This July, Aaron Boone, the manager of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, created an Internet meme when he launched into an epic and profane rant in taking issue with a call that went against his team. His abuse of an inexperienced umpire was recorded on a field microphone and then spread across the Internet to the amusement of players and fans, but to the consternation of the sport’s overlords. His repeated description of his players as “f****** savages” being mistreated by incompetent officials led to a one-game suspension and a hefty fine levied on Boone by MLB—and also to the widespread sale of T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase.
Those who know the game understood that by using the term “savages,” Boone was praising his team in that he meant that they are adept at being savage to opposing pitchers. But when President Donald Trump used the same word in a tweet this past weekend to describe Democratic members of Congress who were pushing for his impeachment, he didn’t intend it as a compliment.
The tweet described chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and the four members of the radical left-wing “Squad”—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—as “Do Nothing Democrat Savages.”
Viewed in the context of the last three years of a no-holds barred vicious debate between Trump and those Democrats who have been working not merely to oppose but to “resist” his presidency from before he even took office, the use of the term “savages” might be seen as just one more nasty epithet among many the two sides have hurled at one another. Trump’s point was to claim that his foes are treating him more unfairly than President Barack Obama’s opponents treated him. But his critics choose to treat his words as more evidence of his unfitness for office.
Whether or not you support impeaching Trump or believe that it is partisan hogwash, there’s one element of this kerfuffle that transcends charges concerning accusations about the president’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that further degrades the country’s political discourse.
Trump’s critics weren’t content to express outrage over the abusive description of the two men seeking to orchestrate the effort to impeach him, as well as the four leftist women who have been advocating that course long before most Americans had ever heard of Zelensky. Instead, they cited the tweet as evidence of Trump’s anti-Semitism and racism.
We’ve gone down this road before with Democrats claiming that singling out their three leading billionaire mega-donors who are either Jewish (George Soros and Michael Bloomberg) or have Jewish origins (Tom Steyer) is anti-Semitic. That was an absurd charge. Bashing donors is just a way of attacking a position without confronting the issue at hand. Still, conspicuous political players like Soros, Bloomberg and Steyer can’t be above criticism.
The same is true with attempts to depict any criticism of “the Squad”—in particular, Omar and Tlaib, who are both guilty of spewing anti-Semitism—as somehow an attack on all Muslims or “women of color.” It isn’t Islamophobic to point out that their support of the BDS movement and anti-Zionist is inherently bigoted against Jews and the Jewish state. Nor is racist to note that AOC and her pals are not merely the country’s most conspicuous radicals not running for president, but have at times appeared to be capable of bullying more moderate Democrats, including the party’s congressional leadership, into submission.
Similarly, to claim that attacks on Schiff and Nadler are inherently anti-Semitic because the two are Jewish is patently false as well as disingenuous. Think what you like about whether or not the course they are pursuing is good for the country. But to take issue with the stands they have taken or to point out that they are the ones who are orchestrating impeachment is entirely legitimate. That’s especially true with respect to Schiff, who repeatedly embarrassed himself over the last two years by overselling Russia-collusion allegations against Trump that fizzled into nothing.
The salient point about this controversy isn’t who’s in the right about Ukraine or whether impeachment is warranted—or even if it’s just another a partisan attempt to relitigate the 2016 presidential election.
It’s that at a time when a rising tide of anti-Semitism is spreading over the globe—and Jews are facing the twin threats of white-supremacist hate from the far-right, as well as leftist anti-Zionists seeking to delegitimize both Israel and American Jews—using it as a partisan political weapon is dangerously irresponsible.
Trump’s actions and statements are fair game for criticism and, like any other leader, can be held accountable by Congress and the courts. But labeling him an anti-Semite is a blatant falsehood. That’s not merely because he’s clearly the most pro-Israel president America has had, in addition to someone with Jewish family, and with a staff and cabinet filled with many Jews. It’s also true that his administration has in some respects taken anti-Semitism more seriously than his predecessors. He has ordered civil-rights investigations into attacks on Jewish students and others on U.S. college campuses that were ignored by Obama, and Trump’s Justice Department convened a summit on the subject that addressed issues not treated seriously before this.
If anti-Semitism is just one more brickbat to be tossed around with impunity in the course of a bitter and all-too-savage debate on impeachment, then those who are using it in that way are effectively saying that it’s not as important as their partisan goals.
It’s time for both Democrats and Republicans of good will to recognize that whatever the outcome of the impeachment battle, injecting false charges of anti-Semitism into the discussion will not advance their cause. It will, however, materially damage the fight against hate.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.