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Whose Side Are They On?

The losers in all this are the Jews, who are treated as a convenient political football

These are good times for America’s Jews. For some people, that might be a controversial statement. Isn’t anti-Semitism “exploding” and “sweeping the country”? True, there was an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks and incidents a number of weeks ago, during the Gaza hostilities, which, along with sensationalized media coverage of it, has subsided (and it would be interesting to explore the correlation between media attention and a rise in incidents, something we find in regard to other crimes, too).

There are always anti-Semitic occurrences happening, some more serious than others, and these should be cause for concern and for hishtadlus to counter them. For years now, even as the number of such incidents has increased from year to year, if we step back we’ll see that in the context of a nation of 330 million people, those numbers are quite small.

Then there is the steady stream of anti-Semitism-related “controversies.” These are faux-outrage contests in which anti-Semitic remarks serve as cudgels with which to shame ideological opponents and to prove one’s own bona fides as the true lover of Jews. These case studies in how to manipulate people’s emotions for political and financial gain actually underscore just how good Jews have it here, since everyone is jockeying for the title of the Jews’ true defender.

The cynical circus of whataboutism usually works this way: Some official somewhere identified with Party A makes an anti-Semitic comment. Political hacks from Party B (developing sudden onset amnesia about their implacable opposition to “cancel culture”) demand that Party A fire, demote, or otherwise censure the offender. Party A fails to do so (usually not, by the way, because they’re a bunch of raging Jew-haters, but due to a combination of mild cowardice, a refusal to be manipulated, and the need to preserve a fragile balance of relationships with their own colleagues).

Next, pro-Party B media pundits go into overdrive, issuing hyperventilating denunciations of Party A as anti-Semitic from top to bottom. Not to be outdone, pro-Party A pundits spring into action, charging that Party B has hypocritically failed to censure, demote, or fire its own miscreants. And around we go.

Another variant: Say there’s a brief upswing in random, unrelated anti-Semitic incidents. Party A hacks, who are out of power, rush to the mikes and cameras to demand that every single official of in-power Party B issue statements decrying this upsurge or, alternatively, allocate governmental resources immediately to stop this wave in its tracks. Party B officials refuse to play Party A’s manipulative game and do not comply with its nonsensical, entirely ineffectual demands. Party A’s pundits shift into high gear with frenzied accusations of… well, you get the picture.

Anti-Semitic attacks do happen, and anti-Semitic statements are made, and they occur along all points of the political spectrum. Take just the last week or two: Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, the putative face of the Democratic Party (and having been accorded that honor by no less than a president himself, she is understandably reluctant to give it up), was asked whether she understands why fellow House Democrats recently decried her past statements as anti-Semitic and pushed back with, “I think it’s really important for these members to realize that they haven’t been partners in… seeking justice around the world.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Arizona Rep. Paul A. Gosar, a Trump stalwart, made plans to hold a fundraiser with unrepentant anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, with whom he’s collaborated before.

People like Omar and Gosar are a political fundraiser’s dream come true: If they didn’t exist, the Republican and Democratic National Committees, respectively, would have to create them. For anyone whose sole, genuine interest is the protection of Jews, the response to their behavior ought to be a short, sharp statement denouncing their hatred, and that’s it. But instead, the actual perpetrators are treated as almost beside the point. They — and we Jews — serve as mere launching pads for political one-upmanship and, of course, lots of fundraising.

Now, some people may argue that it’s necessary to go beyond merely denouncing the hatred of such bad actors and strip them of their committee posts or even boot them out of their Congressional caucus. But if those demanding such steps are sincere about it, they should start housecleaning in their own party.

Compare, for example, Rep. Omar and Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Despite Omar’s lumping the US and Israel in with Hamas and the Taliban, Democrats have not removed her from chairing a foreign affairs subcommittee. Yet, they did use their Congressional majority to force the stripping of Greene’s committee assignments when the Republicans failed to discipline her for a raft of outrageous, often anti-Semitic statements, the latest one comparing mask and vaccine mandates to Nazi treatment of Jews (although to be accurate, the Democrats have not tried to expel or even censure her, but removed her from committees for refusing to retract her endorsement of violence against House Democrats, albeit before she was elected to Congress).

If one believes denunciation is insufficient and discipline is needed, then it is for the Republicans to discipline Greene and for Democrats to discipline Omar. Instead, however, we have hypocrisy and double standards all around, with both parties failing to discipline their own members even as they loudly demand the other side discipline theirs.

The losers in all this are the Jews, who are treated as a convenient political football. And Jews themselves bear partial responsibility for that. Rather than sticking up solely for the Jews by calling out Jew-hatred no matter by whom, hyper-partisan Jews on the left and right have made Omar and Greene untouchable powers in their respective parties by ignoring the haters in their own ranks and focusing solely on the haters across the aisle.

Sometimes, of course, it is indeed necessary to demand action against anti-Semitic rantings. Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels and now the Republican candidate for New York City mayor, was discovered to have railed in 2018 about

able-bodied men who study… Talmud all day… and then all they do is [have children] like there’s no tomorrow and who’s subsidizing that? We are…. They don’t vote the way normal Americans vote… They’re being told by the rebbe or rabbi this is who you vote for…. If somebody comes in and tries to take over your community lock, stock, and barrel and break all the rules and expect the tax dollars to go to their community, and they’re taking away from you,… then you got to righteously stand up and say no, it ends right here.

Agudath Israel of America rightly expressed its outrage over his remarks and called for a repudiation of and apology for his words, which in subsequent remarks, he failed to offer. In a situation like this one, all New Yorkers are entitled to demand that the Republican Party ensure that unless he does so, he will not be its nominee.

As always, the right way to view anti-Semitism is through a Torah lens, focusing primarily on the spiritual messages Hashem is sending us and secondarily on concrete hishtadlus to protect ourselves, rather than on the perpetrators and facilitators. But even if we find it challenging to maintain an isolated Torah perspective on anti-Semitism, the very least we can do is to not to be naive about the interests of those who profess to want to combat it.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 868. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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