US Elections and the Dangerous Politicization of Antisemitism
Levelling the charge of racism and antisemitism at an opponent was traditionally a grave and loaded indictment. Not so today as the trivialization of antisemitism has led it to become a cudgel used to beat political opponents. The political expedience of hurling vacuous accusations of antisemitism serves to diminish the severity of this age-old irrational hatred, and even revise its dark history. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden has consistently sought to paint President Donald Trump as a racist. In the Presidential debate, Joe Biden referred to the protests in Charlottesville, accusing President Trump of emboldening racism and fostering divisions. Biden echoed what he previously falsely asserted in Feb 9, 2020 on ABC’s This Week: “He’s yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis. He hasn’t condemned a darn thing. He has given them oxygen.”
This oversimplistic distortion of President Trump’s famous assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” came on the heels of the protests and counter-protests surrounding the removal of General Robert E. Lee’s monument in Charlottesville. Not everyone who refused to subscribe to the iconoclasm sweeping the Western world and take down the monument were neo-Nazis. While underscoring the complexity surrounding the situation, President Trump’s declaration did not serve to make a palatable media sound-bite that would simplistically paint those that sought to preserve history as white supremacists. This was capitalized upon by his political detractors who seized upon the opportunity to turn a serious issue of racism into a political football and paint the president as a racist.
In like manner, liberal Jewish groups have joined the bandwagon and are more than willing to hurl that accusation against anyone deemed to offend their sensibilities. After President Trump signed, in December 2019, an executive order to protect Jewish college students from discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Jewish Democratic Council of America released a statement: “If President Trump truly wanted to combat antisemitism, he would accept responsibility for his role in perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories, and emboldening white nationalism. … We’d prefer Trump stop inciting the flames of hatred against Jews as opposed to feigning his concern with a political stunt timed to correspond with the White House Hanukkah party.”
This feeds into the far-left’s politicization of antisemitism that undermines any genuine attempt to understand the evolution of antisemitism from its classical form that religiously or racially targeted Jewish people to its modern incarnation in anti-Zionism. This modern form of antisemitism causes antisemitism to mutate from a racial and theological dimension to a national one as it demonizes and disproportionately criticizes the State of Israel by applying double standards to the Jewish state. In the process, antisemitism from the left is overlooked to enable genuine antisemites to hide behind their liberal credentials while continually delegitimizing Israel, ironically in the guise of liberty and human rights.
This is occurring in the Democratic party, where classical and modern forms of antisemitism are becoming normalized. The “Squad” of four Democratic Congresswomen — Alyssa Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib — ignore the international Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as they advocate for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, which they compare to past boycotts of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Ilhan Omar has invoked classical antisemitic myths that wealthy Jews — whether it be AIPAC or Jewish donors to opposing politicians — financially control those politicians and the US while maintaining allegiance to a foreign government.
In contrast, President Trump has a history of denouncing racism and being an unconditional supporter of the State of Israel and a close friend of the Jewish people. Back in February 2000, Trump said that the biggest problem with the Reform Party was “David Duke just joined, a racist, a bigot, a problem. This is not exactly the people you want in the party.” In March 2016, President Trump repeated himself, stating, “I totally disavow the KKK, I totally disavow David Duke.” Again, in March 2016, President Trump answered the question, “So are you prepared right now to make a clear and unequivocal statement right now renouncing the support of all white supremacists?” To which President Trump responded, “Of course I am, of course I am!” Once again, in the same month, President Trump expressed in an exasperated manner, “How many times do I have to reject? I’ve rejected David Duke, I’ve rejected the KKK.”
Similarly, in February 2017, President Trump declared, “The antisemitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” Eyebrows were raised when in the same month he claimed that political opponents might have staged bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers to frame him. Yet just one month later, Michael Ron David Kadar, an American-Israeli, was arrested in Israel and charged with making more than 2,000 bomb threats to Jewish institutions, airlines, airports, police stations, hospitals, and sporting events across the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
On August 3, 2019, after nearly two dozen people were killed in El Paso in a shooting, President Trump said, “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy.” The next day, President Trump echoed this, declaring, “Racism is evil, and those that cause violence in their name are criminals and thugs including the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” Again, on August 14, 2017, President Trump said, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” This was echoed a day later when President Trump said “neo-Nazis and the white nationalists … should be condemned totally.” After the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that claimed 12 lives, President Trump demonstrated deep empathy with the Jewish community by vising the synagogue and declaring, “This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil, hard to believe, and, frankly, something that is unimaginable.”
It was hard to imagine that the human rights consciousness fostered by the Nuremburg trials against leading Nazis who perpetrated a Holocaust that annihilated European Jewry would be cynically wielded by the far-left to single out and target the Jewish state or to tarnish the reputation of a genuine friend of the Jewish people. Indeed, it is those that politicize racism and antisemitism that are busy sowing the seeds of division.
The Talmud relates that in the third century BC, Alexander the Great spared Jerusalem from harm and peacefully absorbed the land of Israel into the Greek empire. Legend has it that the High Priest promised Alexander the Great that all the children of priestly families born in the year following his visit to Jerusalem would be named Alexander, after him. This tradition remains till today. In current times, it is unprecedented that liberal Jews not only overlook the unconditional support a leader offers its community and Israel, but falsely ascribe racism and antisemitism to him.
Barak M. Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia, a geopolitical risk firm, and a former Middle East fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. Twitter: @BarakSeener.