OP-ED: Trump’s weaponization of anti-Semitism

By HALIE SOFER

This week, President Trump continued his assault on decency and honesty in our political discourse by falsely claiming that American Jews are leaving the Democratic Party. He tweeted a quote from a new group called “Jexodus,” which is nothing more than a political front for Republicans aiming to chip away at the Jewish vote.

This is nothing new.

For decades, Republicans have eyed the 70–80% of the Jewish electorate that consistently supports Democrats and politicized U.S. support of Israel in a futile attempt to make inroads on the Jewish vote. It’s never worked because Republicans are completely out of step with Jewish values on a wide range of issues. What is new, however, is the weaponization of anti-Semitism and the president’s unconscionable accusation that “Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Perhaps the truth no longer matters on the president’s Twitter feed, but it matters to most Americans, including Jewish voters. So here’s the truth.

President Trump has trafficked anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories from the campaign trail to the Oval office; from his Twitter feed and back to the campaign trail. In 2015, Trump told a crowd of Jewish Republicans that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” In 2016, his final campaign ad was condemned by Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), for its toxic use of anti-Semitic imagery. In 2017, he created a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those protesting them in Charlottesville. In October 2018, Trump promoted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on Twitter. In December 2018, Trump insinuated that Jews have dual loyalty to the United States and Israel. The Republican response to all of this was not just silence but even worse: Some Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have repeated similar anti-Semitic conspiracies and tropes.

This week, the president had the audacity to feign concern about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s use of an anti-Semitic trope. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), along with the majority of Democrats in Congress, have condemned the use of such tropes wherever they have emerged, on either side of the aisle. Republicans, on the other hand, have selectively condemned anti-Semitism when it suits their political interests but maintained near silence when it comes from one of their own. This silence — combined with the president’s dog whistles to anti-Semites — is increasingly dangerous for the Jewish community. It has emboldened those who would commit hate crimes, such as the perpetrator of the horrific Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre.

Democrats responded to Rep. Omar’s statements by unanimously voting to condemn anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred as contradictory to American values. The resolution that passed last week defined the many facets of anti-Semitism, ranging from the white supremacy movement, with which President Trump and Rep. Steve King have sympathized, to the negative stereotypes and generalizations recently invoked by Reps. Omar and Jordan.

In the aftermath of this incident, Democrats have sought to find greater understanding and mend divides, while Republicans have politicized anti-Semitism and are now trying to fundraise off it. On Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney, one of 23 Republicans who opposed the resolution condemning anti-Semitism, sent a text message on behalf of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) that read “Democrats are enabling anti-Semitism. We must take action. Donate NOW to restore our conservative majority!”

This text — and the president’s tweet before it — are perpetuating lies, plain and simple. Democrats don’t support anti-Semitism, and Republican attempts to literally and figuratively cash-in on this moment show yet again that for them, this is all a political game. Additionally, the president’s claim that Jews are fleeing the Democratic Party is patently untrue. The facts show that Trump’s presidency has increased support for Democrats among Jewish voters. A poll conducted in October 2018 by the Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI) found that 74% of American Jews planned to vote for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. In fact, according to exit polls, 79% of Jews voted for Democrats in November, an eight percent increase from the 71% who voted for Democrats in 2016. What is perhaps more significant is that 68% of Jewish voters self-identified as Democrats in the JEI poll. This means that Democrats in 2018 won not only the Democratic Jewish base, but also drew more than 10% of the Jewish vote from Independents and Republicans as well.

Evidence demonstrates that the Democratic Party is and will remain the home for American Jews. This has only been solidified by Trump’s presidency because his policies are so antithetical to our values on nearly every issue. We squarely reject Trump’s dishonest and dangerous politicking — in which the Jewish community has become a pawn — and see right through his crocodile tears on anti-Semitism. To see it any other way is to deny the truth.

(Halie Soifer is the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.)

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