The GOP has an antisemitism problem - opinion

Neither party in the United States has a monopoly on antisemitism. Jew-haters can be found on the extremes of both parties, but the GOP seems to attract a disproportionate number.

 House GOP leader Rep.Kevin McCarthy (front, left) attends an America First Policy Institute summit in Washington, in July. (photo credit: SARAH SILBIGER/REUTERS)
House GOP leader Rep.Kevin McCarthy (front, left) attends an America First Policy Institute summit in Washington, in July.
(photo credit: SARAH SILBIGER/REUTERS)

Neither party in the United States has a monopoly on antisemitism. Jew-haters can be found on the extremes of both parties, but the GOP seems to attract a disproportionate number.

White nationalists and xenophobes are firmly entrenched in today’s party mainstream. And for many in another major pillar of today’s GOP – the Christian Right – an affinity for Israel and a fascination with Jewish religious symbolism conceal motives steeped in “end-time” prophecies and the conversion of the Jews.

The core of the GOP revolution centers on racism and xenophobia, and antisemitism is the inevitable partner of these malignant forms of bigotry.

Southern Democrats had a long reputation as racists, dating back before the Civil War, but that changed dramatically in the 1960s with the enactment of historic civil rights legislation, led by Lyndon Johnson and Congressional Democrats.

Richard Nixon quickly sought to capitalize on the expected backlash with his Southern Strategy, targeting a “silent majority” – really thinly disguised buzz words to call racists to cross over to the Republican Party. It worked.

Former US president Richard Nixon, upon facing impeachment in the Watergate scandal, stepped down from his position in a final televised address to the public (credit: REUTERS)Former US president Richard Nixon, upon facing impeachment in the Watergate scandal, stepped down from his position in a final televised address to the public (credit: REUTERS)

The GOP energetically appealed to whites who wanted to preserve segregation and their “way of life.” Their appeal may have been largely anti-black, but it was also anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian, anti-immigrant and antisemitic. Nixon himself was a racist and an antisemite, as his tapes revealed.

Many Democrats followed South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, who called themselves Dixiecrats, and became Republicans. 

Where did the political polarization come from?

Today’s polarizing politics can be traced back to the revolution led by Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) in the mid-1990s. He infused the GOP with the idea that the Democrats were the enemy and no longer just political rivals. What ensued has been insurrection, authoritarianism and tribalism in his party. A central tenant has been, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted, “stoking fears of minorities and immigrants.” 

Jews are barely 2% of the US population but targets of 60% of all religiously motivated hate crimes, according to an FBI report cited in The Jerusalem Post. All indicators show it is getting worse.

Bess Levin notes in her Vanity Fair column, “Republicans have never been accused of embracing people from all walks of life regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or country of origin,” but lately they’ve “ramped up their attacks.”

Republicans complain about “cancel culture,” but theirs is the party that wants to cancel church-state separation, abortion rights, teaching about racism, gay marriage and the investigation of the January 6 insurrection.

One of the most disturbing cancellations for Jews is the movement among Republicans, supported by conservative Supreme Court justices, to tear down the wall between religion and state. That protection has been vital to Jewish survival and success in the American democracy that is so threatened today.

Among those trying to destroy the wall is Rep. Laurent Boebert (R-Colorado). “The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church. I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” she has said.

CNN has reported public opinion polling shows support for Christian nationalism is growing among Christians.

Extremism on the rise 

Another strident voice for that cause is Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Georgia), a self-declared “Christian nationalist.” She often shares platforms with Donald Trump as well as with notorious antisemites, compares COVID-19 restrictions to the Holocaust, has been a QAnon conspiracy follower and is best known for revealing that California forest fires were ignited by Jewish space lasers.

After the president’s address at Independence Hall about the threats to democracy, she tweeted, “Joe Biden is Hitler. Nazi Joe has to go.” The response from GOP leadership was its usual acquiescent silence. The American Jewish Committee called her tweets “vile, offensive.” Haaretz reported her comments “were echoed by conservative pundits.”

In an interview at the far-right Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida in July, she declared, “We need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”

The problem permeates the House Republican leadership. When someone like Greene is particularly outrageous, the invertebrate House GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, announces he will have a private chat with the alleged offender and then reports that the problem has been solved. Green and Boebert are increasingly seen as the new voices of the Republican party, and if Republicans control the next House they can expect high profile and more vocal roles.

Antisemitism is a central element of the Right’s warnings about the Great Replacement Theory. They see themselves as threatened by foreigners, notably non-white and non-Christian, who want to replace good old white Americans of western European descent. 

White Christians fear that they will no longer be the majority in this country in another generation or so, and in their view “any Democratic victory will irrevocably reconfigure the nation,” making them a minority, Ron Brownstein wrote in the Atlantic.

In some races this year, a candidate’s Jewish heritage is a target for attacks. Doug Mastriano is an election denier who showed up at the Capitol on January 6 and is now the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania. He accused Josh Shapiro  – the state attorney-general, and now Mastriano’s opponent in the race for governor – of sending his children to a “privileged, exclusive, elite school” as proof of “a disdain for people like us.” 

Of course, he didn’t mention that it is a Jewish day school and the same one their father had attended as a boy. The attack was the work of Mastriano’s campaign consultant, Andrew Torba, a rabid antisemite who runs Gab, the social network widely popular among antisemites, white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Mastriano eventually and quietly tried to distance himself from Torba.

Some of the antisemitic dog whistles are subtle, like the rants about the “war on Christmas” and accusations that people are afraid to say, “Merry Christmas.” Others are as clumsy as a Jewish space laser and day school tuition. But you won’t hear much, if anything, critical of them on Fox News, One America News Network or Newsmax, or read about them in the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, Gab or the Daily Wire. As Trump reportedly said about the white supremacists at Charlottesville, “they’re my people.”