The Democratic Party has been moving to the left for more than a decade. And along with that leftward shift, certain ideas and attitudes that used to be considered unacceptable, and even shameful — specifically in terms of the Jewish people — have become more widely asserted.
It goes without saying that anti-Jewish sentiment has had fertile soil at colleges and universities around the country, for decades.
Then came President Barack Obama’s deal with Iran in 2015, which was a watershed moment, but not exclusively because it marked a shift in policy toward Tehran. The political fight on Capitol Hill to get Congress to approve the deal between the Obama White House and its progressive allies who wanted it, versus the more mainstream, bipartisan opposition to the deal as exemplified by American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was the first time the progressive left of the Democratic Party went up against the mainstream left on a formerly bipartisan foreign policy issue, and won.
In 2016, with the election of President Donald Trump this leftward shift has accelerated, bringing with it a shift in attitude toward Jews.
Take the Women’s March, for example. Initially, it looked like a Trump protest movement and an effort to raise awareness of the #MeToo movement and gender inequality. In reality, blaming the Jews for societal ills was an integral part of the founding mothers who got together to organize the first march, as detailed in Tablet Magazine. At subsequent events around the country, Jewish feminists were excluded and even banned from marching with their progressive sisters.
In 2017 and again in March of this year, Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum (D.-Minn.) proposed the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R. 2047). The bill’s stated purpose is to make sure “United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” As Liel Leibovitz pointed out recently, the similarity to the old trope about Jewish blood libel is now coming from the Democratic Party. This legislation, which this year was co-sponsored among others by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, he explained “tracks, in an eerily perfect way, with a long and murderous tradition: Fantasizing that Jews have a special fondness for killing, abducting, maiming or otherwise abusing non-Jewish children, and leading mobs to attack them based on these accusations.”
Beyond the disgusting similarity to this ancient slur, Rep. McCollum’s legislation singles out Israel as opposed to any other country that both receives U.S. foreign aid and has a complicated human rights record. And that exclusivity is exactly the problem. As Alan Dershowitz explained years ago, “by treating Israel as the Jew among nations — singling it out for condemnation when others are far worse by any relevant standard,” one is engaging in anti-Semitism against the whole of the Jewish people.
The 2018 midterm elections resulted not only in a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives and a strong leftward tilt especially among new members, but a more openly anti-Semitic attitude with it. For example, first-time congresswomen such as Reps. Omar and Tlaib have used social media to propagate anti-Semitic tropes to advance their policy goals. They, along with McCollum, are also openly supportive of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, especially in the form of H.R. 496. But aside from the necessary consequence of the stated goals of the BDS movement — that is, the elimination of the state of Israel — it functions as a wedge issue between American Jews and the rest of the political left. Indeed, BDS in America, as Caroline Glick explained recently, is actually “directed primarily against American Jews. Its goal is to silence them as a political force in America.”
At the state level, there have been successful efforts to counter the BDS movement through legislation. To have a pro-BDS resolution proposed from Capitol Hill goes counter to bipartisan efforts to blunt the movement’s efforts. Indeed, before the 2018 midterms, open support for BDS was seen as a fringe rather than centrist or moderate position among Democrats. Apparently, that’s changed.
Reps. Omar and Tlaib, meanwhile, have been busy beyond supporting BDS. Earlier this summer, they refused to join Rep. Steny Hoyer’s Democratic delegation to Israel and instead demanded they go on their own trip to Israel sponsored by an anti-Semitic organization called Miftah. When denied that possibility by the government of Israel, there was a back and forth effort to come to a compromise for Rep. Tlaib to visit her grandmother, which she eventually rejected. In response, Reps. Tlaib and Omar opted to share a disgusting cartoon by an artist with a track record for inflammatory anti-Jewish images, as well as sharing their side of events at a press conference, which included known anti-Semites to bolster their position as victims.
Some Democrats have responded to these various outrages with weak tea denunciations of either the president, the Israeli ambassador, the Israeli prime minister along with their “concerns” for the anti-Jewish rhetoric of their fellow Democrats. Does anyone consider this a successful strategy for convincing progressives that anti-Semitism is going to hurt their policy objectives? Not likely.
What seems to have changed for some Democratic politicians is that rather than hide their true feelings about Jews, as Rep. Omar opted to do in order to get elected, these folks feel emboldened to reveal themselves because almost anything is OK as long as your goal is confronting President Trump. If those who espouse anti-Semitism pay no price for their views, there is little likelihood that such views will recede, and the movement from fringe to mainstream will continue apace. pjc
Abby W. Schachter is a writer and editor and Anat Talmy is a software engineer.