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How dangerous are the anti-Israel conservatives?

Unlike most Republicans and their voters, Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens and friends are defending antisemites in the wake of Oct. 7. Do they have Trump’s ear?

Tucker Carlson with former President Trump at the 16th hole during the final LIV Golf Tournament held at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 31, 2022. Credit: L.E.MORMILE/Shutterstock.
Tucker Carlson with former President Trump at the 16th hole during the final LIV Golf Tournament held at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 31, 2022. Credit: L.E.MORMILE/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

On the main stage of American politics, the lines of debate about Israel and the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 have been clear. Almost all Republicans and most Democratic officeholders support the Jewish state in its necessary war of self-defense against Islamist terrorists who seek its destruction and the genocide of the Jewish people. Much of the Democrats’ left-wing base disagrees with progressives being the loudest voices raised against Israel. They also have supplied the ideological foundation and the activist passion behind the surge in antisemitism that has been on display on the streets of America’s cities and college campuses in the past six weeks.

The political left has become the primary engine of the spike in Jew-hatred, while most of the political right has become even more closely aligned with support for Israel during this crisis. It would be untrue, however, to claim that there are no exceptions to that rule. Though they don’t reflect the overwhelming majority of American conservatives, there is a small but highly influential group on the right that is not only unsympathetic to the Jewish state but providing intellectual cover to those openly engaged in antisemitic invective and demonization of Israel and its supporters.

Former Fox News star Tucker Carlson and Daily Wire personality Candace Owens are the two most prominent names on the right whose reactions to Oct. 7 have highlighted their opposition to the idea that America should be supporting Israel against Hamas and their Iranian sponsors.

Where right and left meet

That is manifested not only in a “both sides are wrong” attitude about the war against Hamas that puts them in the same camp as former President Barack Obama. They are also clearly implying that those who back Israel and believe that the fight against Islamist terror is one that America cannot shirk are guilty of dual loyalty and are manipulating American foreign policy against the nation’s best interests. Just as important, they believe that campus antisemites who support the mass murder of Jews are merely engaging in free speech and should be defended, rather than held accountable for their actions.

Carlson, Owens and their allies like Glenn Greenwald, Jason Whitlock and Douglas Macgregor don’t hold political office and lack the warm support that anti-Israel progressives can count on from the mainstream media and pop-culture outlets that make members of the congressional “Squad” so dangerous. And unlike left-wing Israel-haters who reflect the views of a considerable portion of the Democratic base, these right-wing opponents of Israel and the Jews are very much in the minority among Republicans on such issues.

But it would be foolish to dismiss them as insignificant. They have key media perches and huge followings on social media. More importantly, they appear to have the ear of former President Donald Trump, who considers Carlson a friend and has even recently been seen socializing with him in public. Like Trump’s willingness to publicly dine with vicious antisemite Kanye West last year, his close association with these figures is troubling.

Trump is currently leading the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination over his nearest competitor by a staggering 44.2% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls and is also leading in head-to-head matchups with President Joe Biden. So, although Democrats seem determined to jail him on one flimsy pretext or another, he must be considered to have at least an even chance of returning to the White House in 2025. That’s why the question of Carlson’s influence and that of other neo-isolationist populist right-wing pundits over him matters. Though the former president consistently ignored Carlson’s advice when it came to his historic support for Israel, as well as his tough attitude towards Iran when he was president, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether it might be different in a putative second Trump administration.

The intricate dance that Carlson and Owens are performing on Israel after Oct. 7 is a function of a political landscape in which—their “America first” protestations notwithstanding—they are largely isolated on the right on Middle East issues.

Though they are a minority among Democrats in Congress, progressives have turned on Israel. Polls already showed that most Democrats now favor the Palestinians over the Israelis, while Republicans and Independents stand behind the Jewish state. But rather than the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 resulting in a swing towards more support for Israel, the partisan divide on the issue remains in place.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll taken since Oct. 7 and published this week showed that while the overwhelming majority of Americans back Israel by a 61% to 30% margin, that outcome is driven primarily by the 79% of Republicans and 67% of Independents who support the Jewish state. Democrats are split 45% to 45% on the issue.

This shift in which the two parties have largely swapped identities with respect to their attitudes towards Israel over the course of the last 60 years is almost entirely due to the influence of toxic intersectional and critical race theory myths about Jews and Israel being white oppressors. That has created not just opposition to the war on Hamas but fueled the recent surge of antisemitism.

The return of the paleo-cons

That isn’t what motivates Carlson and company.

Carlson was an instant hit once he became a Fox star in 2016 as a leading conservative voice on issues like immigration and eventually opposition to draconian government COVID-19 policies. He became even bigger during the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020, when he was the leading media tribune of resistance against the intersectional left, earning him the affection of most conservatives.

Carlson is the spiritual heir of Patrick Buchanan and, like him, combines paleo-conservative isolationism with the sort of coolness towards Israel that is unusual on the political right, where the love for the Jewish state among the conservative base dominated by evangelical Christians has shifted the GOP on the issue. Republican officeholders and most conservative pundits rarely miss an opportunity to highlight their love for Israel, so it is all the more telling that it was the one topic that was almost never mentioned on the “Tucker Carlson Show” during its successful run on Fox News before he was booted off the air earlier this year. He has since resurfaced on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter. Though his current show lacks the impact of his old daily prime-time spot on the leading cable-news network, his weekly half-hour programs have audiences in the millions that would be the envy of any of his former colleagues.

Carlson has always harped on the failed neo-conservative effort to export democracy to the Middle East as an example of how establishment Republicans are part of a war lobby that favors foreign adventures while neglecting America’s domestic problems. On the Carlson show, the barbarous Bashar Assad regime in Syria was justified for its supposed defense of Syrian Christians. Worries about Iran or even criticism of former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran—as much of a Republican mantra as opposition to Obamacare—were never heard.

Nor, for that matter, was any direct criticism of Israel. Much like the Sherlock Holmes story in which the dog that doesn’t bark is the main clue, Israel was a term rarely, if ever, heard on Fox from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. during his run there. Even when he hosted figures from the left who are notorious for their hate for Israel, such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, a notorious antisemite, it never gets mentioned. The same is true for frequent guest journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is another supporter of the Palestinians. Greenwald discussed his disdain for Big Tech censorship when on Carlson’s show but not the Middle East.

While Carlson never bashed Trump for his support for Israel, he seized any chance to single out administration figures who were most closely associated with the Jewish state for attention. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was a particular object of Carlson’s vitriol. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, currently running third in the 20024 GOP race, is another Carlson punching bag.

On his new show, the post-Oct. 7 coverage is telling. While he was careful not to express support for Hamas or terrorism, his initial reaction to the atrocities largely centered on arguing against U.S. efforts to deter Iran from directly entering the conflict. He then gave a platform to GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy to inveigh against American efforts to deter Iran while opposing Israel eliminating Hamas. Ramaswamy ignorantly asserted that it could re-establish “deterrence” of the terrorists by killing a few of their leaders while leaving it in control of Gaza. He also defended leftist antisemites at major universities whom he claimed were being persecuted by pro-Israel advocates.

On another Carlson show, Macgregor, a former Army officer who is also in the Trump orbit and who has floated mendacious anti-Israel talking points about “collective punishment” in the “open-air prison” in Gaza and about the need to save Israel from itself by stopping it from eliminating Hamas. He told Carlson that Israel supporters could be starting World War III and/or destroying the U.S. economy by pushing for a strong stance against Iran.

Disdaining emotion about mass slaughter

But it was on his most recent show that featured fellow right-wing talker Owens that he was most open about his disdain for supporters of Israel.

The two joined forces last year to defend Kanye West while that unstable rap star/fashion mogul was venting hatred for Jews prior to his dinner with Trump. Carlson devoted a full episode of his show to an interview with West, though he edited out his guest’s antisemitic smears. Owens weighed in on West’s behalf by saying that she knew better than the Jews what is or isn’t antisemitic.

Owens has been blasted by most conservatives for her equivocal response to Oct. 7 during the course of which she raised the issue of “genocide” of the Palestinians without mentioning Israel, though no one could be in any doubt about what she was alleging or her support for a ceasefire that would benefit Hamas. On Carlson’s show, they blasted the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro for denouncing Owen’s anti-Israel positions though he should have pushed her out of that platform after her embrace of West and his antisemitism.

Carlson and Owens spoke about how they were both amazed about what they considered the overly “emotional” response of many Americans to the Hamas atrocities about which, they think, too many people care too much. Owens boasted of her more “even-handed” and “moderate” response to the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust that avoided such emotions. They think the anger among Jews about the mainstreaming of antisemitism on the left is wrong. Indeed, as far as they are concerned, those who want to see the only Jewish state on the planet destroyed and its people slaughtered are not only not antisemites, they’re being persecuted by the Jews and their allies.

Rather than own up to their anti-Israel stands, they claim that they are, “just asking questions” about the establishment’s pro-Israel orthodoxies and not actually aligning themselves with antisemitic leftists that they oppose on other issues. Yet they echo the left’s anti-Israel conspiracy theories by asserting that those who support Israel are putting the Jewish state’s interests over that of America. Indeed, they blame the Jews for the same left-wing ideologies that are targeting them on college campuses—a classic tactic of Jew-haters down through the ages.

They’re not alone in this regard. Greenwald is a former hard-core leftist who founded the anti-Israel publication The Intercept but was pushed out because of his opposition to left-wing Internet censorship and COVID policies. He found new friends on the right in recent years and became a regular on Carlson’s program. But he has reverted to form by defending campus Jew-hatred and hosting Waters on his podcast, in which the hateful aging rocker engaged in denial about the Oct. 7 atrocities while claiming that Hamas has the right to engage in “resistance” in order to destroy Israel and kill its people.

Jason Whitlock, a radio talker who is another Carlson show regular, also weighed in to defend Carlson’s “genocide” lies. He said the smart reaction to Oct. 7 is to “wait and see” about the details, accused Jews of having “multiple loyalties” and dismissed concerns about West’s antisemitism as him having merely “ruffled the feathers” of Jewish elites.

These right-wing Israel-haters and rationalizers of antisemitism may not have the cultural power and influence of leftist ideologues who have driven the post-Oct. 7 antisemitic surge. But it would be a mistake to dismiss or ignore them.

Jewish conservatives and others on the right may share common ground on some political issues with Carlson, Owens and their allies. In recent weeks, however, they have become more open about their opposition to the U.S.-Israel alliance, their cool indifference about the slaughter of Jews and antisemitism, as well as their desire to hamstring efforts to fight the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran alliance that threatens the West and America as much as it does Israel.

As long as they are still treated as important voices on the right and seen to have influence with the GOP’s likely presidential candidate, their influence and ability to spread their own toxic attitudes towards Jews and Israel will grow. These loathsome figures need to be opposed and condemned with the same vigor that is directed at Jew-haters on the left.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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