The Democrats missed their moment - what now?

Democratic leaders have been cynical and slow in addressing Jew-hatred within their party, perhaps because they believe most Jews will remain Democrats regardless of how the party treats them or regards Israel.  

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D., | updated: 22:38

OpEds Matthew Hausman
Matthew Hausman
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Despite indignant denials, the Democratic Party has enabled anti-Semitism as progressives have embraced ancient stereotypes and asserted them against Israel.  Haters who push claims of undue Jewish influence, divided loyalties, and even blood libel are accepted under the mantle of inclusiveness, and partisan apologists sanitize bigotry by calling it political speech, mendaciously distinguishing contempt for Israel from hatred of Jews, and tolerating slanders against the Jewish State.  

When challenged for permitting such conduct, they invoke free speech to defend those who make ridiculous accusations – e.g., that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing, controls international finance, or practices apartheid. But after the election of a few high-profile extremists last November, some Democrats finally began to admit they had a problem, although they failed to seize the moment, acknowledge responsibility, and pledge genuine change.  

Not all Democrats can agree on whether a problem even exists; and those who do are divided over whether to punish the offenders or issue denunciations that specifically mention anti-Semitism.  The glaring hypocrisy is that Democrats would not tolerate such moral ambiguity from across the aisle. If Congressional Republicans were to repeatedly malign African Americans, gay people, or women, Democrats would demand that the offenders be publicly chastised as racists, homophobes, and sexists; and they would be outraged at any attempt to dilute the message to appease party extremists.  

When it comes to anti-Semitism, however, too many Democrats seem to be ethically challenged and morally blind.

Their inability to condemn anti-Semitism without qualification should not be surprising, given their failure to confront the tide of Jew-hatred that surged during the Obama administration.  Or their tendency to deflect by blaming Republicans for intolerance that today comes predominantly from the left. The inconvenient truth is that the skyrocketing rate of bias incidents against Jews is not primarily the fault of conservatives or the political right, but increasingly of progressives and their constituencies.   


The glaring hypocrisy is that Democrats would not tolerate such moral ambiguity from across the aisle.
The conduct of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D. Minn.) highlights the ethical ambivalence of her party.  Representative Omar has repeatedly insulted Israel and her supporters using traditional anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes.  For example, she accused the Jewish lobbying organization AIPAC of using money to influence American Mideast policy, thus evoking the classical myth of disproportionate Jewish wealth and influence.  And during the 2012 Gaza War instigated by Hamas, she tweeted that Israel had “hypnotized” the world, implicitly raising the timeworn slander of Jewish mind control (which was often associated with the blood libel).  Despite issuing an empty apology at the insistence of others, she has continued to assert ugly stereotypes against the Jewish State with the apparent encouragement of party progressives.

The Democratic response to Omar’s outrageous words was a proposed resolution to condemn anti-Semitism.  Though there should be no dissension within a party that claims to stand against all forms of prejudice, the resolution could not be approved until its focus on anti-Semitism was watered down, allusions to Omar and her remarks were deleted, and references to racism, white supremacism, and Islamophobia were added to render any condemnation of Jew-hatred contextual.  Clearly, the party could not make anti-Semitism the focal point without enraging progressive members who have antipathy for Jews and Israel. As insulting as this moral cowardice was, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it worse by denying that Omar’s comments were biased, stating: “I don't think our colleague is anti-Semitic. I think she has a different experience in the use of words, doesn't understand that some of them are fraught with meaning, that she didn't realize.”

Would Speaker Pelosi have been so charitable if a white supremacist had used traditional racial slurs to refer to any African nation?  Would she have absolved an unrepentant sexist for using his legislative platform to slander the character, talents, and abilities of women?  Would she have excused a right-to-life advocate for disagreeing with liberal abortion policy? The answer is certainly “no” on all counts. 

Although a number of Republicans voted against the Democrats’ final resolution, they did so primarily because it eliminated the singular focus on anti-Semitism and failed to mention Omar by name.  They refused to endorse a resolution that was rewritten to avoid offending those who deny Israel’s right to exist or defend anti-Jewish stereotypes as political speech. In addition, Republicans were incensed that Rep. Omar was allowed to retain her seat on the influential Foreign Affairs Committee – unlike Rep. Steven King (R. Iowa), who was stripped of his Committee assignments for comments deemed racist by fellow Republicans.  

Progressives often engage in historical revisionism to suit their political needs and seem to believe it is better to be morally correct (assuming one agrees with their morals) than factually accurate.  However, past history should bear on current events; and the conservative record of acknowledging anti-Semitism and seeking corrective change should inform the Democrats’ present situation.

Twenty-six years ago, the late William F. Buckley purged the “National Review” of contributors whose criticisms of Israel he came to believe were motivated by anti-Semitism.  He then wrote a magazine-length piece (republished in book form) entitled, “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” which represented a significant moment in political self-analysis and accountability.  Buckley did not deny the history of anti-Semitic bigotry, nor did he blame Jews for their troubles or offer revisionist justifications.  Rather, he recognized the existence and political impact of anti-Jewish prejudice and the role of partisan ideologues and intellectuals in shaping public thought and opinion.  

Through this literary endeavor, Buckley provided a forum for discussion and analysis that made anti-Semitism a relevant and important subject for non-Jews.  

Thereafter, conservatives became more sensitized to an issue that many had never before cared about, and the legacy is a Republican Party today whose support for Israel puts Democrats to shame and which is generally more vigilant against anti-Semitism and supportive of Jewish historical rights and values.  It is noteworthy that Republicans do not condition their Israel policy on Jewish support for their party, inasmuch as most Jewish voters have remained registered Democrats. In contrast, Democratic leaders have been cynical and slow in addressing Jew-hatred within their party, perhaps because they believe most Jews will remain Democrats regardless of how the party treats them or regards Israel.  

Whatever the reason, liberals and Democrats have yet to engage in the kind of soul searching that conservatives did in the 1990s.  Rather, they continue to excuse progressive anti-Semitism as political speech and protect its purveyors – especially those legitimized beyond reproach through identity politics.  Whereas apologists try to attribute Democratic anti-Semitism to the “hard left,” it has clearly infected the party’s mainstream. This is illustrated by rank-and-file Democratic support for the BDS movement, rejection of Jewish historical rights, embrace of anti-Zionism, and refusal to ostracize compatriots whose venom clearly sounds in traditional anti-Semitism.  


 

Though most Democrats believe liberalism is inherently more tolerant of Jews and Judaism than conservatism, such presumptions are nonsense.  Liberal tradition is fraught with anti-Semitic excess – starting with Voltaire himself, running through the European progressive, socialist and communist movements, and festering in a modern left-wing that rationalizes Islamism, justifies terrorism, and opposes the existence of a Jewish State.  It was no coincidence that Theodor Herzl’s quest for Jewish national revival began in response to the anti-Semitism that permeated liberal France at the time of the Dreyfus affair. The very hatred that Herzl encountered in nineteenth century Europe is currently playing out in twenty-first century America.

The Democrats had their moment to acknowledge and renounce anti-Semitism in their midst but failed to rise to the occasion.  They instead bowed to extremist pressure and let the opportunity slip by. But if there are truly any moderates left in the Democratic party – and if they wish to reclaim the classical values of free speech and equal treatment for all – they would do well to emulate the vision displayed years ago by conservatives who recognized anti-Semitism as a political and moral dilemma and dealt with it through honest discourse and intellectual analysis.  So far, they haven’t come close.





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