstep behind pro-Israel causes.

A small minority on the far right wholeheartedly backs the Palestine solidarity rallies sweeping the nation. Apart from those who see Israel as a model and dream of “white Zionism,” the white nationalist movement has long been mostly anti-Zionist, typically seeing Israel as a front for Jewish world domination. White nationalist groups like National Justice Party have brought “no more Jewish wars” and “no white lives for Israel” signs to protests, where they have been quickly rebuffed by activists. More commonly, radical rightists of various political stripes have spread anti-Zionist antisemitism on social media, and some, like self-described “MAGA Communist” Jackson Hinkle, or ultra-misogynist influencer Andrew Tate, have rapidly amassed millions of followers from across the political spectrum who are drawn to their criticism of Israel. While many leftists caution against following their accounts, their anti-Zionism has served as a gateway to introduce some followers to a range of nationalist, anti-LGBTQ, and conspiracist politics.

Prominent white Christian nationalist Nick Fuentes has been one of the loudest voices urging his followers to make a strategic common cause with the anti-imperialist left. “Yeah, they’re brown, yeah they’re Muslim,” he argued in November, “[but] they’re protesting for the things we want.” Fuentes’s position, however, does not come from a place of solidarity: “I don’t care about self-determination of foreign peoples . . . when I look at the conflict, it’s not necessarily that I’m pro-Palestine—it’s more that I’m anti-Israel.” Other right-wing thinkers have urged the movement to close ranks against the left and avoid letting Israel divide them: “We propose a simple frame: civilization versus radical ideologues who hate civilization . . . the greatest threat to Western civilization [ . . . ] is revolutionary leftism,” wrote two establishment operatives in the Christian nationalist outlet American Reformer in March. But Fuentes sees a utility in the discord: “By highlighting the un-Christian treatment of Palestinians by Israelis and the lunatic war-mongering by American Zionists,” he has said, “the emergent conflict between right-wing Zionists and America First gentiles results in a victory for Americans as consciousness of Zionist influence rises.” Operatives like Fuentes hope to harness the growing conservative skepticism towards the US–Israel “special relationship” in order to mount a full-frontal assault on the “Jewish power” that they are convinced dominates the conservative movement and to chart a new, “post-Judeo-Christian” path for the Trumpist right.

This uptick in right-wing media skepticism has mostly not filtered up to Republican Party leadership, which remains more hawkish on Israel than the Democratic establishment. So far only one Republican congressperson, Representative Thomas Massie, champions outright isolationism, having posted memes counterposing “Zionism” against “American patriotism” and slamming foreign aid as “money laundering for the US military industrial complex and its beneficiaries.” The other significant current of dissent comes from members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and MAGA leaders like Greene, who, while insisting upon their Zionist bona fides, have at times opposed emergency Israel aid bills, citing budget concerns and insisting on loans or offsets. “If you want to send aid to Israel, fine,” Gaetz told the flagship Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February. “Pay for it by defunding the United Nations.”

These MAGA leaders walk a fine line, striking an occasional anti-interventionist pose regarding the Middle East while shying away from the firm opposition they have displayed, for example, towards US funding for Ukraine. Nevertheless, leaders of Israel advocacy organizations have complained that Israel aid has been “held hostage by fringe isolationist [House] members,” as the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Action Fund put it in March. “We are worried and we’re working on tamping down . . . this neo-isolationist wing,” Republican Jewish Coalition leader Matt Brooks told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in February. Indeed, any right-wing challenge to the pro-Israel consensus—whether it comes from House members or from Youtubers—still meets sweeping condemnation from much of the right today. But the vocal and growing minority may well be bellwethers, opening up space for others to follow and demonstrating that the “special relationship” is far from sacrosanct.

This could become dizzying terrain for a pro-Palestine left accustomed to acting as a lone voice in the wilderness, arrayed against an ironclad bipartisan pro-Israel establishment. But it wouldn’t be the first time progressives have confronted what the writer Naomi Klein calls a “doppelganger” of sorts on the far right, with figures co-opting popular anti-establishment insurgency to support a reactionary and repressive agenda. During the Occupy movement, for example, far-right actors voiced enthusiasm for protestors’ critique of finance capital. Their actual attempts at on-the-ground entryism remained sporadic, and were usually rebuffed by diligent activists unwilling to allow neo-Nazis into encampments; still, it wasn’t hard to find conspiracy theories about nefarious many-tentacled banking cabals circulating in Occupy spaces, and more than a few activists radicalized by these rabbit holes would continue down the libertarian-to-alt-right pipeline.

Four years after police cleared the Occupy encampments, Donald Trump’s MAGA movement would transpose the movement’s polemics against ruthless financial exploitation and unaccountable elites into the conspiracy-soaked register of white grievance and Middle American rage. As we build the movement for justice in Palestine, progressives must remain wary, not only of unwelcome bedfellows, but also of our message being co-opted by forces opposed to the collective liberation we seek. And the moment should also serve as a warning for Democratic Party liberals that—as with Wall Street—failing to contend with legitimate popular outrage over US support for mass killing in Gaza risks ceding the political terrain of dissent to their MAGA enemies.

This article has been updated to correct the amount of emergency supplemental aid that the US has provided to Israel.

Ben Lorber works as senior research analyst at the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, researching antisemitism and white nationalism. He is the co-author of Safety through Solidarity: A Radical Guide to Fighting Antisemitism, forthcoming from Melville House.