November 13, 2019

You Can’t Fight Anti-Semitism With Racism

President Donald Trump, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar. (Photos by Reuters)

“[Ilhan] Omar has a history of launching vicious, anti-Semitic screeds,” President Trump declared on Wednesday to an audience that chanted, “Send her back! Send her back!” 

In that moment, an accusation of anti-Semitism became a call for racism. The message was clear: A refugee, who had been an American longer than the President’s wife, could be stripped of her citizenship. To the crowd, as a non-white woman, she never truly was American to begin with.

Donald Trump and his mob of followers, most of whom aren’t Jewish, given that less than 25 percent of Jews voted him into office, decided they could justify their hate in our name.

Jewish Americans make up 1.4 percent of the population in the United States. That’s right. You’d never know that, given how much today’s politics bring us up.

The first frenzy was over Rep. Ilhan Omar using anti-Semitic tropes – which she has admitted were insensitive and has apologized for employing; then, chaos surrounded Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for invoking the Holocaust remembrance motto “Never Again” while referring to migrant detention facilities as concentration camps. Next, controversy erupted when Rep. Rashida Tlaib discussed the creation of Israel, expressing her pride for her Palestinian ancestors offering refuge for Holocaust survivors. (Note: They provided war, not sanctuary, but Tlaib didn’t say “the Holocaust gives her a calming feeling,” which is a lie non-Jewish Republicans spread.)

Now, when Donald Trump tweeted out a racist rephrasing of “go back to your country” to congresswomen of color, he made sure to yank us Jews into the crossfire with him by calling his political opponents anti-Semites.

I, like many Jews, feel uncomfortable with the way some Democrats have treated our people. But to the Republicans, that discomfort only seems to be relevant when it can further or shield their racism.

Some on the far left have blind spots when it comes to anti-Semitism, which is shameful, given their platform is about standing against oppression. However, they just might not know how to advocate for us. Racists, misogynists, xenophobes and homophobes paint their victims as subhuman. In contrast, anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory that Jews are superhuman.

To anti-Semites, Jews are the puppet masters, the oppressors of the white race – and in the case of some figures – people of color.

“Hijacking real concerns about anti-Semitism to promote other prejudices destroy Jewish credibility.”

I can understand that for someone like Ocasio-Cortez, that nuance can make fighting anti-Semitism complicated ‒and avoiding tropes even more so. But it hurts that she hasn’t taken the time or put in the work to advocate for us. It hurts that she didn’t even know enough about anti-Semitism to realize meeting with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would signal she is okay with the rampant Jew-hatred he’s gaslit.

I get scared when I think about how nearly 40 percent of UK Jews would “seriously consider” leaving their country if Corbyn became Prime Minister. When so many of us have been murdered in our houses of faith, all in all, a Jew is a scary thing to be. In 2019, being the advocacy of progressive leaders feels particularly necessary.

The Trump administration knows this. Recently, Attorney General William Barr eloquently explained the nuanced panic American Jews are in.

“New York City, this past year, has seen a sharp uptick in attacks on Orthodox Jews, particularly in the Crown Heights neighborhood,” Barr said during the Department of Justice’s Summit on Combatting Anti-Semitism. “People are attacking Jews in the streets and vandalizing synagogues … . While the tragic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway appropriately drew national attention, these attacks and others like them in communities across the country are, sadly, less well-known outside the Jewish community. But they form the daily background of concerns about security and safety that many in the Jewish community feel.”

Well, guess what, Mr. Barr? Your administration has the power to make these issues relevant outside the Jewish community. Surely, if the right is as outraged about anti-Semitism as it claims to be, it relentlessly would attack white-supremacist groups. It would take serious measures to stop the violence against Orthodox Jews. It would allocate funds to repair vandalized Jewish property.

Yet rather than taking effective steps to fight anti-Semitism ‒ particularly violent white nationalists who are shooting up our synagogues ‒ Republicans won’t even disown them.

In fact, Rep. Steve King used a Holocaust memorial group’s money to cuddle up with Unzensuriert, a far-right Austrian group linked to Nazis, and asserted that white supremacy wasn’t even offensive.

Meanwhile, “President Trump makes constant use of the language and logic of the ‘new right,’ a toxic blend of antebellum white supremacy, twentieth-century fascism, European far-right movements of the 1970s, and today’s self-identified ‘alt-right,’ ” noted scholar Bernard E. Harcourt. “His words and deeds have empowered and enabled an upsurge of white nationalists and extremist organizations.” The wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes, which has surged by 99 percent since Trump was elected, backs up Harcourt’s assertions.

Instead of combating anti-Semitism, Republicans only bring it up to spread prejudice against people of color, immigrants and Muslims. To them, the only time Jews are worth protecting is when we can serve as human shields – a convenient cover for their hate.

Donald Trump denying Omar her Americanness did nothing to stop people from using dual loyalty tropes like she did. Afterward, the President spread them himself, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister” to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

When Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Steve Daines and countless others defend the President’s racist comments about the Justice Democrats by screeching “they’re anti-Semites,” it’s not to protect Jews – it’s to protect themselves.

“We Jews are sheep under the watch of a conservative boy who cries wolf; the world will leave us to be devoured when we tell them the actual beast is coming.”

You can’t fight anti-Semitism with racism. No decent human being can do anything with racism. In addition, hijacking real concerns about anti-Semitism to promote other prejudices destroy Jewish credibility.

We Jews are sheep under the watch of a conservative boy who cries wolf; the world will leave us to be devoured when we tell them the actual beast is coming.

When non-Jewish Republicans use “combatting anti-Semitism” as a cloak for their bigotry, it isolates Jews from allies we need to battle white supremacy, strips us of our agency and associates us with their hate. Left-wing anti-Semitism is contingent on painting Jews as the oppressors, whether that is by profiting off poverty, architecting the slave trade or calculating the mass extermination of Palestinians.

Rather than condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, the American right is seasoning us up for left-wing Jew haters to roast.

Candidly and conscientiously calling out anti-Semitism is the only way it will be corrected. The best example of this is the case of Rep. Ayanna Pressley, one of the congresswomen Trump so unnecessarily smeared. When Pressley quoted author Alice Walker, her constituents spoke out. In a 2017 poem, Walker spread the seemingly immortal conspiracy theory that Jews want to enslave non-Jews, and wrote of Talmud teachings: “Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?; “Are young boys fair game for rape?”

“Unfortunately, I was unaware of the author’s past statements,” Pressley tweeted the next week. “I fully condemn and denounce anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in all their forms – and the hateful actions they embolden. I appreciate my friends, including my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community, who brought these statements to my attention.”

After Jews, not a self-serving surrogate, respectfully criticized the move, Pressley swiftly did what Republicans seem unable to – admit she contributed to anti-Semitism and apologized.