How the Right is rebranding anti-Semitism

An election billboard in Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb 3, 2019. (photo: Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
By defining any public stance critical of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic, the Right is smearing the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

By Mairav Zonszein | New York Review of Books | Sep 4, 2019

For years, powerful right-wing American Jewish and Christian pro-Israel organizations and leaders have equated being a good Jewish citizen in the US with unbridled support for Israel — regardless of Israel’s worsening human rights record. Organizations that claim to represent American Jews and their interests . . . have pushed to ensure that those who challenge the pro-Israel consensus in Washington, DC, or advocate for Palestinian rights are silenced.

On August 20, after President Donald Trump told a reporter that any American Jew who casts a “vote for a Democrat . . . shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” outraged reactions flooded social media, attributing to his statement the anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.” This is the idea, rampant in so much nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought, that Jews cannot be trusted because their allegiances are inherently divided between their Jewish and their national identities. Captain Alfred Dreyfus would never have been tried in France without the perception that Jews were disloyal.

Just as troubling in Trump’s statement as any echo of the old charge of dual loyalty, though, was its implication that any Jew who doesn’t subscribe to his politics — to both the policies of his Republican Party and of the current Israeli government — is a disloyal Jew, an inauthentic Jew, a self-hating Jew. Trump was equating Judaism with a messianic vision associated with Israel’s settler right, putting forth a souped-up loyalty test based on his alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his years in office, Trump has made himself a staunch ally of Netanyahu — withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and ending USAID to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. If you are Jewish and vote Democratic, then you are triply disloyal — to Trump, Israel, and America.

While Trump himself has a long record of anti-Semitic dogwhistling — including another instance, in April of this year, of the dual-loyalty trope when he told an audience of Jewish Republicans that Netanyahu was “your prime minster” — he has made accusations of anti-Semitism against political opponents a weapon of choice. Over recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly singled out for attack Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, who take strong positions on Palestinian rights, labeling them Israel-haters and Jew-haters. By defining any public stance critical of Israeli policies (or continued US support for them) as anti-Semitic, he is using Tlaib and Omar to smear the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

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