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Kamala Harris thinks campus antisemites are very fine people

Whether or not the vice president becomes the Democratic nominee, any attempt to portray her as a friend of the Jews is undermined by her praise for pro-Hamas mobs.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff arrive for a State Dinner at the White House for Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, Rachel Ruto, the first such by a leader from an African country since 2008. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff arrive for a State Dinner at the White House for Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, Rachel Ruto, the first such by a leader from an African country since 2008. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

One of the inevitable results of President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance last month and subsequent refusal to drop out of the 2024 presidential race in November is the increasing attention being paid to his running mate. Vice President Kamala Harris has been something of a punch line since she assumed her current office. But now that most Democratic officeholders and pundits have realized that the president is unlikely to win re-election, she has, for a number of compelling reasons, become the most likely replacement for him should he be prevailed upon to drop out. That means that even though she has fared poorly during her time in office, many of the same biased corporate media hacks that spent years covering up the growing evidence of Biden’s lack of mental acuity are now taking up the task of convincing the country that the generally accepted opinion of Harris as someone whose talents have not kept pace with her ambition is mistaken.

One major front in the battle to reintroduce Harris to the public relates to her stance on the war waged by Israel against Hamas in Gaza after the terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, has been the figurehead for the administration’s toothless “U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.” The vice president reminded the left-wing base of the party that she hopes to lead—either this year or in the future—that this is the one issue about which she’s been willing to signal her disagreement with her boss, dubbed “Genocide Joe” by pro-Palestinian protesters for his on-again/off-again backing for Israel. In an interview with the leftist magazine The Nation, Harris lauded the mobs who have demanded that the terrorists be allowed to survive, as well as backing their calls for Israel’s destruction and terrorism against Jews.

She did throw in some weasel words to distance herself from what the Israel-haters who took over campuses, and blocked streets and bridges, in addition to demonstrating outside Jewish businesses and synagogues, have been saying. But much like what Biden and other Democrats falsely assert that former President Donald Trump said about neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, Harris seems to think that those chanting “from the river to the sea” and engaging in open acts of antisemitism are very fine people.

Sympathy for antisemites

“They are showing exactly what the human emotion should be, as a response to Gaza,” said Harris about protesters who have, in some cases, been paid by Amnesty International or even Iran. “There are things some of the protesters are saying that I absolutely reject, so I don’t mean to wholesale endorse their points. But we have to navigate it. I understand the emotion behind it.”

There’s nothing new about Harris embracing those who libel Israel. In September 2021 during an appearance at George Mason University in Virginia, a student given the opportunity to ask the vice president a question launched into a tirade in which she claimed Israel’s existence was an act of “ethnic genocide” and condemned U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system that prevents its people from being slaughtered by Palestinian terrorist rockets. In response, Harris didn’t challenge these antisemitic libels, instead responding with a lecture about pluralism and the need for activism. “Your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth cannot be suppressed, and it must be heard,” Harris told the student.

When asked about the three college presidents who wouldn’t declare that advocacy for the genocide of Jews was against their schools’ rules, Emhoff said the trio “lacked moral clarity.” The same might be said of his wife, who seems to think that a movement that has mainstreamed hatred for Jews should be judged by its supposed good intentions.

That might be the sort of answer that the intersectional wing of the Democrats that despises Israel is looking for. Still, it poses a difficult question for Jewish Democrats, who are clinging to the dubious notion that she and her Jewish husband would be allies of a Jewish community facing a post-Oct. 7 surge of antisemitism, let alone a friend of Israel.

I have never believed that Biden would leave the race voluntarily and have pointed out to those who assume that some shadowy group of Democratic kingmakers could force him to do so that they are mistaken. Over the course of the last 60 years, American political parties have been hollowed out in the name of democracy, and there are no bosses or machines that can decide presidential nominations. Whether referring to congressional leaders, Hollywood Democrats like George Clooney or the editorial board of The New York Times, there is no “they” that can make Biden do anything he doesn’t want to do. Everything we know about his arrogance, contempt for critics and the single-minded lust for power that defines both him and his wife argue that Biden will never concede defeat or be persuaded to withdraw. Short of Divine Providence intervening in the election in some manner (or as the president told George Stephanopoulos, “the Lord Almighty” personally telling him to drop out), Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee.

The only plausible alternative

If he were to drop out, anyone who assumes that Harris could be bypassed for the Democratic nomination is dreaming. Only she can access the money that has been raised for Biden’s campaign. It’s just as true that dumping a black woman from the ticket is something that the Democratic Party can’t contemplate. They are fixated on identity politics and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that can be viewed as mandating Biden’s choice of Harris in 2020. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that female African-Americans are the Democrats’ most loyal voters.

Equally important, if Biden is able to defy the pollsters and the widespread perception of his decline and defeat former President Donald Trump in November, the odds that he would be able to serve out a second term are steep, leaving many to assume that Harris, who is already a heartbeat away from the presidency, would replace him at some point in the next four years.

That makes it even more imperative that Harris undergo far more scrutiny than she has already received.

To be fair to her, few who have occupied the office of vice president have thrived in it. As John Adams, the first vice president put it, it is, “The most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived, or his imagination conceived.” Unless and until they were elevated to the top job by the death of the president, virtually every vice president prior to the last half-century was not just left out of major policy decisions, but ignored. In George Gershwin’s classic 1931 Broadway musical “Of Thee I Sing,” the vice president is only able to get into the White House by paying for a tour like a common tourist. And the office was the butt of the old joke about there being two brothers: One went to sea, the other became vice president, and neither was ever heard from again.

That changed in recent decades as vice presidents like Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, and especially Dick Cheney, were given serious responsibilities and power. But not all have measured up to that standard, and the respective staffs of the president and vice president have often clashed. That was certainly true when Biden was vice president and reports of the Obama inner circle mocking him were given even more credence when he was pushed aside in favor of Hillary Clinton during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

The same pattern repeated itself since January 2021.

A troubled vice presidency

Biden did give Harris the job of dealing with one of the country’s most important problems—the massive increase in illegal immigration at America’s southern border. Not wishing to offend her party’s left-wing base by actually trying to stop what can only be termed an invasion of several million migrants entering the country without permission, she did nothing. Indeed, she didn’t even visit the border for several months after being named the “border czar” and then only briefly.

Since then, the White House has made it clear that the president has little confidence in her and so has given Harris as little to do as possible with Biden’s staff not taking much care to conceal their contempt. As a result, she is now mainly known for speeches widely mocked as incomprehensible word salads and her trademark laugh that might better be described as a cackle. Indeed, one of the main arguments that underpinned Biden’s determination to run for a second term and to stay in the race has been the fact that Harris’s general election prospects are even worse than the president’s. While in the wake of Biden’s infirmity being exposed at the debate some polls have shown her doing better than him, the RealClearPolitics average of all polls has her trailing Trump by a larger margin than that of Biden.

Whether she gets the chance to run this year or succeeds Biden at some point in the next four years, the one thing you can say about Harris is that she is clearly interested in appealing to the Democrats’ anti-Israel left wing. She has been careful to mix in some pro forma comments about supporting the Jewish state’s right to exist and defend itself, as well as hosting a White House showing of a film about the use of rape as a weapon of war against Jews. Yet she has also cultivated a reputation as this administration’s resident Israel-basher. Indeed, while speaking at length to The Nation about her worries over whether Palestinian women have a reliable supply of feminine hygiene products, she rarely speaks about Israeli hostages and has gone out of her way to buttress false claims about Palestinian casualties and a mythical famine in Gaza.

A transitional figure

So, while not an all-out opponent of Israel in the manner of her friends in the left-wing congressional “Squad” who traffic in antisemitism, Harris can be seen as a transitional figure for the Democrats on this issue as they complete their journey from a pro-Israel party to one that is hostile to it. She not only lacks the record but the instinct to pretend to be a supporter of Zionism, as Biden has done. She also makes a greater effort than the president to show the younger generation of Democrats who have been indoctrinated in toxic ideas like critical race theory and intersectionality, which falsely label Israel and the Jews as “white” oppressors, that she is on their side.

Nor should anyone look to Emhoff as someone who can be a credible voice on antisemitism or Israel. The first man to hold the title of “second gentleman” spent his life demonstrating zero interest in Judaism or Israel until it became politically important for his wife’s career to do so. He’s representative of a large segment of people whose ties to Jewish life are largely cultural and therefore ephemeral. His daughter, Ella, a fashion model, not only spurns the title of a Jewish influencer but has raised money for the viciously anti-Israel U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) that has ties to Hamas terrorism and has helped perpetuate the century-old war on the Jewish state. Those who are relying on him to advocate effectively against antisemitism are fooling themselves.

When placed beside a president whose physical and mental decline is obvious, Harris—a healthy and vigorous 59-year-old—seems like a credible alternative, as well as a DEI choice who might hold together the Democratic coalition. However, the prospect of her elevation to the presidency ought to worry anyone who cares about Israel and the imperative to roll back the woke tide that is fueling a surge in antisemitism in the United States and worldwide. Her husband’s origins and any pandering to the community notwithstanding, if she winds up leading the Democrats, the case for the party as a home for Jewish voters will become even weaker than it already is.

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

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