One of the most frustrating challenges in the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism is that the hate comes from so many different directions. When Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and other far-left progressives allow their anti-Zionism to morph into anti-Semitism, Democratic Party leaders face deserved pressure to condemn and disavow their most unacceptable statements and actions. Of course, anti-Semitism flows from the right, too, in the form of the type of blood-and-soil nationalism that has found an increasingly comfortable home among ultra-conservative Republicans.
Sadly, the GOP’s leaders have been no better at disciplining their most extreme members than the Democrats. They were given a pair of gold-plated opportunities recently to denounce two Republicans who displayed a repulsive intolerance toward the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. But at the time this column was filed, no leading Republican had publicly declared that such sentiments were unwelcome in their party.
First came Ohio GOP Senate candidate Mark Pukita, whose campaign has been running a radio advertisement that has targeted one of his primary opponents, former State Treasurer Josh Mandel. Mandel is Jewish, a fact that seems to greatly anger Pukita. In an ad targeted at religious conservative voters, an actor asked: “Are we seriously supposed to believe the most Christian-values Senate candidate is Jewish? I am so sick of these phony caricatures.”
That commercial was enough to convince an organization called the Center for Christian Virtue to uninvite Pukita from a candidate forum they were hosting. But in a primary debate two weeks ago, Pukita was asked by the moderator to respond to charges that he is “anti-Semitic and intentionally divisive and inflammatory.”
“In terms of anti-Semitism, all I did in an ad was point out that Josh is going around saying he’s got the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other. But he’s Jewish. Everybody should know that though, right?”
Pukita seems to believe either that the Christian Bible is the only acceptable version, or that there is something inherently contradictory between the Torah and the Constitution. In either case, he never got around to denying that he was an anti-Semite.
One candidate on the debate stage, businessman Bernie Moreno, laudably pushed back against Pukita’s bigotry, saying, “We’re better than that, guys.” But neither the Ohio Republican Party nor the Republican National Committee has addressed the matter, nor have any of the state’s leading GOP elected officials.
A few days later, an equally abhorrent display of anti-Semitism took place at a rally in San Antonio, Texas, where former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn told his audience that the United States should allow only one single religion.
“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion,” said Flynn. “One nation under God, and one religion under God.”
This belief, of course, directly contradicts the First Amendment and its guarantee of freedom of religion. It also suggests that some (most) religious faiths are unacceptable and should therefore be banned. Once again, there has been no criticism of Flynn’s intolerance from Republican leaders. (Although oddly, Mandel, the Jewish candidate who was targeted in Ohio, has endorsed Flynn’s comments.)
The loyal Democrats who read this column will be justifiably furious both at Pukita’s and Flynn’s statements, and at the shameful lack of reaction from the GOP. Of course, those same Democrats will either overlook or minimize the outrages voiced regularly by Omar and Tlaib. And hypocrisy does not recognize party boundaries, for those Republicans who are infuriated by the refusal of Democratic leaders to call out their anti-Semites will find a way to excuse or ignore the equally embarrassing inaction from conservatives toward their own anti-Jewish bigots.
There will always be hatred and prejudice in the world: anti-Semitism will never completely go away. But maybe the leaders of our two major political parties can make more of an effort to help us push back against it.
Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.