(September 18, 2020 / JNS) If it’s good enough for the Democrats, Republicans have decided they can play the same game. That’s the motivation behind the attempt to claim that an attack on a GOP congressional candidate by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s political action committee is dog-whistling to anti-Semites.
The ad from Pelosi’s House Majority PAC photoshopped a picture of David Richter, a businessman challenging incumbent Democrat Rep. Andy Kim in a competitive district in New Jersey so as to make it appear he’s wearing a suit filled with money with a box also packed with cash behind him. Other anti-Richter leaflets sent out by the Democrats also depict him with currency. One has an unflattering photo that Republicans think is an attempt to make his nose bigger. As far as the GOP is concerned, this represents an effort to use traditional anti-Semitic memes about Jews and money to dog whistle to Jew-haters in the Garden State.
Richter linked it to Pelosi’s failure to address anti-Semitism within her own party’s left-wing. Republican Jewish Coalition head Matthew Brooks denounced it as “a pathetic and outrageous anti-Semitic attack on David Richter.”
Are they right?
The Democrats ad is mean-spirited and a cheap shot intended to highlight the fact that a company that was founded by his father and for which Richter served as CEO at one point lost money. But there’s no proof that the Democrats’ motivation was specifically to highlight Richter’s Jewish identity. While depicting Jews as money-grubbing swindlers is a perennial of classic anti-Semitism, not every comment involving an individual Jew and finance is anti-Semitic. Nor should being Jewish give anyone immunity from the normal give and take of rough and tumble politics.
Even more to the point, at a time when examples of anti-Semitism abound among extremists on both the right and the left, crying “wolf” in cases like this one undermines the effort to mobilize decent people against the real thing.
But it’s hard to blame Republicans for trying to make a meal of this nasty tactic since Democrats have been guilty of repeatedly doing the same thing.
Over the summer, Democrats were crying foul when Sen. David Purdue’s (R-Ga.) campaign published a Facebook ad claiming that his Jewish opponent, Jon Ossoff, was “trying to buy Georgia. That ad also appeared to make Ossoff’s nose look bigger. In response, Ossoff and fellow Democrats blasted Purdue with some of the same rhetoric used by Richter’s supporters.
Democrats have also attempted to claim that any Republican criticism of their three largest donors—billionaires George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer—is inherently anti-Semitic because all three are Jewish or, in Steyer’s case, have Jewish origins. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted something about them trying to buy an election, he was also accused of anti-Semitism, even though he is an ardent friend of Israel and the Jewish community.
It’s true that some attacks on Soros, especially in his native Hungary, where he has supported the opposition to the Victor Orbán government, are anti-Semitic. But in the context of American politics, his funding of the Democrats is fair game.
The line between normal political warfare and actual dog-whistling to haters is one that seems to depend on party preferences.
Democrats say that when Republicans like President Donald Trump called Bloomberg an “elite” and a “globalist,” that’s dog-whistling to anti-Semites because those terms have been used by hate groups against Jews. But Republicans can argue that resentment against an out-of-touch press magnate and politician is permissible even if they are Jewish.
Trump was also denounced this week for referring to Israel as “your country” during his annual Rosh Hashanah conference call with Jewish leaders. Democrats say that he was invoking the dual-loyalty canard against Jews that encourages far-right anti-Semites to smear Jews.
A president who was more careful about his speech would never have said something like that. American Jews are Americans, not Israelis, and Trump’s use of the phrase was, as it has been in the past, inappropriate and wrong. But the notion that he was expressing anti-Semitism while promoting support for the Jewish state is more than a stretch. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people to which most Jews feel deep ties and for whose security many work tirelessly to help ensure. To the extent that extremists speak of Jews manipulating American policy for Israel’s sake—the “Zionist occupation government” or ZOG, they are also usually referring to Trump and his pro-Israel policies.
The same people who are screaming “anti-Semitism” about that were silent when former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, met with an open anti-Semite who happened to be the father of a victim of a police shooting in Kenosha, Wis. Harris saying she was “proud” of Jacob Blake’s family, despite the fact that Jacob Blake Sr. promotes anti-Semitic smears and is an open supporter of Nation of Islam hatemonger Louis Farrakhan that could be said to legitimize his extremism. Had Trump met with such an extremist from the right—no matter what the circumstances—he would be pronounced guilty by association.
Democrats also saw nothing amiss about Pelosi’s endorsement of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), despite their backing for the anti-Semitic BDS movement and for spouting memes of-Jew hatred directly rather than engaging in dog-whistling. The speaker’s party and its mainstream media cheerleaders gave both the coddling of the congresswomen and the meeting with Blake a pass.
All of these actions can be labeled questionable or worse. But it’s also true that using them to validate claims that Biden, Harris or Pelosi are Jew-haters are unjustified. And as much as many Democrats take it as an article of faith that Trump is an anti-Semite is equally untrue.
There are plenty of examples of real anti-Semitism, both in terms of violence and open advocacy for hate, without seeking to weaponize words or actions that, while debatable, were clearly not intended to be hateful for partisan purposes.
In a country in which politics has replaced religion for many people and in which loyalty to their political tribe has priority over anything else, it’s hardly surprising that too many Jews only see anti-Semitism when it can be associated with their political enemies and are blind to it when it comes from those they see as allies.
On the eve of the Jewish New Year and as the traditional period of cheshbon hanefesh (“accounting of the soul”), it’s time for American Jews to stop politicizing anti-Semitism. The only people who benefit from such tawdry partisan exploitation of a real problem are actual anti-Semites.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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