November 21, 2018

Antifa, Nazism and the opportunistic politics that divide us

White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Americans are more united than ever on issues of race and free speech.

So why the hell are we so divided?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist terror attack on anti-white supremacist protesters, the vast majority of Americans agreed on the following propositions: white supremacism is evil; neo-Nazism is evil; violence against peaceful protesters is evil, whether from left to right or vice versa.

Yet here we are, two weeks after the event, and the heat has not cooled.

That’s not thanks to serious disagreements among Americans. It’s thanks to political opportunism on all sides.

It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump for that reaction; his response to the Charlottesville attack was indeed deeply disturbing. It was disturbing for the president to initially blame “both sides” for the event, as though those counterprotesting white supremacism were moral equals of those protesting in its favor. It was more disturbing for the president to say there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi tiki torch march, and to add that he had no idea what the “alt-right” was.

Trump’s bizarre, horrifying response to the Charlottesville attacks would have justified criticism of him. I’ve been personally pointing out the president’s stubborn and unjustifiable unwillingness to condemn the alt-right for well over a year (I was the alt-right’s top journalistic target in 2016 on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League). Such critiques would have been useful and welcome.

Instead, the mainstream left has politicized the situation through two particular strategies: first, labeling conservatives more broadly as neo-Nazi sympathizers; second, justifying violence from communist/anarchist antifa members.

The first strategy is old hat by now on the left. On college campuses, conservatives are regularly labeled beneficiaries of “white privilege” who merely seek to uphold their supremacy; anodyne political candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been hit with charges of racism from the left. Democrats routinely dog Republicans with the myth of the “Southern switch” — the notion that the Republicans and Democrats changed positions on civil rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to Republicans winning the South. (For the record, that theory is eminently untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by election analysts ranging from Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics to Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin and Richard Johnston of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.)

But that false conflation found a new outlet for the left in support for antifa (anti-fascism). Antifa is a violent group that has attacked protesters in Sacramento, Berkeley, Dallas, Boston and Charlottesville; it’s dedicated to the proposition that those it labels fascists must be fought physically. It’s not anti-fascist so much as anti-right-wing — it shut down a parade in Portland last year because Republican Party members were scheduled to march in that parade. Antifa’s violence in Boston two weeks after Charlottesville wasn’t directed at Nazis or Nazi sympathizers, but at police officers and normal free-speech advocates.

Yet many on the left have justified their behavior as a necessary counter to the white supremacists and alt-righters. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) justified the violence by appealing to the evils of the neo-Nazis. Professor N.D.B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that the time for nonviolence had ended — that it was time to “throw rocks.” Dartmouth University historian Mark Bray defended antifa by stating that the group makes an “ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.”

This is appalling stuff unless the Nazis are actually getting violent. Words aren’t violence. A free society relies on that distinction to function properly — as Max Weber stated, the purpose of civilization is to hand over the role of protection of rights to a state that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Breaking that pact destroys the social fabric.

Now, most liberals — as opposed to leftists — don’t support antifa. Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced antifa’s tactics in Berkeley, for example. But in response to some on the left’s defense of antifa and their attempt to broaden the Nazi label to include large swaths of conservatives, too many people on the right have fallen into the trap of defending bad behavior of its own. Instead of disassociating clearly and universally from President Trump’s comments, the right has glommed onto the grain of truth embedded in them —  that antifa is violent — in order to shrug at the whole.

The result of all of this: the unanimity that existed regarding racism and violence has been shattered. And all so that political figures can make hay by castigating large groups of people who hate Nazism and violence.

Let’s restore the unanimity. Nazism is bad and unjustifiable. Violence against those who are not acting violently is bad and unjustifiable. That’s not whataboutism. That’s truth.

If we can’t agree on those basic principles, we’re not going to be able to share a country.

BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Amid declining Jewish caucus in Congress, rising concerns over communal influence

From 31 in 2009 to a likely 19 in January, the unofficial Jewish caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is shrinking fast.

Jewish lawmakers have traditionally been the first stop for Jewish lobbyists seeking inroads for their issues, including Israel, preserving the social safety net, and keeping church and state separate. Additionally, lawmakers generally seek guidance from colleagues most invested in an issue.

Fewer Jewish lawmakers means the community could lose influence in areas where its voice has been preeminent.

“The Jewish community is going to have to work harder,” said one veteran official who has worked both as a professional in the Jewish community and a staffer for a Jewish lawmaker.

The 31 figure was the highest Jewish representation ever in the House, matched only in the early 1990s. The numbers dropped in part because of victories by the Tea Party wave of conservative Republicans in 2010 and a spate of retirements by veteran lawmakers elected in the 1970s and ’80s.

“We’ve lost a lot of seniority,” said the congressional staffer who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, noting in particular the retirement this year of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Energy Committee, elected in 1974 and the dean of the unofficial Jewish caucus.

The lower profile of Jewish lawmakers is seen as well in the context of shifts in how Democrats — traditionally the redoubt of Jewish voters — are treating Israel. These have been exacerbated by tensions between the administrations of President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“You saw that article in the New Yorker that said ‘Bibi has a Republican view of the world,’ ” one Jewish Democratic insider said, referring to a recent story on shifting perceptions of the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby that roiled the professional Jewish community in Washington.

“That resonated,” said the insider, who also spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But Jewish lawmakers likely to be re-elected told JTA that a smaller Jewish caucus should not be cause for alarm.

“Jewish representation is still strong in Congress, and we are serving in positions of influence,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, told JTA in an email.

Lowey also insisted that Jewish values would continue to be represented by House Democrats, who are pushing such issues as “access to quality education, college affordability, sensible gun safety measures to keep our communities safe, access to affordable health care, and addressing climate change.”

In addition to Lowey, Jewish leaders in the House include Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the senior Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said 19 members — 4 percent of the body — was still about twice the estimated Jewish representation in the population. In addition, Jews have constituted 10 percent of the Senate, a proportion not likely to shift after the midterms in November.

“We still, compared to other religious and ethnic minorities, have far beyond our percentage in the population,” she said in an interview.

Waxman said Jews in Congress, in both parties, made valuable contributions both on their community’s behalf and to the country.

“For the most part, Jewish members in Congress have lived up to what Hillel had to say when he said that if I am not for myself, who will be for me, and if I am not for others, who am I,” he told JTA.

“We care about issues of particular Jewish concern such as Israel, anti-Semitism, our Jewish brethren in other countries, the fight for Soviet Jews to be able to emigrate to Israel or anywhere else. But there are other issues I consider Jewish issues as well, which is to fight for a more just society for everyone to succeed to the extent their abilities will take them, that every child should have health care and education and not have impediments such as as an inability to move from class to the other.”

Other leaders who have left the stage in recent years include Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader felled by a Tea Party-associated challenger in a primary earlier this year and the sole Jewish Republican in Congress; Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the Holocaust survivor who was the body’s preeminent voice on human rights, who died in 2008; Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the one-time chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee who lost an election in 2012; and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who until he retired in 2012 was the top Democrat on the Middle East subcommittee.

A measure of the shrinking caucus is that it’s not at all clear yet which member will succeed Waxman in convening occasional informal meetings of Jewish members, according to congressional insiders.

A number of younger Jewish members are rising through the ranks — Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) succeeded Ackerman in helming Democrats on the Middle East subcommittee.

“We need to encourage more Jews to run,” Schakowsky acknowledged.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), one of the lead Israel champions in the House, said support for Israel was undiminished. He noted the overwhelming vote last month to add $225 million to existing funding for Iron Dome, the anti-missile system that protected Israelis during the recent Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

“Look at the Iron Dome vote,” he said. “Four Republicans and four Democrats voted against. Support for Israel is at a very high level.”

Nonetheless, pro-Israel groups have noted the tendency among Democrats in particular — and Jewish Democrats among them — to criticize Israel in tougher tones than was imaginable a decade ago.

During the recent Gaza war, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who is Jewish, told MSNBC, “I fail to see what an Israeli incursion into Gaza, how that’s going to solve the long-term problem. Gaza is itself a problem and the Palestinians are essentially quarantined there; that’s the polite word.”

In that July 26 broadcast, he called the civilian deaths in Gaza a “tragedy of enormous proportions.”

Even among Jewish lawmakers not known for directly challenging Israel, there has been a change in tone. Last week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) met with Yair Lapid, the Israeli finance minister who has been critical of Netanyahu’s recent settlement expansion bid, and on Twitter aligned himself with Lapid — and by implication Obama.

“Agree w/Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid on need to return to negotiations & being against any swift changes in the West Bank right now,” Nadler tweeted.

Yarmuth, in an interview with JTA , said support for Israel – including his own – was unassailable but more “nuanced,” in part because of support for members by J Street, the Jewish lobbying group that forcefully backs U.S. involvement in bringing about a two-state solution.

“American Jewry has become more nuanced in its opinions on the Middle East with regards to opinions on Israel and the Palestinians,” Yarmuth told JTA. “J Street reflects that diversity.”

How best to pitch Israel to liberals and Democrats has been the focus of pro-Israel groups in recent months. Most recently, Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant and pollster who has worked with centrist pro-Israel groups, last week addressed a monthly meeting of Jewish professionals and noted with alarm what other pollsters have found: Israel is hemorrhaging support among traditional Democratic constituencies, including women and minorities.

In a Powerpoint presentation obtained by JTA, Luntz — famous for shaping the language that brought Republicans to congressional power in 1994 — suggested progressive-friendly phrases when making Israel’s case. Among “words to use,” he suggested “mutual understanding and mutual respect.” Among “words to lose,” he derided “Israel is not stalling” and “Peace takes two.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), another lawmaker endorsed by J Street, said the long-range view on Israel among Jewish lawmakers was the same, regardless of whether they were more ideologically aligned with AIPAC or J Street.

If Jewish members are divided, he said, it is over “different ideas over how to make Israel viable for eternity.”


The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?

The guy with the socks up. The guy with the pants down. The guy with the headlocks. The guy who tweets and deletes.

What is it with these male politicos? And why are they all Jewish?

The cloistered community that is Washington’s Jewish elite collectively choked a little Saturday morning as it progressed through a column in which Gail Collins of The New York Times named the protagonists of what she dubbed the “Weiner Spitzer summer.”

“Ever since the Clinton impeachment crisis, we’ve been discovering how much personal misbehavior we’re prepared to ignore in elected officials,” Collins wrote. “Hypocrisy, for sure. Adultery, definitely. Chronic lying, maybe. Financial skullduggery, possibly.”

Those seeking absolution this month for past misdeeds include Anthony Weiner, now running for New York mayor, who quit Congress in 2011 after he was caught saluting a female Twitter fan in his boxer briefs; Eliot Spitzer, now in a bid to be Gotham’s comptroller, who quit as the state’s governor in 2008 after the revelation that he patronized high-priced call girls — and allegedly kept his knee-highs on while doing so; and Bob Filner, who quit Congress last year to become San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years and is now facing a welter of sexual harassment claims, including allegations involving something called the “Filner headlock.”

[Related: Weiner acknowledges latest revealed lewd exchange]

Rounding out the sordidness is the baffling case of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was caught tweeting and deleting messages to a bikini model during the State of the Union address in February. Turns out she was his recently discovered love child. Then it was discovered she wasn't. Then he commented on the looks of a female reporter who asked him about the situation.

In her column, Collins did not identify the protagonists as Jewish, but their collective appearance in print unsettled Jewish political players who were whispering their names at social gatherings over the weekend.

“If we need a reminder of how Jews are like everyone else, this is a useful one,” said Ann Lewis, who as White House communications director managed the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal and whose brother, former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, was caught up in a scandal in the 1980s involving a gay escort. “It does help bring us down to earth.”

Unlike other lawmakers caught in scandal, Lewis said, Jewish politicos are less likely to face the charges of hypocrisy that have afflicted others caught with their pants down.

“Jewish politicians by and large have not been huge advocates of patrolling other people's sex lives,” Lewis said.

The cases all have their own particularities.

Spitzer's lapses were crimes, though he was never prosecuted for them. Filner's might yet land him in court; his former communications director said this week that she was suing the mayor for sexual harassment. And the ones with Weiner and Cohen are just bizarre, though no one has suggested they are criminal.

Filner thus far has rejected calls for his resignation, while Spitzer and Weiner are both trying to rehabilitate their political careers after retreating from the spotlight in the wake of the scandals. On Monday, however, Weiner acknowledged that he had sent more explicit photos and texts to a woman, though the exact date of the exchange was unclear.

The Cohen saga began in February, when reporters noticed his tweet to bikini model Victoria Brink, who had told Cohen via Twitter that she had seen him on TV. “pleased u r watching, ilu,” he replied, using the shorthand for “I love you.”

The unmarried Cohen had a relationship with Brink's mother, who had told the congressman that the model was his daughter. CNN reported last week, however, that a DNA test showed Cohen and Brink are not related.

Asked about the situation by a young female reporter, Cohen said, “You're very attractive, but I'm not talking about it.” Cohen almost immediately sought out the reporter to apologize, saying he had not meant anything untoward.

“Been tough week, then this,” Cohen said in a tweet. “Sad 2 say I'm not perfect.

Political observers attribute the various scandals to the same factors that have led other politicians into the halls of shame: arrogance, insularity and just plain loneliness.

“Anyone who wants to run for Congress has to be a little bit crazy, and that includes Jewish members of Congress,” said a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for a number of Jewish lawmakers — none tinged by scandal.

The perpetual fundraising, unfettered accolades from supporters and the rarity of staffers who push back when a boss crosses the line insulate lawmakers from reality checks, according to a number of Hill staffers. The rigors of living one's life under the constant glare of media scrutiny may also be a factor.

“When people are separated from their families for a long period of time, things occur that wouldn't necessarily occur if your family was there,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who described his first months in Washington as hellish, eventually leading to his decision to move his family north so he could spend more time with them.

The move was not without a price. In 2008, Wexler came under fire when it was revealed he no longer maintained a residence in his Florida constituency.

“Eventually, your political opponent will claim you are of Washington,” he said.

Sex scandals have not always sounded the death knell for political careers.

Frank continued to serve in Congress for more than two decades after revelations that he patronized a male escort and then hired him as a personal aide. Weiner is leading in several recent polls, and has never polled lower than second since declaring his candidacy in May. And Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead over his Democratic primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the Jewish Manhattan borough president.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Lewis said. “They have a lot of work to do, but if I go back and think about Jewish tradition, you are encouraged to give people another chance.”

But the scandals have certainly exacted a price. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a leading Democratic fundraiser, said the Weiner scandal was a factor in her decision to fundraise for one of his opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“Because I am Jewish, because I am a Democrat and I am active in that arena, I see it as a tragedy” that Weiner and Spitzer are running again, Goldman said.

“There are many fine qualified candidates out there who do not come with the baggage,” she said. “Find another day job. It’s chutzpah.”

House members urge Obama to advance 2-state solution

A J Street-backed letter from 74 Congressional lawmakers urged President Obama to reaffirm support for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

The members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all Democrats, signed on to what was the key agenda item during J Street’s advocacy day on March 27, which coincided with its annual conference.

“In our view, support for a two-state resolution is inseparable from such support for Israel, its special relationship with the United States, and its very survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people,” the letter said.

Seven Jewish members signed on to the letter, including two of the letter’s chief sponsors, Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Other notable Jewish members to sign the letter were Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Another signatory was Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the budget committee.

In a press release announcing the letter’s signers, J Street’s director of government affairs, Dylan Williams, noted that the lawmakers “are making clear that to be pro-Israel is to support active U.S. engagement in achieving a two-state solution.”

“If the U.S. Congress does not make a viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a cornerstone of foreign policy in the region, then we are not truly helping Israel to face one its most critical challenges,” Williams said in the press release.