White supremacy barely visible in AIPAC debate of anti-Semitism
“It will always be wrong to use anti-Semitism as a political weapon, always,” Schumer said, reminding the 18 000 activists at this week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference that as the senate minority leader, he is the highest-ranking Jewish legislator in the government. “And let me tell you if you only care about anti-Semitism coming from your political opponents, you are not fully committed to combating anti-Semitism.”
Beneath the increasingly fraught debate that plays out in discussions of what it means to be pro-Israel, another even more sensitive fight is emerging along the partisan divide: what it means to be anti-Semitic.
That fight played out at this year’s AIPAC policy conference, where Democrats and Republicans decried expressions of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, but where Republicans barely spoke about white supremacism and other manifestations on the right.
The emphasis on anti-Zionism made sense at a pro-Israel conference, and especially because it was being held in the wake of attacks on the lobby by a freshman Democrat, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The comments she made about AIPAC’s influence and the pro-Israel movement’s purported power seemed to many to recall ancient anti-Jewish slanders.
Omar was called out by name and implication at AIPAC in speeches by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice-President Mike Pence and Representative Steny Hoyer – and Schumer – to name a few.
But it was conspicuous that just five months after the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue complex in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist, it was Omar who was held up repeatedly as the face of anti-Semitism.
It became even more conspicuous when several Republican speakers drew a line connecting Pittsburgh to the congresswoman.
Pompeo cited the Pittsburgh shooting as an example of the scourge of anti-Semitism, but spoke about the causes of anti-Semitism almost exclusively in terms of Israel and anti-Zionism. He did not mention that the alleged Pittsburgh shooter was a white supremacist who was acting on an anti-Semitic slander that Jews were organising an “invasion” of Latin American migrants into the US.
“This bigotry is taking on an insidious new form in the guise of ‘anti-Zionism’,” Pompeo said in his address on Monday. “It has infested college campuses in the form of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. It’s discussed in our media. It’s supported by certain members of Congress, I suspect none of whom are here tonight.”
He was referring to Omar and another Democratic freshman, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who back BDS.
“Anti-Zionism denies the very legitimacy of the Israeli state and of the Jewish people. So, friends, let me go on record: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” Pompeo said to applause. “The Trump administration opposes it unequivocally, and we will fight for it relentlessly.”
Pompeo did not mention anti-Semitism on the far right.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, was even more direct in making the connection.
“We look at the horrific action of what took place in Pittsburgh in October,” he said on Monday, segueing directly to say, “I heard language in the own floors of Congress, I want you to know we did not stay silent,” presumably a reference to Omar.
Pence did not mention Pittsburgh, singling out only the manifestations of anti-Semitism on the left: at universities, in the boycott-Israel movement, and in the case of Omar.
“All over the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise – on college campuses, in the marketplace, even in the halls of Congress,” he said on Monday morning.
Schumer, by contrast, drew loud applause from the AIPAC activists not only for calling out Omar, which he did repeatedly, but for noting the ways McCarthy himself and President Donald Trump have been accused of enabling anti-Semitism.
“When someone names only prominent Jews as trying to buy or steal our elections, we must call it out,” Schumer said.
McCarthy last year posted a tweet accusing three billionaires of Jewish heritage of buying the midterm elections. He insisted, however, that the tweet was not anti-Semitic. The post was later deleted.
“When someone looks at a neo-Nazi rally and sees some very fine people among its company, we must call it out,” Schumer said, referring to Trump’s controversial comments after a deadly neo-Nazi 2017 march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Schumer also noted that the Pittsburgh killer was a white supremacist.
The activists again roared in approval on Tuesday morning when Senator Robert Menendez spoke about anti-Semitism on the right and left.
“Having spent more than a quarter-century advocating for a strong relationship between the United States and the Jewish state, I cannot stay silent when the entire Democratic Party is castigated as ‘Jew haters’ when what we really need is leadership that unites this nation and the world against the rise of anti-Semitism, hatred, and white supremacy around the globe,” Menendez said.
“So yes, when you imply that money is the only driving factor of a strong US-Israel relationship, you are fanning those flames. And just the same, when you accuse Jews of funding caravans of asylum seekers at our southern border, or fail to call out and condemn the rise of white supremacy at home and abroad, you are fanning those flames.”
Trump had accused liberal philanthropist George Soros of funding the migrant caravan – a baseless and false narrative shared by the alleged Pittsburgh killer.
AIPAC, for its part, opened the conference with a blessing by a rabbi who grew up in the Tree of Life congregation, and a Pittsburgh-area choir singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
David Kaufman, a Reform rabbi from Des Moines, Iowa, said he wanted to hear more of both sides calling out their own. “I think we are still very much in the mode of each side condemning the anti-Semitism on the other side, but not necessarily on their own side,” said Kaufman.
For her part, Omar seemed ready to move on.
“It’s been interesting to see such a powerful conference of people be so fearful of a freshman member of Congress,” she told The New York Times, “so I hope that they figure out a way to not allow me to have a permanent residency in their heads.”