I can hear a pin drop. Considering how many Republicans usually race to defend the honor of American Jews (and Israel), the silence this past week has been striking.
To recap, during an Oval Office press availability after meeting with the Romanian president last Tuesday, President Trump was asked about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s suggestion that the United States end aid to Israel. Trump criticized Reps. Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s hostility toward Israel, before asking where the Democratic Party has gone that they now defend such anti-Israel extremists.
If Trump had only stopped there, there would have been no (new) news story, and I would be defending him. But he didn’t. Instead, Trump bigfooted into an internal Jewish debate about what’s best for our community, saying about Jews who vote for Democrats that “it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty [to the Jewish community and Israel].” Yowza.
Among the typically vocal, only Rep. Lee Zeldin appears to have directly addressed the issues at hand. Whether Sen. Marco Rubio was indirectly commenting when he tweeted Proverbs’ admonition that “Those who guard mouth and tongue guard themselves from trouble” is something only he knows. But, notably, I’ve seen comments from nobody else.
Zeldin didn’t criticize President Trump’s semi-sequitur about Jewish disloyalty. Rather, Zeldin praised the president’s record on Israel (which has been good) and rephrased what the president might have said — but did not. Zeldin, who told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that disloyalty is “‘a word that I wouldn’t use, with a long history of being used by others who have a hatred towards Jews and Israel,’” has also tweeted to defend the president against charges of antisemitism. But . . . is that it?
President Trump is not known for his eloquence, so no one expects pin-point precision, but last week’s remarks were inflammatory. They were particularly troubling coming so soon after the storm surrounding the canceled Omar/Tlaib trip to Israel, which launched oceans of antisemitic bile into the political atmosphere. Many American Jews were already feeling rubbed raw, and this news from the White House pressed hail-size salt into those wounds.
At this point, what I’d like to know is, where are the congressional Republicans? If ever there were a time I would like to hear from the right-leaning officials elected to represent our nation — including America’s Jews — it’s now. In the wake of President Trump dividing my community into the loyal and disloyal, it’d be really nice to hear a blanket rejection of antisemitic language from politicians affiliated not only with the president’s political party, but also with the side of the political spectrum where I’ve voted, volunteered, and worked my whole life.
I’ve spent much of this year cataloguing progressive antisemitism, starting with the Women’s March, the fight over the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in the Senate, House Democrats’ inability to forcefully condemn antisemitism, and the fight over BDS in the House, among other issues. It’s been an absurdly busy year on the antisemitism beat.
Along the way, I’ve seen many House and Senate Republicans vocally condemn antisemitic statements from Omar and Tlaib and appreciated that. I’ve simultaneously felt frustrated, wondering where Democrats — who represent about three-quarters of my co-religionists, politically speaking — have been hiding.
A year or two ago, rejecting slanderous comments about Jewish money or dual loyalty would have been gimmes. Yet now, it’s considered complicated to blast blatantly antisemitic remarks. That’s especially true when they’re uttered by political allies with sizable social media followings who threaten to recruit primary challengers. Suddenly, elected officials are downplaying or excusing hateful comments, or in some cases, repeating them.
That brings us to this past week. After everything that’s happened this year, including all the trouble the Senate went through to unanimously pass a resolution condemning antisemitism after the House couldn’t, I really want to know — where are the Republicans? Is no one concerned by the president dipping into antisemitic phraseology? Regardless of Trump’s posture toward Israel, his Jewish relatives, or whether he used the loaded term wittingly, normalizing such language is toxic.
President Trump’s own Department of Justice knows that domestic antisemitism is on the rise, which is why they hosted a summit devoted to combating it this summer. In general, it’s not helpful for any public officials to be singling out and criticizing American Jews’ loyalty, evoking dangerous historical experiences. The words we use matter, especially in a cultural climate that’s included the murder of Jews in two houses of worship since last October.
I long thought that more Jews should vote Republican, but whether they do so is tied directly to whether Republican officials make a compelling case to my community and whether those officials show up when it matters. Right now, they’re not. (And as a persuasive tactic, telling American Jewish voters that they’re ill-informed or disloyal is a loser.)
While I strongly disagree with Jewish Democrats on policy and regularly say so, I will vigorously defend their right to vote as they choose. We are all individuals. We vote based on what we believe is best for our families, our communities, and our country. And like all other Americans, we are loyal to our nation and the Constitution.
If anything, I am angry that the Democratic Party has made their party less welcoming to Jews. I am also angry that Republicans who have spent the year insisting they are my people’s best party are suddenly nowhere to be found.
In the context of America, Jews are a tiny minority group. For the sake of our security, as well as our full inclusion in the American project, it is crucial that American Jews feel at home in both political parties. But Republicans, I’m telling you, good friends show up when times are tough, and it’s going to be hard to forget that you hid when we needed you.