“The Jews are a nervous people. Nineteen centuries of Christian love have taken a toll.”
— Benjamin Disraeli
Anti-Semitism is—and always has been—a problem that exists across myriad lines. Geographic, racial, religious, and yes, political. This is an incontrovertible fact. Anti-Semitism exists in the United States on the left and the right.
Lately, however, the right has worked harder to weaponize anti-Semitism to meet their own political ends, and it’s as virulently disgusting as the outright act of anti-Semitism itself. Witness the recent nomination of Kristen Clarke.
As the nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Clarke came under fire by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) while he questioned Merrick Garland—a Jew—in the latter’s confirmation hearing for the nation’s top AG role three weeks ago.
“The criticism Clarke faces is solely because in 1994, as the 19-year-old head of the Harvard Black Students Association, the group she led accepted Wellesley College professor Tony Martin’s offer to speak on campus to rebut the racist screed ‘The Bell Curve,’” says Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, in a column she penned for NBC News. “In 1993, Martin had become embroiled in several academic disputes over his promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which led him to self-publish a book about the controversy that many at his college labeled anti-Semitic. The speech was controversial, and Clarke defended the decision to host Martin.” Clarke has since said it was a mistake to have given Martin the platform.
Clarke’s record on civil rights is impeccable, and she’s never said or done anything remotely anti-Semitic.
And really, Senator Lee is aware of that. But since he has zero shame, he wasted no time in lobbing a charge of anti-Semitism her way—because that’s the cloak the right has adorned itself with since it got more deeply into bed with the Evangelical Christian lobby–a trend that took flight during the Carter administration and has only picked up speed since then.
Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority planted a flag at the intersection of two platform messages—abortion and gay rights—and rallied social conservatives so deeply around that flag that it became a central identity for the party. (Never mind the fact that Democratic policies, like expanded access to health care and birth control, prove time and time again to be far more successful in lowering abortion rates than outright abortion bans; or that the GOP found itself on the wrong side of history where gay rights and the AIDS epidemic’s impact on the gay community landed.)
But perhaps even more insidious is this new face of love from the same people who had been lamenting the existence of Jews for generations.
Make no mistake—the Evangelical Christian Right’s “concern” for the Jewish people is tied directly to their belief in their apocalyptic biblical narrative. And this has played out throughout history in a cyclical manner.
“First, we need to look back over the history of a volatile and extremely dangerous form of Christian Jew-hatred that has played out over the last two millennia,” says historian Richard Landes in his detailed explanation for Haaretz in July of 2020, “…One that goes from loving Jews to hating them in a relatively rapid span of time. This is the problem of apocalyptic conversion, followed by apocalyptic disappointment, and it plays out in a wave structure influencing Christian attitudes towards Jews.
“In the early stages of this enthusiasm,” he continues, “often modeled on the apostolic period, Christian believers adopted a benign attitude towards Jews, and a highly appreciative attitude towards Jewish religiosity (what the Church Fathers disparagingly referred to as “judaizing”). God, they believed, did not want the conversion of the Jews through coercion. But true Christian love would persuade them to see the light… Like drunken lovers who turn abusive at the rejection of their sincere expressions of love, these loving Christians then turn on the Jews, who now appear on their apocalyptic projection screens as the “army of Antichrist.” For every major outbreak of Christian exterminationist hatred in European history, if you look before it, you’re likely to find a period of philo-Judaism.”
We’re deep in the throes of the philo-Judaism period right now. That’s how former President Trump could get away with tweeting anti-Semitic campaign imagery in 2016, trotting out anti-Semitic tropes of a Jewish cabal of power running the world, refusing to disavow his neo-nazi base, and even standing in front of a room filled with Jews and explaining to them that all they cared about is their money, which is why he said they had no choice but to vote for him.
Because, in a normal world that kind of rhetoric *should* have been among the madness that would torpedo a Presidential bid. Meanwhile, “President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem! His daughter’s a Jew now! There’s no way he could be an anti-Semite!”
That stance, in and of itself is deeply anti-Semitic. For one, whether a loved family member is a Jew has zero impact on someone’s beliefs. That person just becomes the token—”oh, not you. YOU’RE one of the good ones.” It’s entirely possible to be related to someone who’s a Jew and hate Jews at the same time.
For another, this inability to separate the State of Israel as a political entity from the entirety of the world’s Jewish population is a problem the Right can’t seem to correct.
I am not Israeli. I’m an American Jew. But the former President — and the vast majority of his constituency — does not recognize American Jews as Americans. We are all Israelis to them. Our first loyalty is to another country, as far as they’re concerned. And that fits ever so neatly with the Evangelical Christian end-of-times narrative.
And while Trump may be gone, anti-Semitism certainly didn’t follow him out of town when he left office. Instead, acolytes like Lauren Boebert (R – Colo) drafted his tailcoat into office and picked up the anti-Semites in his base along the way.
“Just before [Boebert] hit the stage, at the table where I found a seat, attendees were complaining about Hillary Clinton, ‘Jews,’ and ‘illegals,'” said Gavin Dahl in a report for KVNF Radio. Dahl was reporting on the congresswoman’s March 15 appearance in Montrose at the Turn of the Century Saloon, at which she also appeared to sympathize with the Capitol insurrectionists, though her office claims otherwise.
Enough is enough. We already know how this is going to play out anyway—it started in the last couple of years as Trump’s meager Jewish base eroded while his white nationalist base expanded.
It’s going to continue to erode as Jew-hating Boebert supporters jockey for room at her guns and nuns rallies. But we can NOT stand by and allow outside forces—regardless of where they reside—to use cries of “anti-Semitism” as a political football to further gains that are in direct conflict with the actual interests of American Jews.
We’re not your pet cause, Senator Lee. We see through the facade. We see the real GOP bellied up at places like the Turn of the Century Saloon, whooping it up for the likes of Boebert.
There’s an old joke about Jews and disagreements—ask two Jews what they think and you’ll get three opinions. Disagreement is a Talmudic tentpole. But we do agree on some things, and this is one: the more non-secular the GOP becomes, the fewer American Jews will embrace it.