Anti-Semitism Is Bi-Partisan. Why Isn’t Fighting It?
On Monday afternoon, House Democratic leaders decided to put a resolution on the floor in response to more remarks from Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The decision came after Omar’s accusations that some have sworn allegiance to a foreign country, a claim viewed by many as an anti-Semitic stereotype. This time, she did not apologize but doubled down on Twitter on Sunday.
Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that! https://t.co/gglAS4FVJW
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 3, 2019
Many called out Omar’s words, her third foray into anti-Semitic stereotypes in as many weeks.
But Omar wasn’t the only one accused of tweeting something anti-Semitic this weekend. Congressman Jim Jordan accused Jewish Congressman Jerry Nadler of jumping “to Tom $teyer’s conclusion” – spelling the half-Jewish billionaire’s name with a dollar sign.
C’mon @RepJerryNadler—at least pretend to be serious about fact finding.
Nadler feeling the heat big time. Jumps to Tom $teyer’s conclusion—impeaching our President—before first document request.
What a Kangaroo court. https://t.co/BpNIzdON1e
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) March 3, 2019
A willingness to traffic in anti-Semitic stereotypes is, it seems, a bipartisan habit.
Not so fighting anti-Semitism, which has become the opposite: a partisan football.
One of the most depressing aspects of the brouhaha surrounding Omar’s repeated anti-Semitic tropes is the response to it. While Democratic leadership released a statement condemning Omar for her first problematic tweet, in which she wrote that U.S. political support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” many on the left accused those upset with Omar of racism, and went down a veritable rabbit hole of Whataboutism.
For the far Left, Omar was just a distraction; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with his now-deleted anti-Semitic tweet accusing Jews of “buying an election,” and Jim Jordan who are the real problem.
Republicans, of course, do this too. While they ultimately stripped Steve King of his committee assignments over comments he made defending white supremacy, they waited far too long before doing so. The right, too, prefers to focus exclusively on leftwing anti-Semitism, and how the “leftwing media” insists on covering it when they do.
This is all deeply troubling. Framing discussions of anti-Semitism in the context of politics – specifically by engaging in Whataboutism – isn’t just wrong; it’s destructive. The Whataboutism – which has become the natural impulse of our tribal times – not only minimizes anti-Semitism, but turns the whole conversation into a game.
This must not be allowed to happen.
If there’s one lesson to learn from all of this, it’s that we really need a broad discussion of anti-Semitism, what it is, what it looks like, and what sort of stereotypes are best avoided because they are used by anti-Semites.
As luck would have it, McCarthy, Trump, and Omar each provide an example of a different type of anti-Semitic — or anti-Semitic adjacent — rhetoric.
As he sought to motivate the Republican base to turn out to vote in the face of the coming Democratic wave, McCarthy tweeted in October, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th #MAGA.”
Soros and Bloomberg are Jewish. Steyer’s father was Jewish.
McCarthy accused them of trying to “BUY” the election. If you’re going to call out antisemitic tropes on one side, call them out on the other side too. pic.twitter.com/2bB0Enpdzb
— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) February 11, 2019
McCarthy insisted that he was doing nothing but making a point about the incredible amount of money the three were spending and the impact it was having on the midterm elections; the fact that all three are of Jewish descent was just a coincidence.
And highlighting the disproportionate impact the three were having on the elections by virtue of the sheer volume of money they poured into the system isn’t in itself anti-Semitic. It’s also not anti-Semitic to call out Sheldon Adelson for the money he spends on elections.
But the tweet was anti-Semitic, for the simple reason that McCarthy perpetuated a stereotype that has been used by actual anti-Semites for centuries: the idea that Jews use their money to secretly control the levers of power and undermine democracy.
McCarthy seems to have realized this. He deleted the tweet, but he did so without apology, which was wrong. Republicans (and McCarthy himself) should be able to admit that.
The issues with President Trump, on the other hand, go a step further than McCarthy. While Trump is no anti-Semite – this much is clear from his dealings with individual Jews – he has engaged in deeply harmful language when it comes to Jews, including his refusals to disavow white nationalists, the Charlottesville equivocation that had him calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” and the blatantly anti-Semitic memes which came from his account during the 2016 campaign.
The only thing Trump can do to remedy this is what Republican leaders have done throughout the ages: He needs to clearly and without any qualification publicly denounce and condemn those who peddle hate. He needs to do this in a way that people actually believe he means what he is saying, and not winking at the bigots as he does.
And then there’s Omar. She has not only inferred that Jews are manipulating the political process with their money. She has also tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” which plays on the dangerous stereotype of Jews having supernatural power. And she obviously understands there is something wrong with her support of BDS – otherwise, she wouldn’t have felt the need to lie about it during the primary.
And when her Jewish Democratic colleagues called her out for her “ignorance” – giving her more rope than she deserved – she doubled down, tweeting that she “should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
It’s a difficult time to be Jewish, with anti-Semitism coming at us from the left and the right. But both Democrats and Republicans need to commit to fighting these ugly words and sentiments for anything to truly be done about it.
Eli Steinberg lives in Lakewood, New Jersey with his wife and four children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last half-decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @DraftRyan2016.