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When white nationalists ask Jews to condemn anti-Semitism

Two American-Jewish activists went to a Republican congressman’s town hall and asked him if he would condemn his party’s white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Instead, he pointed his finger at progressive women of color and touted his support for Israel.

By Ezra Oliff-Lieberman

On the first day of Sukkot, I drove an hour across the longest bridge in the U.S. to confront a white nationalist in the Deep South. My friend Elias and I had caught word that Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was hosting a town hall in Mandeville, Louisiana — a once-in-a blue-moon commitment for a congressman who fears protest at any public appearance. We went as young American Jews living full Jewish lives in southeast Louisiana, and as members of IfNotNow, a movement to combat anti-Semitism and transform our community’s support for Israel’s military occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all.

We knew this would be an opportunity to expose Scalise’s support for Trump’s anti-Semitic incitement, and make it impossible for him to continue hiding his own anti-Semitism behind unquestioning support for Israel. A staunch Trump supporter, Scalise has been part of the Republican leadership for years. As the GOP has descended into a blatant embrace of white nationalism and anti-Semitism, he has largely remained silent — unsurprising given he once called himself “David Duke without the baggage.”

Our decision to challenge Scalise came as part of a campaign IfNotNow is launching to push back on the GOP’s white nationalism. As long as Republican politicians like him continue to actively contribute to their party’s racism and anti-Semitism, young American Jews in every corner of this country will be at their offices, town halls, and fundraisers, demanding teshuva — the traditional Jewish way of repairing harm — and meaningful action.

So we attended Scalise’s town hall to make those demands. Our question was simple: Will you condemn the GOP’s white nationalism and anti-Semitism?

After a short speech, Scalise opened the floor to questions and I immediately raised my hand. I recounted sitting in synagogue on Yom Kippur nearly a year after the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, terrified that someone would try to harm my Jewish community. And I noted that the Pittsburgh gunman, along with the recent shooter in Halle, Germany, espoused the same anti-Semitic and white nationalist rhetoric uttered by the GOP on a daily basis.

It didn’t take long for Scalise to cut me off, so I countered with a concrete example of Trump’s recent anti-Semitic comments, in which he called Jewish Democrats like me “disloyal.” Scalise immediately mocked my claim and replied “I don’t know when you had that meeting with him,” pretending to have never heard the “disloyal” comments.

Elias raised his hand shortly after and again asked Scalise to denounce his party’s hate. Scalise doubled down, this time deflecting to his support for the “sovereignty” of the State of Israel. Elias made clear that he was “not Israeli” and that “we’re not talking about Israel,” to which Scalise replied “Neither am I, but I’ve been.”

It was infuriating to hear Scalise brag about his AIPAC trips as a deflection from his party’s white nationalism problem. This phenomenon, of using Israel as a shield to deflect anti-Semitism, not only obfuscates the root of white nationalism — it also asserts the anti-Semitic notion that the interests of American Jews and Israel are one and the same. To see this tactic used in real-time at Scalise’s town hall exposed just how quickly members of the GOP will hide behind their support for Israel, and reaffirmed the urgency of making clear that one can be both pro-Israel and a white nationalist.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 17, 2011. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 17, 2011. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Finally, after asking Scalise one last time to condemn the GOP’s white nationalism and anti-Semitism, he suggested that it was us, not him, who should be doing more to call out anti-Semitism. Think about that for a moment: A non-Jewish member of the Republican Party — the party emboldening white nationalists around the world — lecturing two young Jews on what anti-Semitism is and how to fight it.

It’s time to make it clear: Rather than address the hatred within their own party, Republican politicians instead vaguely condemn white nationalism “everywhere,” point the finger at others — almost always progressive women of color — and tout their support for Israel.

As young American Jews, we know exactly who is threatening our community and inciting violence against other minority communities in this country. It’s certainly not inspiring leaders like Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib. Scalise’s failure to condemn anti-Semitism in the GOP and from the President is emblematic of his entire party’s embrace of white nationalists — the same people opening fire on Jews as we pray, attacking mosques across the globe, and setting fire to Black churches here in Louisiana.

So we’re going on offense. Jews, who are far more diverse than the GOP thinks, are fighting for ourselves and for everyone affected by the scourge of white nationalism. Steve Scalise and the Republican Party would rather we be divided from our natural partners: immigrant, Black, Brown and Muslim communities made up of Jews and non-Jews also fighting for their lives.

The GOP’s hate is killing us. Mandeville, Louisiana was just the beginning.

Ezra Oliff-Lieberman is a Jewish educator and organizer based in New Orleans, LA. He loves seltzer, cookbooks, and riding his bike. Find him on twitter @ezraol.

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    COMMENTS

    1. itshak Gordine

      By the simple fact that this senator supports Israel proves that he is not anti-Semitic. The Democrats Tlaib and Omar are true anti-Semites and they have proven it. That’s why the Jewish state decided not to receive them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The simplemindedness of this statement is stunning.

        First, Israel and Jews are not the same thing.

        Secondly, supporting Israel is no proof whatsoever that one is not anti-Semitic. Plenty of anti-Semite white nationalists admire and “support” Israel just because they admire it as an example of just the kind of ethnic supremacist state they aspire too–and when these American white nationalists achieve that kind of state they will throw out the Jews (who have “their own country” as the anti-Semitic Trump continually insinuates) immediately after throwing out the Arabs and Muslims and the other brown people. Many a white nationalist describes himself as devotee of “White Zionism.”

        Thirdly, you engage in slander. Tlaib and Omar are not anti-Semites anymore than Peter Beinart is. (And AOC, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are backing Bernie Sanders.)

        Fourthly, “the Jewish state” decided not to receive them because it is afraid–afraid for the world to see what it is hiding in its backyard and afraid of free speech about what it is hiding.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Omar and Co were not accepted because they wanted to create disorders. Their comments in the past prove their primary anti-Semitism. I prefer anti-Semites who admire and support the state of Israel than little left-wing Jews, totally assimilated and denigrating the state of Israel from abroad.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I love this: “They wanted to create disorders.” This is at once so creepily Orwellian, and at the same time so obtuse—Yes, genius! They are disruptive politicians in the best sense! Politically disruptive, not physically disruptive. In America! Your ally! And they are American Congresswomen! At the same time they had absolutely no intention of creating physical civil disorder in Israel or the West Bank, and the Gilad Erdan types knew that very well. These American Congresswomen simply came to listen and see for themselves. And go back to America. And your government was afraid of that. Afraid of what it is hiding from Americans who are not bought off or complacent. So afraid that it had to disrespect the United States Congress. It is positively East German Stasian to say “Wir müssen Ordnung halten! Um jeden Preis! In unserer herrlichen, schönen Demokratischen Republik!”

            I also love how you prefer the “right kind of anti-Semite” so to speak. The right wing ones are good for all sorts of things: Muslim bashing, persecuting “little left-wing Jews and denigraters,” increasing aliyah for the settlements and the demographic war. Really, you put your cards fully out on the table when you say “I prefer anti-Semites who admire and support the state of Israel.” This is a full-fledged admission that every criticism of Netanyahu in this regard is correct, it validates the entire accusation against him and adds a creepy tone that actual anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists could use to actually denigrate Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Itshak Gordine: In your combination of pious Orthodox beliefs, opposition to liberalism, Jewish messianism (seeing the return to ‘the land’ and its ‘building’ as mitzvah in a dawning of the Messianic Age), national-religious beliefs, and the pride you take that “there are more and more Haredi men in the army…known to be fierce fighters very inflexible with Arab terrorists”—with all of that you come across as Hardali, or near-Hardali (Religious-Zionist inclining towards Haredi ideology). Would that be fair to say?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The author is basically talking BS.
      Trump accused of some American Jews of being disloyal to their OWN ETHNIC INTERESTS & the STATE OF ISRAEL.
      Trump did not accuse American Jews of being disloyal to America.’

      I am wondering if Comrade Ben will ever “get” this simple point.
      His cognitive abilities are severely challenged, in my opinion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: “Trump Again Accuses American Jews of Disloyalty…accusing Jewish voters of disloyalty if they voted for Democrats…It was the second day in a row that Mr. Trump addressed Jews and loyalty, a theme evoking an anti-Semitic trope that Jews have a “dual loyalty” and are often more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.”

        https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/us/politics/trump-jews-disloyalty.html

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Nope. You actually suffer from the same problems that Ben has – a lack of rational thinking.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            You just described yourself. You are a perfect personification of the “NPC” meme: the fact that you come to every article here with the same puerile “FAKESTINYAN”/go to Jordan/compensate Arab Jews slogans tells me you are someone unaccustomed to critical thought or unique insight. You are content to simply act as a human mouthpiece for your settlement’s local rabbi/favorite politician.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Except I don’t live in a settlement, you silly twerp.
            The clue is in my name that I use on this website.
            Unless you consider all towns inside the Green Line as being settlements, like the fake “falestinyans” do.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I think Ray can be forgiven for thinking you are “Lewis originally from Afula but now living in Yitzhar.” (Where settlers attacked the army yesterday and none were arrested. Apparently the army discovered a new law of physics: Rocks thrown by Jews are harmless cream puffs but rocks thrown by Arabs are projectiles more lethal than an Iranian Nasr-1 missile and deserve lethal live fire and indefinite detention and torture
            for the survivors. I urge the army to submit this stunning discovery to Physics Letters.) After all, many Israeli settlers are “Sam from Poughkeepsie now living in Ariel” and that kind of thing. (English lesson clue: “from” can mean “originally from” just as or even more readily than “living there now.”)

            Ray, thank you for clueing me in to the very weird far right “NPC” meme! (It’s a perfect fit for the Man from Afula. Nice.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Wrong.
            It was reported yesterday that radical Israelis attacked an IDF patrol in Yizhar Those attackers were being searched for by the security forces. This was the 1st or 2nd item in yesterday’s news program, which was brief because of Simchat Torah.

            But far-leftists living 5000 miles away wouldn’t know any of this. THat is why they bleat about differential responses between ISRAELI rockthrowers and JORDANIAN rockthrowers.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Of course, this is transparently false, the idea that the IDF is really going to put a stop to the Jewish marauders (and which marauding is a highly organized state-wide endeavor not just the exercise of “hilltop youths”). You know it and I know it. No one honest can with a straight face say what Lewis just said about no differential response to Jewish versus Arab rock throwers. Lewis must think we are children.

            Let us tell the army to add Lewis’ corollary equation to that submission to Physics Letters: ‘When Jews attack Jewish soldiers in the West Bank, they are “radical Israelis” but when Jews attack Arab persons living and farming in the West Bank it’s the Israeli army-protected status quo, a non-radical state-wide project.’

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More fake news from the Comrade.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Non-fake news:

            Capitulation to Jewish Settlers Has Enabled Violence Against Soldiers, Defense Officials Say
            Officials in the defense establishment say that Israel’s military policy in the West Bank is often dictated by settlement leaders ‘to benefit the Jewish population’ rather than by security considerations
            Yaniv Kubovich, Haaretz
            Oct 23, 2019 9:47 AM
            Settlement leaders ignore violence by settlers against Palestinians and even policemen, denouncing it only when the people attacked are soldiers, as happened in the settlement of Yitzhar this week, senior defense officials said.The officials added that settler leaders have put heavy pressure on the government, thereby undermining the army’s status in the territories and enabling violence against members of the security services…..

            Rewarding the Israeli Attackers in the Settlements
            It’s a system – violence carried out with the army’s full backing and with the aim of expanding, on a daily basis, the area from which Palestinians are driven out
            Amira Hass, Haaretz
            Oct 22, 2019 2:55 AM
            …The rioters from the West Bank settlements and outposts should be grateful. Their numbers would not have grown, nor would their power have increased had the army, the police and the Israeli Civil Administration in the territories not for decades handled them with kid gloves, helping them take over another plot of land, to assault and drive out one more Palestinian and one more flock of goats from grazing land and to burn one more olive grove.
            You want an example of this kid-gloves treatment? Just as I write this column Monday afternoon, Israeli soldiers are preventing olive harvesters from the Palestinian village of Burin from accessing their grove to harvest olives. I repeat: their land, their olive grove, their trees….

            Violent Jewish Settlers Won’t Be Easily Deterred — Even With Increased Israeli Security Presence
            A series of attacks at Yitzhar settlement prompted condemnations, but the phenomenon isn’t new. Defense establishment recommends opening a police station there, a move that Netanyahu isn’t likely to pass
            Amos Harel, Haaretz
            Oct 23, 2019 7:05 AM
            …for years now, the settlers in Yitzhar have had a complicated relationship with the “hilltop youth” radicals living around them. The public condemnations by some of them of stone throwing or threats against soldiers and the Border Police are coming a bit late – after years of tacit acceptance of attacks on neighboring Palestinian villages…

            The truth is out there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More true facts that Ben has read………………………………in Haaretz.
            Hah ah ha !!!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I invite you to refute the observations of Kubovich, Hass and Harel. That your only response is to chant “Haaretz,” like you are casting a witch’s ritual incantation around a bubbling pot, tells me you can’t do it and you know it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The Comrade sticks to his Leftist Loony Rag !

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The results are in. He can’t do it!

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            ……………………so says a loyal follower of the ever-blinking, radical self-hater, Mr G. Levy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The thing is, Mr. Levy does not blink when confronting injustice and does not turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see. He is, in fact, an exceptionally brave, strong Israeli. (So are the refuseniks, so are the soldiers of Breaking the Silence.) By repeatedly making fun of a neurological symptom, you lower yourself to the extremely low level of Trump, who openly mocked the disability of a disabled reporter who was annoying Trump by reporting the truth. Why are we not surprised at this species similarity you share with the likes of Trump?

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Gideon Levy suffers from a severe case of Ilan Pappe Syndrome.
            ie being the sloppiest journalist of all time.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Eliza

      There really should be something akin to Godwin’s Law for any discussion which raises ‘anti-Semitism’. At least with Godwin’s Law there is the possibility of some rational discussion before the inevitable Hitler analogy, but once ‘anti-Semitism’ is the subject, there is just simply babble from the get-go because there term has been so abused for so long that no-one really knows that it means anymore.

      The author holds that it is anti-Semitic for Scalise to assume that the interests of American Jews and Israel are the same. It might be simplistic, it might even be wrong, but is it anti-Semitic? It is commonplace for the American political elite to routinely express the bonds between the USA and Israel; the shared values and ‘unbreakable bonds’. Basically, Scalise is basically just following this line. If the interests of Americans are the same as that of Israel, and American Jews are a part of the American polity, then how and why is it anti-Semitic to assume that American Jews are any different from other Americans in this regard. As I said, it may be simplistic but hardly anti-Semitic.

      The issue of Israel was raised, even if indirectly, by the questioner when he held out that Trump accusing Jews of dual loyalty was an instance of Trump’s anti-Semitism. But many American Jews, especially establishment Jewish organisations, are intensely loyal to Israel. They are also intensely loyal to the USA. There is nothing unusual about citizens holding dual loyalties and only becomes a problem when the real national interests of the two States diverge. It is unreasonable to demand that we all pretend that there is no dual loyalty because of a historical trope. If its there, its there.

      And then we get the indignation contained in the sentence ‘A non-Jewish member of the Republican Party – the party emboldening white nationalism around the world – lecturing two young Jews on what anti-Semitism is and how to fight it.’ Why can’t a gentile have an opinion on what anti-Semitism is and how to fight it? Again, Scalise may hold repugnant views (and I think he does) but so what. I say this because the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ is routinely used against people who hold views that some Jews don’t like and has lead to reputational damage including the loss of employment. While there can be serious repercussions against gentiles purely because they have accused of ‘anti-Semitism’, then Jews cannot hold the exclusive right to determine what ‘anti-Semitism’ is, or is not. There must be some defence. I’m not sure that I am prepared to allow Jews, and only Jews, to be the judge, jury and executioner on ‘anti-Semitism’.

      Look across to what is currently happening in the UK Labour Party and relentless smear campaign based on ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against Corbyn and Labour members who voice support for Palestinian human rights; essentially they can be suspended or expelled with precious little transparency regarding the process. In fact, it appears that ‘anti-Semitism’ is now the weapon of choice to denigrate a political rival used by the gentile against another gentile on matters which can have nothing to do with either Israel or Jews. That’s how degraded the term has become. Its now the best little hammer that ever could be.

      Yes, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people must end and there must be some restorative justice for their dispossession including those prevented from returning to their homes and ancestral lands. The fight against all discrimination is a worthy one but isn’t it time for acceptance that just as Jews may rail against assumptions that they do not hold divergent views, so might Americans of European descent or the ‘whites’. Why oh why is it necessary to assume the ‘natural allies’ of American Jews are restricted just to other minorities? Aren’t you also assuming members of these minorities do not hold divergent views, and if so, isn’t that just as discriminatory as holding that Jews do?

      The dog-whistling of various Republican politicians is despicable – but then so is the Canary Mission pursuit of Americans who express support for Palestinian rights.

      Reply to Comment
    4. JW500

      I will take Scalise over a supporter of IfNotNow any day. The first supports Israel and by extension the Jewish people. The second supports Muslims who want to kill the Jews of Israel (and frankly the rest of the Jews as well).

      Reply to Comment
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