Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

The GOP is Singing the Wrong Tune on Anti-Semitism

Since World War II, both political parties have avoided using anti-Semitism in their discourse.  From time to time, certain isolated exceptions emerged, but those candidates did not reflect the mainstream views of their party. This remains true of the Democratic Party. 

All that changed four years ago for the Republican Party, when Donald Trump ran a campaign that prominently featured anti-Semitic motifs, prompting Dana Milbank to note that “anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody.” Four years later, the entire Republican Party is dog whistling along.

What would have been unthinkable prior to the Republican Party’s embrace of Donald Trump is now part of our national discourse: The leadership of one of our two major parties regularly uses anti-Semitic tropes, and it has become so common that we’ve accepted it as normal. Trump continues to regularly use anti-Semitic rhetoric.  No Republican Party leaders have ever condemned him for this rhetoric, nor has the Republican Jewish Coalition, which claims to speak for the small minority of Jewish voters who still consider themselves Republicans.

But now other Republican leaders are whistling the same tune. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) used a common anti-Semitic trope a couple of weeks ago when he asked “Do you want somebody from New York setting the agenda,” presumably referencing Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is Jewish, and not Donald Trump, who is also from New York but not Jewish. Later in October, McConnell ran an ad singling out two Jewish donors, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, even though plenty of non-Jewish donors contribute significant amounts to Democratic campaigns and even though George Soros has become a worldwide symbol used to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) traffics in similar anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, tweeting the day before the horrific Tree of Life synagogue massacre that three Jews, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and of course George Soros, were trying to buy the 2018 election. 

House Minority Whip Steven Scalise (R-LA) blamed “radical, Soros-backed elements of the Democratic Party” for violence against Republicans in 2018 and previously described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”

These are not fringe elements of the Republican Party. These are the men (all men, all white, none Jewish) who Republicans elected to lead them. Neither political party can reasonably be expected to control who wins every primary in every House district or even in every state. But each party must be held accountable for who it elects to leadership. Each party must be held accountable for failing to remove, or even condemn, its leaders when they engage in anti-Semitism. 

There is no equivalent on the Democratic side of the aisle. Agree or disagree with their policies, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Nancy Pelosi, and Steny Hoyer have never been credibly accused of anti-Semitism for the simple reason that they don’t traffic in anti-Semitism.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are at least 24 QAnon candidates running for Congress, 22 of them as Republicans and two as independents. QAnon is a conspiracy theory laced with anti-Semitism. But instead of condemning anti-Semitism from within his own party, Trump has retweeted QAnon followers at least 201 times. Laura Loomer (R-FL), who won her Republican primary, has been banned by Facebook, Twitter, CPAC, GoFundMe, Venmo, MGM Resorts, PayPal, Lyft, Uber and Instagram for spreading hate speech and is a QAnon supporter. Trump congratulated her.

Trump congratulated conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has made racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic statements, after she won her Republican primary. Failing to condemn these reprehensible candidates would have been bad enough, but for the leader of a major party to congratulate them should be unthinkable. But it’s now business as usual in the GOP.

The Jewish community knows what can happen when anti-Semitism crawls out from under the rock. We know what can happen when major political  leaders give anti-Semitism the imprimatur of acceptability. It’s happening again, right before our eyes.

Two years after the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s history, the Tree of Life shooting, on October 27, Joe Biden wrote an op-ed commemorating the tragedy, vowing to fight anti-Semitism and noting that he “got into this race after hearing the anti-Semitic bile spewed by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville — and hearing President Trump say that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’.” 

Biden also issued a statement calling this act of terror “a strike against the soul of our nation and the values for which America stands.”

Two years after the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s history, October 27, 2020, Donald Trump said nothing at all about it. Not one word. But he spoke volumes. And we heard him loud and clear.

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About the Author
Steve Sheffey is active in the Chicago-area Jewish and pro-Israel political communities and is the Strategy and Policy Advisor for the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA). He writes and publishes the Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. The views he expresses on this blog are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organizations he is or has been associated with.