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  • Madison Lazenby

How the Republican Party Weaponizes Anti-Semitism

In the fallout of the capitol hill insurrection on January 6th, heavy criticism has fallen on the shoulders of Republican senators and congresspeople who pushed Donald Trump’s false narrative that Democrats committed massive fraud in the 2020 election, robbing president Trump of victory. Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who led the antidemocratic movement in the Senate, have been called by many to resign or face expulsion from the Senate. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified this sentiment in several tweets on January 7th and 9th calling on both senators to resign and criticizing their refusal to admit that Neo-Nazis were present at the Capitol riot which they helped incite. These tweets drew the ire of Senator Cruz who responded with characteristic denial and deflection, common tactics for both Hawley and Cruz since the insurrection. In these January 9th tweets, however, Cruz added a special and prized ingredient, suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez and her “anti-Israel pals,” are antisemites.

Congressional progressives have faced criticisms from both Republicans and establishment Democrats since the first members of the “squad”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, were elected in the 2018 midterms. Republican attacks have largely stuck to fear-mongering racist dog whistles that have proved especially resonant since they’ve been directed at these four women of color. Sometimes the thinly veiled Republican racism bursts out into the open, however, like when President Trump told these four progressives, three of whom were born in the United States, to go back to the “broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” Congressional Republicans largely refused to condemn this especially horrific Trump tweet, nor did they mind when, at a rally, Trump reveled while his supporters chanted “send her back” after he linked Omar, a Muslim and former Somali refugee, to Al-Qaeda and Isis, and criticized her “vicious antisemitic screeds.”

In calling members of the house’s progressive wing antisemites, President Trump and Senator Cruz tapped into a well-established narrative pushed by both Democrats and Republicans that these four progressives are antisemites for their support of the BDS(Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel) movement, Palestinian rights, and for comments on Twitter featuring antisemitic tropes. This follows a trend previously seen in the United Kingdom where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party was routinely labeled antisemitic by both right-wing parties and the national news media. Since Corbyn stepped down and the Labour party has fallen into shambles many pundits and media critics have since criticized the English media’s biased coverage that often-missed similar instances of antisemitism in the Conservative party and overplayed incidents in the Labour party.

In the United States, agreeing that Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are antisemites has been one of the only points that house Democrats and Republicans found common ground on during President Trump's tenure. This is characteristic of establishment Democrats who have consistently sided with Republicans against progressive house members, going so far as to blame them for Democrats' house losses in the 2020 election.

Accusations of antisemitism against Omar date back to two weeks after her inauguration in January 2019 when Omar’s 2012 tweet reading “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” resurfaced. Republicans, Democrats, and mainstream reporters quickly condemned Omar, and anti-Omar op-eds flooded the pages of mainstream liberal newspapers. In February Representative Omar again faced criticism, again for tweets, this time for noting that politicians' unflinching support of Israel was “all about the Benjamin’s baby,'' then clarifying that AIPAC (the American Israel Political Action Committee) was who she was referring to. Omar apologized the day after she posted these tweets and the Democratic-led House passed a resolution condemning her in the days following. There was no similar condemnation however for house minority leader Kevin McCarthy when he tweeted out “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg [three wealthy Jews] to BUY this election.” Nor was there widespread criticism when Ohio Rep Jim Jordan criticized Jewish Rep Jerry Nadler for “jumping to Tom $teyer’s conclusion.” Nor was Florida representative Matt Gaetz condemned when he brought a Charles Johnson, a Holocaust denier and friend of infamous Nazi Richard Spencer, to President Trump’s 2019 state of the union address, or when he baselessly accused Holocaust survivor George Soros of funding central American immigrants’ migration to the United States.

These are only a few examples displaying the widespread antisemitism that the Republican party peddles, creating a welcoming environment for violent right-wing extremists. Others include blaming George Soros and “globalist cabals” for nearly every issue, welcoming Steve Bannon into the white house (then pardoning him), defending antisemitic conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and repeatedly waffling on condemning neo-Nazis. The Republican party had an opportunity to draw the line with Marjorie Taylor Greene, after her comments on Jewish space lasers and outlandish claims about George Soros. Yet they responded to Democrats unseating Greene from house committees by pushing for equal punishment for Ilhan Omar.

Despite Green’s comments Republicans consistently insist that progressive Democrat congresswomen are the real antisemites whom Jews should fear with all our might. Just as they insist that support of Israel is the only litmus test showing you support Jews, that leftist anti-fascist protestors are the true Nazi fascists, and that American Nazis are “good” or “special” people. It’s hard for Jews like myself to believe that Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are more of a threat to American Jews than the white nationalists who vandalize our cemeteries, massacre us in our synagogues, and openly chant “Jews will not replace us,” on our streets.

Playing on American Jews’ fears of being violently exterminated, it's clear that Republicans use accusations of antisemitism as a virtue-signaling tool to falsely signal their support of American Jews while simultaneously espousing rhetoric that fuels violent, deadly antisemitic attacks carried out by their voters. These accusations of antisemitism are dangerous because they lack nuance, stifle nearly all debate about U.S policies toward Israel and make claims of actual antisemitism less viable.

Thankfully, most American Jews understand antisemitism far better than Republican lawmakers, so the Republican party's virtue signaling has largely failed at attracting Jewish voters. Republicans achieved only 17% of the Jewish vote in the 2018 midterms and Trump won only 22% Jewish support in 2020, the lowest vote percentage of any ethnic or racial group in these two elections apart from African Americans.

Yet as seen by Senator Cruz’s January tweets, Republicans are still determined to virtue signal their support of Israel, and by extension, support of American Jews. The reason for this, much like everything in D.C, is “all about the Benjamin’s.”

For Republicans, the biggest source of these Benjamin’s has long been Sheldon Adelson, the recently deceased casino magnate who contributed over 500 million dollars to Republican campaigns with the sole demand that they refuse to hear any debate on the U.S special relationship with Israel. Wealthy evangelical Christians, a major part of the Republican party's base since 1980, have also spent millions of dollars lobbying Republicans to support Israel in recent decades following the idea that all Jews must return to Israel before the second coming of Christ can occur.

AIPAC is the major player in pro-Israel lobbying for Democratic lawmakers. While AIPAC itself doesn’t donate directly to campaigns, it does require its members to donate to AIPAC approved candidates, most of whom are Democrats. AIPAC members spent 3.5 million dollars lobbying prior to the 2018 midterms with more than half of the members of each chamber receiving at least some contribution.

It’s these Benjamins, as well as pressure from moderate Jews, that encourage Democrats to consistently turn against the progressive members of their own caucus when they criticize Israel yet fail to harbor the same outrage when Republicans tweet out antisemitic statements or refuse to condemn or actively encourage white nationalists.

Despite what these lawmakers and their wealthy backers may think, antisemitism, Anti-Zionism, and criticism of the current Israeli government are not one and the same. You can still support and defend American Jews while criticizing the Israeli occupation by realizing that the real dangerous threat to American Jews are American White nationalists and Nazis. Insisting that American Jews build our entire religious and cultural identity around supporting Israel is ridiculous and disrespectful to the diverse backgrounds and beliefs of Jews in the United States.

Senator Cruz and Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter fight can be seen as a symptom of the larger problem of corporate overinfluence in the halls of congress. Actions like reversing the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision and putting stricter limits on corporate lobbyists will help elevate the voices of the 48% of Democrats and 27% of independents who support BDS and want to see the debate over Israeli military aid reach the halls of congress. At the very least, moving Israel-Palestine debates off of Twitter and into congress will prevent legislators from falling into the occasional antisemitic tropes and allow us to focus our outrage at white Nationalists and the conservative lawmakers who empower them.

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