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Fighting Anti-Semitism Has Become A Partisan Game

Last week, both Republican and Democratic representatives in Congress were revealed to have met with anti-Semites. But only one side was reported in the mainstream media: GOP Congressmen’s association with Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson.

Not so news of Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s association with Hezbollah supporter Abbas Hamideh, who has called Jews “shlomos” — an anti-Semitic slur — and advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Israeli Jews.

Tlaib did face some censure, but mainly from the right, just as the GOP’s meeting with a Holocaust denier sparked anger mostly from the left. In other words, each event provoked fury almost exclusively on the other side of the aisle. Almost no one was outraged by both.

But this sad state of affairs, in which opposition to anti-Semitism is more a partisan game than a true agenda, is par for the course.

The juxtaposition of congresspersons on opposite ends of the political spectrum associating with anti-Semites, only to meet with outrage from their political rivals, is part and parcel of a broader phenomenon in which folks on the right focus on left-wing anti-Semitism, turning a blind eye to right-wing anti-Semitism, with the left doing the same in the opposite direction.

Needless to say, we will not win the battle against the hatred of Jews if charges of anti-Semitism appear to be politically motivated.

And indeed, thanks to the dearth of criticism on the left (and the absence of reporting in mainstream media) about her association with an anti-Semite, Tlaib was free to dismiss the outrage as politically motivated.

When the fight against anti-Semitism becomes a partisan’s game, it’s not only a dishonest one but a dangerous one. As partisans defend their inattention to anti-Semitism on their own side by dismissing it as marginal and downplaying its significance, anti-Semitism is further entrenched.

In the past year, we have witnessed a surge in attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City, with some assailants denouncing their victims as “fake Jews,” echoing the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Despite this, some on the left have downplayed Farrakhan’s impact.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre by a white nationalist, Trump supporters sought to exculpate Trump and the Republican Party from responsibility. The Chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition absolved Trump of any responsibility for the synagogue massacre, claiming that “Anti-Semitism is incubated at the extremes, where neo-Nazis and leftwing progressive radicals live.”

But the right-wing fear-mongering over the migrant caravan south of the border appears to have pushed the far-right murderer over the edge.

Another common method is to hear those caught entertaining anti-Semites deny any knowledge, like the GOP Congressmen who recently met with Chuck Johnson and later claimed to be unaware of his remarks denying the Holocaust and his white nationalist sympathies. This despite it being the third time Republican Congressmen have met with Johnson in the past 15 months.

It raises the question of how serious Republicans are about combatting white supremacy within their ranks, especially in light of GOP Congressman Steve King’s recent remarks defending white nationalism, which only recently prompted widespread GOP denunciation despite his long history of racist remarks.

Tlaib didn’t even bother to deny the accusations against her, defiantly responding, “Yes, I am Muslim and Palestinian. Get over it.”

But when I tweeted about Tlaib’s association with Hamideh, a co-founder of If Not Now and board member of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice responded in part, “there are children in cages in the desert,” a deflection tactic that can be deployed to silence any discussion of anti-Semitism.

In choosing to remain silent on Tlaib’s association with an anti-Semite (in contrast to their coverage of GOP Congressmen’s associations with an anti-Semite), the mainstream media is likewise complicit in tolerating anti-Semitism on the left.

It is critical that folks on the left fight left-wing anti-Semitism and that folks on the right fight right-wing anti-Semitism. Not only is it morally incumbent upon us, but people are much more likely to listen to someone in their own camp, seeing as it forecloses on the possibility of it being a partisan attack.

Instead, only right-wing media and Jewish media outlets reported on Tlaib’s private dinner with Hamideh; in contrast, only mainstream media and left-wing (including Jewish) media outlets reported on GOP Congressmen’s meeting with Chuck Johnson.

It’s a sorry state of affairs that endangers Jewish lives.

Nurit Baytch is an American-Israeli with one foot in Boston and one foot in Tel Aviv.

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