Opinion | Republican political tactics show the party still doesn’t care about antisemitism


AP Photo | Jose Luis Magana

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the House Chamber after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington.

By Grant Van Robays, Staff Columnist

In a party-line vote earlier this month, the Republican Party voted to remove Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Rep. Omar’s “crime” was her allegedly antisemitic and anti-American views, particularly with regard to Israel and Palestine. 

Ostensibly, this looks like a sign that Republican leadership finally decided to take antisemitism and hate seriously. Rep. Omar’s remarks on the U.S.’ relationship to Israel and the rights of Palestinians have certainly ruffled feathers on a bipartisan basis. The time to crack down on hate is certainly past due amidst the rise of antisemitism in the country over the last half decade or so. 

Unfortunately, looks — and Republicans — are deceiving. 

While charges of antisemitism are serious and demand attention at all levels of government, Rep. Omar’s removal is nothing more than a vindictive act of partisanship. Members of the GOP are merely utilizing the rhetorical power of calling out antisemitism and anti-Americanism to rile up their base, score political points and forestall any actual progress on combating anti-Jewish hate in the U.S.

First, let’s set the record straight. Antisemitism is a perverse belief system premised on centuries-old hostilities towards Jewish people that are rooted in abject falsehoods. Antisemitic beliefs are wholly unjustifiable, just as they were nearly eight decades ago when the world promised that antisemitic hate and brutality on the scale of the Holocaust would never happen again. 

And yet, hate persists. Antisemitism can appear on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Omar’s antisemitism, however, seems different from the antisemitism we see on the political right.

Rep. Omar appears to base her criticism for Israel on the lack of rights for Palestinians and her concern for their wellbeing. She may have a point, as civilian violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Israel has increased in the previous year. She has, however, echoed antisemitic tropes in her critiques of Israel. Rep. Omar has apologized for her mistakes and sought to clarify her comments to focus her concern on the Palestinian people. While this does not excuse her from criticism, it demonstrates responsibility and a willingness to discuss her concerns. On the other side, members of the GOP can’t help but embrace more perverse antisemitic tropes without expressing remorse. This is because they rarely face any accountability for their hate. 

Kevin McCarthy and the GOP do not care about punishing members of Congress who spread antisemitic tropes. They only care about the political points it gives them. For instance, members of the GOP have appropriated Rep. Omar’s removal to support fundraising efforts. McCarthy used Rep. Omar’s removal to boost his candidacy for Speaker, effectively reducing the act of calling out antisemitism to a simple campaign tactic. 

If McCarthy and the GOP really wanted to root out antisemitism, Rep. Gosar and Rep. Greene wouldn’t have committee assignments. Gosar and Greene’s public appearances at the neo-Nazi, white nationalist America First Political Action Conference are well-documented, as is Greene’s history of antisemitic conspiracism.

When Greene was a Congressional candidate in 2018, she theorized that the Rothschilds may have used a space laser to set forest fires in California for business interests. She, along with the illustrious Rep. Boebert, have aligned themselves with QAnon, the delusional conspiracy theory whose believers think Democratic elites and Jews are part of a global cabal of devil-worshiping blood-drinkers. And we can’t forget Greene and Gosar’s adherence to the great replacement theory that presents Jews as orchestrating the replacement of white people through immigration.

The GOP’s dalliances with antisemitism aren’t limited to extremists like Greene and Gosar. Many high profile Republicans and political commentators have mentioned variations of great replacement theory, bringing antisemitic tropes and conspiracies to the mainstream. Throughout the pandemic, Republicans have appeared all too comfortable comparing COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandate to the Holocaust. McCarthy himself repeated antisemitic tropes when he tweeted a suggestion that three Jewish billionaire donors — including the far right’s favorite target George Soros — were trying to buy elections in 2018. 

If the GOP cared about accountability for spreading antisemitic tropes, McCarthy wouldn’t have a job. Yet in reality, McCarthy is the Speaker of the House and has placed Greene and Gosar on committees. His willingness to look past blatant antisemitism in his own party but not the opposition is a slap in the face to those who face antisemitism. McCarthy should feel ashamed of himself for accepting antisemitism in his party, though it’s doubtful he knows what shame feels like after spending five days groveling for the speakership. 

The foregoing may appear like the simple, albeit unfortunate, reality of American politics. In some respects true, this claim obscures the real world impacts of the normalization and politicization of antisemitism.

Mere days after Rep. Omar lost her committee seat, a man walked into a synagogue in San Francisco with a handgun and fired a couple rounds of blanks before fleeing. A week prior, a New Jersey man hurled a Molotov cocktail at the front door of a synagogue. Two Orthodox Jewish boys in Los Angeles were shot with paintball guns on their walk home from a Saturday service. A neo-Nazi couple was just arrested for plotting to destroy the city of Baltimore by attacking its electrical infrastructure. These arrests come barely over a week after the FBI warned of neo-Nazi plots as attacks on power grids in the Pacific Northwest. 

Removing Rep. Omar from a committee may look unconnected to a neo-Nazi plot to destroy a city and incite societal collapse, yet they are each inextricably linked to the political dealings of our government.

Instead of having a meaningful discourse on the U.S.’ relationship to Israel or the rights of Palestinian people, we have one party removing someone from the opposition on the basis of revenge and partisan hackery, not antisemitism. Instead of punishing members of Congress for spreading BS theories on Jewish elites controlling the world or the replacement of the white race, the GOP gives them bigger bullhorns. And instead of cracking down hard on ideological violence like the rising number of neo-Nazi plots on substations and the hateful rhetoric that motivates them, we have publicity stunt hearings on the president’s son’s laptop. These are all political choices government officials make instead of focusing on bigotry and its impact on the American people. 

With the targeted removal of Rep. Omar from a committee, the GOP has turned calling out antisemitism into a political tactic. This minor political victory comes at a cost. As this partisan move normalizes hate and trivializes the centuries of violence and discrimination against Jewish communities, it’s apparent that we are all losers in this act of political warfare. Unless we treat all antisemitism and hate as equal threats regardless of politics, the normalization of bias will further the metastasization of antisemitic and far right violence and threats thereof. 

Grant Van Robays writes primarily about international affairs, social issues and basic human rights. Write to him at [email protected].