‘Clarity about what antisemitism is’
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) wisely notes that “to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is.” So to begin, let’s visit the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
Those are just three of the many important examples the IHRA offers, and the ones most relevant to the antisemitic shit show we’re currently seeing in media, in politics, and in the former presidential candidate who once said slavery was “a choice” but is no longer known as Kanye West.
On Saturday, Ye returned to Twitter (and his 31.4 million followers) for the first time in 23 months after being locked out of Instagram earlier that day for an act of antisemitism on that platform.
In case you missed it, here’s the (now-deleted) tweet in question:
I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda
It’s an egregiously antisemitic tweet, and yet the immediate reaction was far less seismic than it could—and should—have been.
Consider the soundproofing that much of the media installed around this story. As noted by Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, this wasn’t an ethical gray area, and yet major media outlets’ pusillanimity was often stark.
Of course, after a wave of such criticisms, some of our media gatekeepers rethought their initial timidness—but not before people noticed their reluctance to call out this pernicious rhetoric.
Just some of them, though.
Meanwhile, self-appointed Knower of All Things Elon Musk hopped on the case. Shortly after proposing a comfy off-ramp for blood-soaked butcher Vladimir Putin, he embarked on a “Kanye West reclamation” project. Apparently he has outsized respect for Ye because Ye has been living on Mars for some years now.
‘It got even worse’
Of course, Ye’s outburst is just an extreme symptom of a worrying trend. As The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg noted in April, “Antisemitism increased under Trump. Then it got even worse.”
The Anti-Defamation League this week released a report showing that in 2021, there were more antisemitic incidents in America than in any other year since the group started keeping track over 40 years ago. “We’ve never seen data like this before, ever,” Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the A.D.L., told me.
The radicalization of the Republican Party has helped white nationalism flourish. Antisemitism started increasing in 2015, when Donald Trump came on the political scene and electrified the far right, then spiked during his administration. Trump is now gone, but the Republican Party has grown more hospitable than ever to cranks and zealots.
As right-wingers become more full-throated in their antisemitism, they’re also far less coy about their intentions.
The GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, is a veritable font of anti-Jewish folderol. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted in September, in addition to some seriously nasty friends, the candidate has history of antisemitic dog-whistling.
Democrats have highlighted Mastriano’s ties to white supremacists and antisemites – in particular Gab, the social media platform that serves as a haven for the far-right – in hopes of swaying independent voters. Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba is the co-author of the just-published book “Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide to Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations” that has recently been among Amazon’s best-sellers.
Mastriano was also present in Washington during the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, has previously compared gun control reform to 1930s Nazi policy and shared an image saying that legal abortion was worse than the Holocaust. In order to offset criticism from his critics, he recently highlighted an endorsement from a rabbi — who ended up espousing conspiracy theories such as QAnon and that Hitler was part-lizard.
Mastriano has also been lobbing antisemitic attacks at his Jewish opponent, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who he’s repeatedly called “the anti-Christ.” Mastriano also loves to insult Shapiro for going to a Jewish day school—and sending his kids there.
This short CNN clip from Jake Tapper, who attended the same school as Shapiro, is worth a watch.
CNN notes that Republicans aren’t thrilled about Mastriano being the Republican candidate. And sure, not every GOPster is willing to go full “Jewish space laser” like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is currently making headlines for stating “Joe Biden is Hitler.”
House Democrats are again seeking to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) over “Joe Biden is Hitler” social media posts. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) introduced a resolution on Thursday.
The move comes after Greene posted on Twitter that “Joe Biden is Hitler” and subsequently tweeted a doctored video of the president with a small mustache standing at a lectern with swastikas in the background dubbed with audio of the Nazi leader.
Antisemitism has been a through-line in her social media commentary. She claimed in 2018, for example, that the wildfires in California could have been sparked by a Jewish cabal with a space beam. Earlier this year, Greene addressed a conference organized by a white nationalist who rose to prominence after participating in the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.
Even if not everyone on the right is as virulent and open about their bigotry as Mastriano and Marjorie Taylor Greene, few are shy about using tired antisemitic tropes. For instance, you’ll hear a lot from this crowd about Jewish billionaire George Soros, a Holocaust survivor who’s frequently used his wealth to promote progressive causes.
But it’s the same antisemitic song.
Meanwhile, in Arizona
Other Republican candidates keep questionable company, not unlike Mastriano and his buddy Torba. In August, for example, Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, a prominent Big Lie proponent, happily endorsed an unabashed antisemite.
This week, the Republican nominee for Arizona’s governor gave her full-throated endorsement to an Oklahoma legislative candidate who has said “the Jews” are evidence that “evil exists.” Lake said he is a “fighter” and a “patriot” who is attacked by “the Soros media” — an antisemitc reference to wealthy businessman and philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish — because he is “over the target.”
Late Friday afternoon, a Phoenix Jewish group called on Lake to rescind her endorsement of Jackson, calling it “appalling.”
Jarrin Jackson, a far-right streamer who won a GOP primary for the Oklahoma State Senate in June, has repeatedly posted antisemitic things on his Telegram page.
Then there’s the GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state—and proud Jan. 6 insurrectionist—Mark Finchem.
As Daily Kos’ Rebekah Sager noted in September:
It seems redundant to say this, but Finchem, a proud member of the Oath Keepers group, is also a vocal antisemite.
According to AZ Central, the candidate has threatened that if Arizonans don’t vote for him, then Jews will run the government. Finchem thinks his opposition is financed by Jewish donors. He accuses anyone who disagrees with him of being a loyalist “to George Soros and Mike Bloomberg,” both of whom are Jewish and, in recent years, have been increasingly tied through conspiracists’ unfounded claims to all manner of violence and alleged political secrecy.
Just last week, Finchem tweeted:
“Democrat politicians on the ballot in Arizona are liars and deceivers. They want total control over you and our state. Their loyalty is to George Soros and Mike Bloomberg. They want Arizona to be like California. Do not be deceived.”
‘Supportive of the Jewish’
Gee, I think I see a pattern here. Indeed, that “pattern” was no more evident than in one elected Republican’s less-than-helpful response to Ye’s recent “racially tinged” antics.
Todd Rokita, Indiana’s attorney general, apparently thought the best way to show he’s not a racist was to defend a Black man’s stark bigotry as “independent thinking.” That’s one way of putting it. It certainly seems independent of any semblance of reality or rationality.
After hours of social media backlash, Rokita posted a clarification tweet naming his support for Israel and insisting he wasn’t praising Ye for his antisemitism—he just really liked his “White Lives Matter” shirt.
The attorney general’s spokesperson, in a statement to the Indy Star, touted Rokita’s “record of being 100% supportive of the Jewish.”
It should be no surprise the Indiana attorney general had Ye’s back after he wore that “White Lives Matter” shirt. In 2019, Donald Trump tried (and failed) to put Rokita on the board of directors for Amtrak, and the folks at Restore Public Trust (now Accountable.US) put together a handy roundup of Rokita’s “history of racist, extreme, and bizarre views.” As the organization’s director, Lizzy Price, said at the time:
From comparing African Americans who vote for Democrats to slaves, claiming that migrant children may carry Ebola, and claiming that pilots should not be required to get regular medical exams, it’s clear that Rokita is performing to an audience of one. And while he may satisfy Trump with his racist comments and bigoted views, it would be a political disaster for any senator to support his nomination.
But it’s no longer an audience of one, if it ever was.
People have long been raising alarm bells about both the recent rise in antisemitism and many “independent thinking” politicians’ cavalier attitudes toward the trend. Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee took on emergent Republican antisemitism way back in October 2018, just before the last midterm election, in the wake of the deadly Tree of Life synagogue attack.
Anything seem familiar? Hint: “Soros, Soros, Soros.”
And as Daily Kos’ Hunter wrote in July:
There was a brief moment in conservatism when the Republican Party frowned, maybe, on open antisemitism in its ranks. If memory serves, it coincided with the years in which conservatives were running around insisting loudly that the country was founded on “Judeo-Christian” values, and the main reason candidates weren’t allowed to be openly antisemitic during that period was antisemitic outbursts would detract from the party’s raging bigotry against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.
The extent to which the party really ever enforced that standard is of course debatable, but it is extremely gone now. It’s flown the coop. Republican candidates and Supreme Court justices alike have hacked off that Judeo prefix to once again assert that the United States will be a Christian-led nation that tolerates the existence of other religions only so long as citizens of those other religions do not press the point.
And now, once again, we’ve got open antisemites running for high office as Republicans, and the Republican base seems quite damn happy to vote for them.
In a recent press release, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey noted the disturbing rise in antisemitic dog-whistling and vuvuzela-ing—particularly on social media—and argued that we ignore it at our own peril.
Antisemitism and extremism are not new. What is new is the speed with which these hateful ideas spread and the growing weakness of our institutions in countering them,” said Representative Malinowski. “One of the central reasons for this is that we all get our information filtered through social media platforms — if antisemitism is the virus, Facebook is the wind. I will keep fighting to hold tech companies accountable for their amplification of hateful rhetoric that leads to offline violence.
As many conservatives seek to downplay racism and antisemitism—or outright engage in it, either overtly or subtly—it’s up to us (and that means everyone, not just Jewish Democrats) to call their hatred by its name, and push back. We can’t simply blink twice and move on with our lives.
Because the more we hesitate, the more dangerous this world will become … for everyone.
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Aldous J Pennyfarthing