Does speaking of immigrants “replacing” Americans amount to white supremacy? Is a desire to prevent the country’s character from being irretrievably altered analogous to Israel’s desire to preserve its status as a Jewish state? A dispute between the Anti-Defamation League and Fox News has shined a spotlight on both of these questions. But at a time when Americans are deeply divided along partisan and ideological lines in which both sides are prepared to demonize and delegitimize each other, is anyone really interested in honest answers to these questions?
The controversy started with a discussion of the crisis whereby a surge of illegal immigrants crossing the border has overwhelmed the resources of the federal government. President Joe Biden’s reversal of former President Donald Trump’s border policies, as well as the plans of the administration and congressional Democrats for a “reform’ of immigration law that will promise amnesty and the prospect of U.S. citizenship to those who have entered the country illegally, have provided an obvious incentive for those who wish to enter the country without permission.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson reacted to this crisis by saying the following on his program on April 8:
“Now, I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually.”
The following day, his prediction about the “gatekeepers” was vindicated when Anti-Defamation League national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt demanded that Carlson resign or be fired. According to Greenblatt, the mention of the word “replacement” denoted support for white-nationalist conspiracy theories that have been used to justify mass shootings. His claim resonated with those who recalled the video from the August 2017 torchlight parade of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., who chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
The accusations of racism that have been directed at Carlson are rooted in assumptions about him that predated this controversy. Liberals have been attacking Carlson because in the wake of the death last spring of George Floyd, he has used his platform on the nation’s highest-rated cable-news show to oppose the Black Lives Matter movement’s “mostly peaceful” protests that turned into riots, as well as related fashionable toxic ideas about critical race theory, white privilege and cancel culture.
After Trump’s defeat, liberal outlets like CNN switched their focus from attacks on the 45th president to Carlson as the network initiated a crusade to deplatform both him and their higher-rated rival Fox News. Their accusations of racism helped chase away advertisers from his show. Yet Carlson’s hold on his viewers and his increasing importance as a tribune of conservative opinion have been largely unaffected, which explains why Fox refused to bow to the ADL’s demand.
Whatever you may think about Carlson, illegal immigration or BLM, the ADL’s case is undermined by three key factors.
One is the fact that it is a brazen attempt to divert the discussion from the crisis on the southern border, and how Biden’s statements and actions have acted like a green light for anyone in Central America seeking to enter the United States. Carlson is hardly the only one pondering the long-term consequences of a situation where we may be seeing only the beginning of a huge increase in illegal immigration at a time when realistic estimates of those already here without legal permission—the commonly quoted total is 11 million—could be as high as 22 million or even close to 30 million. If the Democrats’ proposed legislation passes—admittedly a long shot as long as the Senate filibuster remains in place—then a major shift in the demographics of the American electorate may well happen.
Another problem is that the ADL’s credibility has been shot as it has shifted from being a nonpartisan anti-Semitism monitoring organization to a Democratic auxiliary group since Greenblatt, a former Clinton and Obama White House staffer, took over.
But the real weakness of the arguments against Carlson is that up until recently, the ones talking about immigrants replacing or overwhelming white voters have been liberals. Articles and studies published in recent years from The Atlantic, the liberal Brookings Institution, the pro-immigration Niskanen Center as well as the Pew Research Institute all centered on the idea that a rising tide of immigrants was changing the demographics of the United States and tipping the political balance of power to the Democrats.
These themes were echoed repeatedly by left-wing pundits and Democratic politicians who find it hard to contain their triumphalism when discussing demography.
In 2018, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg actually published a column under the headline, “We Can Replace Them,” in which she argued that Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was leading a tide of newly registered minority and immigrant voters to transform Georgia from a red state to a purple or blue one.
The same year, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) was just one of many members of his party predicting that the growing number of Hispanic voters would mean Texas was turning purple.
Carlson’s claim that such changes disenfranchise existing voters is hyperbole and, as Trump proved by doing far better among Hispanic voters than more moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney, demography isn’t destiny. Immigration has already altered American politics, especially in states like California. But if it’s not inappropriate to cite such efforts to “replace” Republicans with immigrant Democrats as something to be welcomed, how can laments about the same thing be termed racist?
That’s especially true when the new administration and its congressional supporters—who seem to think that everyone in Central America who is dissatisfied with their lot ought to be allowed to become U.S. citizens, whether they followed the law in crossing the border or not—enact measures that are morally equivalent to open borders. It is hypocritical of liberals to bash Carlson for noting the obvious political consequences of such policies. Nor has it anything to do with the demented fantasies of neo-Nazis about Jews.
In the course of his defense, Carlson also analogized his alarm over the potential impact of illegal immigration on elections to those, including the ADL, who have defended Israel’s right to remain a Jewish state. That’s especially true with respect to opposing a so-called Palestinian “right of return” in which Israel would be swamped by the descendants of Arab refugees who would endanger and essentially strip Jews of both their sovereign rights and existence as a nation.
Carlson cited Israel’s refusal to be voted out of existence by Palestinians as an example of “a country that doesn’t hate itself.” That had to make supporters of Israel cringe, especially since Carlson is known for not exactly being a fan of the Jewish state.
But the analogy doesn’t really work.
The United States is a nation whose existence is rooted in universal values. Like most other nations on the planet, Israel is an expression of particularism. Its priority is to reconstitute and defend Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland of the Jews, and not to be the last and best hope of all mankind.
Both are nations of immigrants and their descendants; however, Israel’s immigration policies are very different from those of the United States. The tension between America’s universalism and Israel’s particularism has made many liberal Jews uncomfortable supporting an avowedly Jewish state. But whereas Israel wants Jewish immigrants to preserve a state that was created to defend Jews in a world where anti-Semitism runs rampant, America has traditionally welcomed people from all over the world.
Even if Carlson’s analogy doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that it’s racist for Americans to want to control their borders the way any other nation, including Israel, does as a matter of course. Carlson pointed out that he’s not calling for excluding any specific race or group from the United States. To oppose illegal immigration is not the same thing as opposing legal immigration. He is just advocating, as are many Americans, for the defense of U.S. sovereignty.
What is needed is an honest debate about immigration and open borders, not hyperbolic talk of replacement or white supremacy. Yet by engaging in naked partisanship disguised as advocacy against racism and anti-Semitism, the ADL has forfeited its right to be taken seriously on either subject. Where once it helped lift the national conversation about fractious issues to a higher plane, now Greenblatt is fueling greater polarization that actually makes Carlson’s case about cancel culture.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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