As far as most Jews were concerned, it was just another example of President Donald Trump’s trying to further divide our already fractured society.
When Trump told a group of Republican donors that “Democrats hate Jews,” the reaction from most Jews was a mixture of astonishment and indignation. The overwhelming majority of Jews remain loyal Democrats and the leaders of their party in Congress support Israel and oppose anti-Semitism. And even in the context of the debate about the anti-Semitic tweets of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), they could point to the fact that most Jewish Democrats had denounced her hate.
Their contempt for the president is such that they think he has no standing to comment on the matter. When Trump then predicted a mass Jewish exodus from the Democrats, liberal Jews scoffed. His attempt to exploit the incident for political advantage struck them as being as distasteful as his forecast was inaccurate.
But there’s more to this than just another Trump outrage.
Trump’s critics are right to mock talk of Jewish voters abandoning the Democrats. The GOP has spent the last 40 years chasing after Jewish votes and is no closer to their goal than they were when they first started pointing out that Republicans had become better friends to Israel than the Democrats. Jewish support for the Democrats is rooted in history, culture, and the fact that many of us view politics from a frame of reference that conflates 21st-century liberalism with Judaism. It will take a lot more than lockstep Republican support for Israel and the increasing divisions on the issue among Democrats to change this.
But Jewish Democrats are wrong to dismiss the Omar controversy as too insignificant to cause them to wonder about what is happening to their party and the growing toleration within its ranks for anti-Zionism and the anti-Semitic attitudes that always accompany such stands.
There should be no mistake about Omar’s statements. Anyone who has tweeted about the Jews controlling the world, buying Congress, and having dual loyalty isn’t merely criticizing Israel’s policies but engaging in rhetoric meant to demean and delegitimize Jews. Nor are her views the result of naïveté. Omar and her colleague Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) are also the only avowed congressional supporters of a BDS movement that seeks Israel’s destruction and is steeped in anti-Semitism.
Moreover, the outcome of the debate over her latest outrageous attack on Jews was nothing short of a fiasco for her party and its leadership. Previous incidents motivated Democrats to denounce her comments and forced an, albeit insincere, apology from Omar. But the willingness of so many on the party’s left to oppose any denunciation of her hate and the resulting compromise that was forced on the leadership in which Omar didn’t even receive even a slap on the wrist was appalling.
The idea that it was unfair to single her out for censure because others have also misbehaved and other forms of hate exist was unpersuasive, especially after the Republicans dished out stern punishment to one of their own — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — for his flirtation with white supremacists. The impulse to defend her was partly partisan but also rooted in false intersectional notions that hold that a woman of color who is a Muslim and an immigrant can’t be guilty of hate no matter what she said and that Jews are a white and privileged group that require no defense.
Not all Democrats think this but the way the otherwise pro-Israel leadership rolled over in the face of opposition and Omar’s escape from this kerfuffle without having to apologize was a disgrace and a signal victory for those who do. And the Democrats’ excuses — which center on “whataboutism” with respect to alleged dog whistling from Trump and other even more questionable accusations about other Republicans — are unpersuasive.
The Democrats are still a long way from being Corbynized in the manner of Britain’s virulently anti-Semitic Labour Party. But their Jewish supporters shouldn’t be surprised that many Jewish Republicans sympathized with the controversial comments of a president who has arguably been the strongest supporter of Israel ever to sit in the White House. Rather than doubling down on their complaints about Trump, Jewish Democrats need to think more about the troubling direction of their own party and what that portends for the future.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.