One of the major talking points for Democrats in 2020 has been their attempt to link President Donald Trump to anti-Semitism. That effort intensified during the Democrat’s virtual nominating convention when, at least during the primetime segments, the emphasis was on blasting Trump as an ally of extremists and putting forward Joe Biden as a model of decency. In order to make that charge stick, Democrats have made dubious claims about Trump’s dog-whistling to right-wing anti-Semites while ignoring problems in their own party.
But while the prime time schedule made the case for Biden as a centrist, the DNC’s daytime events shown online were aimed at the party’s grassroots activists. That meant a steady diet of political extremism designed to appease a left-wing base that is enthusiastic about defeating Trump, but not excited about Biden. And it is the aftermath of one such dose of radicalism — a speech given by former Women’s March leader and BDS activist Linda Sarsour—that is calling into question the sincerity of the Biden campaign’s rhetoric about Israel and anti-Semitism.
Sarsour spoke last week at the DNC’s Muslim Delegate Assembly. When it was pointed out that her presence on the schedule contradicted the Democratic campaign’s stance against anti-Semitism, a Biden spokesman denounced Sarsour and distanced the candidate from her.
Andrew Bates, the director of rapid response for the Biden campaign, told CNN that “Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform. She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever.”
That didn’t explain how or why Sarsour was placed on a speakers’ schedule that was minutely choreographed by the top levels of the Biden campaign. But it reassured centrist Democrats that she would be persona non grata at a Biden White House. Or at least that’s what top Democrats wanted us to think.
But that stance didn’t go over well with the sort of people who thought that what was said during the day at the DNC better represented the views of Democratic activists than the centrist boilerplate heard in the evenings.
The Biden campaign’s distancing itself from Sarsour was roundly denounced on the left. The Moveon.org activist group defended her as a “leader in the fight for justice.” Extremist Muslim groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) claimed that denouncing Sarsour was an insult to all Muslim voters.
But while this might have been a Sister Souljah moment for Biden, in which he successfully distanced himself from the most irresponsible elements in his party, that good impression was erased within days.
On Sunday, some of the Biden campaign’s most important players walked back the denunciation of Sarsour. In a private call, a tape of which was obtained by the Middle East Eye website, Ashley Allison, the campaign’s national coalitions director said she was “sorry” for what had been said about Sarsour.
More importantly, Tony Blinken, the candidate’s top foreign-policy advisor who has been leading efforts to reassure Jewish Democrats and supporters of Israel that Biden could be counted on, also apologized to Sarsour and her backers.
According to the publication, Blinken acknowledged the “hurt and disappointment” that the comments against Sarsour caused. He promised that the Biden campaign and future administration would be “genuinely inclusive” and ensure Arab and Muslim representation at the decision-making level.
All presidents should listen to all faith and ethnic groups. But an open door to extremists and anti-Semites like Sarsour and CAIR gives the lie to Blinken’s previous statements about Israel and not tolerating anti-Semitism. Put simply, if Linda Sarsour is on your team, if her feelings are important to you and you say you want to include her in future discussions, you can’t also claim you are opposed to anti-Semitism.
Sarsour’s long record of incitement against Israel, Zionism and the Jews is a matter of record. The Palestinian-American activist is a heroine of the anti-Trump “resistance” for her work in organizing the massive anti-Trump march that occurred the day after his inauguration. But since then, she has become just as well known for her support for the anti-Semitic BDS movement as well as for Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, who is one of the nation’s leading hatemongers and those who back him. She made it clear that Jews who would not renounce Zionism and who supported Israel were not welcome in the Women’s March. She also attacked non-Jewish women like author Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her willingness to speak about the plight of women in Muslim societies in the most vulgar and violent terms imaginable.
The problem here is not just that a significant portion of the Democrats’ base accepts intersectional lies about the Palestinian war on Israel being morally equivalent to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It’s that party leaders are too afraid of these voters to draw a clear line between Biden and haters like Sarsour or Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who won escaped censure from House Democratic leaders for their own anti-Semitic statements and were also endorsed for re-election by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Their fears are well-placed. It’s no secret that a key to the 2020 election is a huge and enthusiastic turnout of minority voters on the same scale as the one that lifted Barack Obama to two terms in the White House, but which failed to materialize in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. Democratic leaders know that insulting prominent anti-Semites like Omar, Tlaib and Sarsour can do them far more damage than statements that undermine their support in the Jewish community.
But Biden’s campaign still wants to have it both ways. That continued on Monday when senior Biden adviser Symone Sanders, who sat in on the apology to Sarsour, turned around and told JNS that, “We continue to reject the views that Linda Sarsour has expressed.”
That kind of double talk won’t shake the commitment of most Jewish Democrats to vote against Trump. But it does give the lie to the claims that Biden opposes anti-Semitism while Trump supports it. Of course, that smear had no validity anyway since Trump has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism, has done more to fight it on college campuses than any president and has led the most pro-Israel administration in the country’s history.
Jews and pro-Israel Democrats can’t claim they weren’t warned. While they are getting lip service from Biden’s surrogates, they are also getting double-crossed by them. Instead of drawing a bright line between a well-known anti-Semite and the man currently leading in the polls to become the next president, Democrats are not dog-whistling to Jew-haters like Sarsour. They are making direct assurances that the White House door will be open to them next January.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.