The 'both sides are to blame' fallacy

Contrast the Republicans’ response to an antisemite in their party to the Democrats’ response to the antisemites and Israel-bashers in their party.

Moshe Phillips, | updated: 13:30

OpEds Rev. Al Sharpton and Rabbi Marc Schneier
Rev. Al Sharpton and Rabbi Marc Schneier
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The “both sides are to blame” line is often heard in contemporary policy debates. Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are both to blame for the absence of peace, argue the pundits and politicians. When there’s a terrorist attack on Israeli “settlers,” journalists say both sides are to blame because the Israelis are “occupiers.”

An Israeli pundit recently claimed that both liberals and conservatives are guilty of ignoring anti-Semitism in their own ranks. That’s nonsense.

According to columnist David M. Weinberg, “The political left only knows how to call out right-wing anti-Semitism…while glossing over the rot ripening in their own ranks. The political right does the same thing in the opposite direction, while insufficiently combating anti-Semitism of the brownshirt type.” (Source: https://www.jns.org/opinion/distortions-in-the-fight-against-anti-semitism/)

That’s a neat little formulation, which posits Weinberg as the sensible observer in the middle, surrounded by idiots on both sides. He seems like the equivalent of Moe of the Three Stooges, grabbing both Curly and Larry by their hair and knocking their heads together.


Are political conservatives guilty of “insufficiently combating anti-Semitism of the brownshirt type” ?
It’s certainly true that leading figures on the political left have proven incapable of acknowledging anti-Semitism on the left. Bill de Blasio claimed that anti-Semitism in America “is a right-wing movement.” Bernie Sanders asserted that anti-Semitism is the product of those who have “a narrow vision of a whites-only America.” Rashida Tlaib responded to the Jersey City massacre by tweeting “White supremacy kills.”

Does the political right do “the same thing in the opposite direction,” as David Weinberg claims?  Are political conservatives guilty of “insufficiently combating anti-Semitism of the brownshirt type” ?

No. On the contrary. Mainstream Republicans and conservatives frequently and loudly condemn anti-Semitism on the far right. Consider the case of Arthur Jones, the neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denier in Illinois.

Jones is one of those lunatic-fringe perennial candidates who runs for office the way other people buy lottery tickets. He knows it’s a one-in-a-million chance, but why not? After all, by running he gets attention for his extremist rhetoric. Since 1976, he’s run for mayor of Milwaukee, alderman in Chicago, and the U.S. House of Representatives eight times.

In 2017, Jones filed for the Republican nomination for Congress in a solid-Democrat district in Illinois—so solidly Democratic that the local Republican Party did not even field an endorsed candidate. When the filing deadline came and went without anybody else running, the GOP had a problem—Jones won the primary unopposed.

Did the Republican Party hesitate to confront this “anti-Semitism of the brownshirt type”? Hardly. The Republican National Committee announced: “We condemn this candidate and his hateful rhetoric in the strongest possible terms.” So did local Republicans, helping to ensure that Jones would lose by 47 points.

Recently Jones managed to get the required 600 signatures to again compete for the Republican congressional nomination in that district. So the Illinois State GOP announced that will undertake “an awareness campaign” that will feature “digital advertising, Facebook ads and mailers” exposing Jones’s anti-Semitism. 

Contrast the Republicans’ response to an anti-Semite in their party to the Democrats’ response to the antisemites and Israel-bashers in their party.

  • Bernie Sanders welcomed an endorsement by Ilhan (“It’s all about the Benjamins baby”)
  • Omar and named Linda (“Jews are supremacists”) Sarsour as a surrogate for his presidential campaign.
  • Al Sharpton (accused inciter of the infamous and deadly 1991 Crown Heights pogrom) was given his own talk show on MSNBC.
  • Rashida (“they forgot what country they represent”) Tlaib is treated like near royalty by the Democratic Party leadership.

The reason we hear relatively little about Republicans condemning Republican anti-Semitism is not because they condemn it less—it’s because there is so little of it from any Republicans of real consequence in recent times.

Of course there are fringe elements in both camps. And there probably always will be.  

The problem is when people on the fringe are allowed to move towards the center—when anti-Semitism is expressed by individuals in positions of leadership. Those are the people who set the tone for their camp and shape what is considered acceptable in American political discourse and society. 

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division and a candidate on the Herut slate in the 2020 World Zionist Congress's US elections; Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War Two Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Herut's website is https://herutna.org/  




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