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Double Standard Against Jews

Denigration of the Jewish state and its people is more commonly accepted than equally bigoted attacks on other marginalized targets.
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May 18, 2022

A controversy erupted in the White House earlier this year when it was reported that Vice President Kamala Harris’ newly-hired communications director, Jamal Simmons, had posted statements on social media several years earlier that were offensive to undocumented immigrants. After criticism from progressive and Latino activists about his decade-old tweets, Simmons offered a tepid apology and met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to explain his thinking on immigration-related policy. The tempest blew over quickly because Simmons made it clear that he was a strong supporter of immigration reform and that his online comments did not reflect his true beliefs.

Contrast Simmons’ situation with that of Karine Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary, who authored an article for Newsweek magazine a few years back in which she attacked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for what she calls “severely racist, Islamophobic rhetoric.” In the article, she accused Israel of potentially committing war crimes in its attacks on Gaza, and charged AIPAC with “trafficking in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while lifting up Islamophobic voices and attitudes.”

Denigration of the Jewish state and its people is more commonly accepted than equally bigoted attacks on other marginalized targets.

When Jean-Pierre assumed her new role as chief presidential spokesperson this week, there was no similar outcry such as that which Simmons had faced. Nor has she explained or apologized for her condemnations of both Israel and its primary advocacy group.  Joe Biden is not an anti-Zionist or an antisemite, not in the least, any more than Kamala Harris is anti-immigrant. But the very different responses to their advisors’ transgressions is yet another reminder that denigration of the Jewish state and its people is more commonly accepted than equally bigoted attacks on other marginalized targets.

In the days after last weekend’s racist massacre in Buffalo, New York, we don’t need a reminder that anti-Jewish hatred thrives on both extreme ends of the political spectrum. The deranged gunman who cited abhorrent “replacement theory” as his motivation for killing ten people is a direct ideological descendant of the ultra-conservatives who caused such mayhem in Poway, Pittsburgh and Charlottesville. Nor is this column an attempt to equate Jean-Pierre’s noxious statements with much uglier acts of violence, bloodshed and murder.

But just as the new White House spokesperson accuses AIPAC of fomenting violence with language that she finds objectionable, her brand of anti-Zionist bias provides false comfort to those who engage in violence against Israel and Jews. Issue-based differences are an entirely legitimate and necessary part of political debate. But the vilification of an entire people has no place in the public square, and those who engage in such behavior should not be speaking on behalf of the leader of the free world. (Jean-Pierre’s defenders can argue that her disparagement of Israel is based on legitimate policy difference, but the fact that Simmons’ postings represented an opposing belief on U.S. immigration policy did not protect him from either criticism or from the need to apologize.)

In her Newsweek piece, Jean-Pierre applauded the fact that none of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates spoke at AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and praised them because they “recognized that AIPAC is nothing more than a partisan lobbying group that has … failed to uphold progressive values.”  But both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer did address the group that year, and candidates Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand – and current Vice President Harris – met privately with AIPAC members who were attending the conference. 

The party’s internal divide over Israel is growing – in a recent Associated Press poll, 51 percent of Democratic respondents said that the U.S. is not sufficiently supportive of the Palestinians – and Jean-Pierre’s thinking represents a growing sentiment among progressive voters.  However, it does not reflect the beliefs of the Biden Administration, and the White House needs to make it clear that her past statements are unacceptable to Biden. Or she could apologize as Simmons did. But it is impossible to imagine either outcome actually happening. 

The challenge for Republicans to eradicate the replacement theorists from their ranks is just as daunting – and just as unlikely. And so our two-front partisan war will continue unabated.


Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. Join Dan for his weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” (www.lawac.org) on Tuesdays at 5 PM.

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