As Moderates Are Crowded Out, Democrats and Republicans Both Have an Antisemitism Problem
If it was not apparent already, the Tree of Life mass murder has made clear that antisemitism is alive and well in America. As American Jews weigh their options in Tuesday’s mid-term elections, they should be worried that antisemitism is being aided and abetted on both ends of the political spectrum.
Six years ago, Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, posed a question in The Wall Street Journal: “Where Is The Flotilla for Syria?” At the time, Bashar Assad was in the early days of his vicious war against his own citizens, and Prosor wanted to know why Israel was the focus of so much international condemnation when its neighbor was doing far worse.
Israel is a democracy whose citizens might bring about change and whose police and military are governed by rules that do not apply in Syria and many other places. Both of these characteristics make it a good target for political attacks.
But any argument that disproportionately focuses on Israel’s flaws while giving some of the world’s most repressive regimes a pass suggests an inherent bias against the Jewish state — and Jews themselves.
What should be worrying to American Jews is the ease with which these narratives have incorporated themselves into the American political landscape.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will likely win a congressional seat as a progressive firebrand, may have many ideas about how to ameliorate the conditions of America’s working class, but it was only after being pilloried for her unquestioning acceptance of the notion that Israel “massacres” Palestinians that she admitted to being uninformed on the issue and other international situations.
The more important question is why did this candidate decide, among all the nations about which she knew little, to pick on Israel?
A casual skim of any major newspaper would provide a few uncontroversial things to say about human rights in say, Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, or Myanmar, to name a few obvious candidates for scorn.
So why Israel?
Republicans have sensed this rhetorical shift among Democrats — especially younger ones — and they have been quick to exploit it. As Mitchell Rocklin noted in his post-mortem of the 2016 election, while American Jews have, on the whole, continued to vote predominantly for Democrats, religious Jews, who tend to have a greater connection to Israel, have begun to shift their allegiances.
If the narrative of progressive Democrats is to disavow antisemitism while opposing Zionism, the far-right wing of the Republican Party offers strong support for Israel while accommodating a great deal of hostility toward actual Jews.
As has been widely noted, Donald Trump’s inclusion of Jewish financiers such as George Soros and the mainstream media among his “Enemies of the People” is most certainly antisemitic pap lifted from a bygone era that appeals to the white supremacist part of his base.
What is seldom mentioned is the extent to which Soros, who was an early financier of the pro-peace, pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, has also been a convenient punching bag for the Israeli right. Those who subscribe to the “Trump’s good for Israel” worldview are less likely to see the attacks against Soros as mere antisemitic tropes and more as attacks against a shared enemy who is undermining Israel’s interests.
During the 2016 election, when Republicans were looking for a scapegoat for the damning allegations contained in the dossier prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, they picked Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Hillary Clinton’s whose son Max also happens to be an outspoken critic of Israeli policy.
The possibility that the elder Blumenthal would enjoy a senior position within a Clinton administration no doubt spoke to many pro-Israel American Jews while at the same time appealing to antisemites, who would see further evidence that Clinton was working closely with a “liberal globalist” who also happened to be a Jew.
And Trump was also roundly criticized for failing to denounce last year’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville, as well as those white supremacists who endorsed his candidacy and now his presidency.
If the dog whistle politics of some Republicans cater to an odd set of bedfellows consisting of religious Jews and white antisemites, Democrats have not been afraid to paint their own picture of a Jewish cabal that is attempting to ram a militant Zionist agenda down America’s collective throat.
The villains in their piece are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition of right-wing co-conspirators who, among other things, are blamed for shaping the current administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal, and cozy up to a human rights-abusing dictatorship in Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against increasing Iranian influence in the Middle East.
The events of the past couple of weeks, as well as the increase in antisemitic attacks in America and elsewhere, have made clear that inflammatory rhetoric applied in the service of simple narratives has real consequences and often encourages violence.
Both major parties, and the activists who cheer them on, need to do a much better job of considering the impact of their rhetoric and the implications involved in selecting their villains.
Although voices of moderation and reason appear to have fallen out of vogue, now is a good time for American Jews, regardless of their specific party affiliations, to recognize their shared interest in encouraging those voices to come forward and vote accordingly.
Ian Cooper is a Toronto-based entertainment and technology lawyer. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and the Wharton School.