After a long year of American crises, 2021 began with a violent insurrection incited by Donald Trump. The events of Jan. 6 represented an unprecedented attack on our democracy, culminating in domestic terrorists infiltrating and desecrating the U.S. Capitol at the urging of the President of the United States.
Today, it’s clear that while Trump may have vacated the White House, the extremism he fomented remains alive and well in America, as evidenced by the fact that a small number of gun-wielding conspiracy theorists now serve as Republican members of Congress.
Most notable among them: Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory elected to the House of Representatives in November 2020 with the support of key Republican leaders, including Trump. In her short time in the national eye, Greene has publicly expressed her support of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol; repeated false allegations of voter fraud; and refused to wear a mask, potentially endangering the lives of her colleagues. One Democratic member of Congress has moved offices because she felt physically threatened by Greene, and reporting has revealed that in the last three years, Greene threatened student activists and survivors of the Parkland school shooting, indicated her support for the execution of prominent Democrats including Speaker Pelosi, and engaged in 9/11 denial.
And most recently, Greene made headlines for an antisemitic conspiracy theory she shared in 2018 suggesting that deadly California wildfires were caused by alleged Jewish space lasers controlled by the Rothschild family.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. Because one of the most troubling aspects of Greene’s claim is that she clearly believes it.
Greene is not the first Republican member of Congress to draw accusations of antisemitism in recent years. Parallels have been drawn between Greene and former Iowa Rep. Steve King, who – after 16 years in Congress – was in 2019 stripped of his committee assignments for his ongoing support of white supremacy. But Greene’s offenses are worse than King’s because not only does she align with white supremacists, she’s also repeatedly indicated her support of domestic extremism and violence, including the Jan. 6 attack that killed five Americans.
Egregious parallels have also been drawn by some Jewish leaders between Greene and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. In a tweet on Sunday, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris suggested that Greene and Omar “have more in common than they realize!” adding that Greene’s comments are “another reminder of the potential danger of extremism — both right and left.”
Omar’s Feb. 2019 tweet invoking an antisemitic trope related to Jewish influence and Israel was offensive; the organization I head, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, strongly condemned her at the time. But the fact that two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum have both been accused of antisemitism does not make their offenses equal. Suggesting they are — a tactic known as “whataboutism” — is deceptive, because it can have the effect of nullifying or legitimizing a dangerous threat through diversion.
We saw this tactic invoked by Trump himself after the Unite the Right March in Charlottesville, when he said there was “blame on both sides.” And it’s something we’ve seen in the Jewish community in recent years. Rhetoric about the existence of antisemitism “on the right and the left” has become increasingly prominent, as though the dangers of white supremacy can be reasonably equated with anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian views, including those that some Jews find offensive.
These two things are not the same and should not be equated. No Democratic member of Congress has ever normalized, justified or threatened violence. In 2019, Omar joined with all House Democrats in denouncing antisemitism and other forms of hate, and apologized for her tweet. There is simply no intellectually honest parallel to be made between any Democrat and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
When it comes to this truth, groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), who were quick to issue a condemnation of Greene last week, have missed the forest for the trees. For more than four years, the RJC vociferously supported Trump and invested millions of dollars in his failed reelection bid, despite Trump’s emboldening of and alignment with antisemites and right-wing extremists.
The RJC said nothing following Trump’s unconscionable refusal to denounce white supremacy and his incitement of the Proud Boys at the first presidential debate. They delayed recognizing President Biden’s win for two months, waiting until Jan. 7, thus tacitly supporting Trump’s false election fraud claims. The RJC may not have endorsed Greene in the 2020 election, but they poured money into the campaigns of her two strongest allies, Trump and former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler.
This kind of validation of Trump’s extremism normalized hateful behavior and laid the foundation for the political ascent of extremist members of Congress, including Greene.
President Biden ran on a platform of “restoring the soul of America,” prompted in part by the horrific display of antisemitism in Charlottesville. He has committed to combating white supremacy, historically noting it as a threat in his inaugural address and his statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. With a White House focused on combating the threat of domestic extremism, there is finally reason to hope the tide of hatred may subside.
But we all have a role to play in bringing about this change.
It’s incumbent on Jewish Americans to avoid the trap of false equivalence, and stop comparing those on the left who have criticized Israel with those on the right who have explicitly endorsed violence, debased our democracy, and encouraged or supported insurrection.
Instead, we must remain focused on extinguishing and combating the greatest threat to our community and country: the burning fire of white nationalism, antisemitism, and other forms of extremism fueled by Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Halie Soifer is CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA). She previously served as national security adviser in the Senate to Vice President Kamala Harris, and as a senior policy adviser in the Obama administration