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1. Is antisemitism in politics getting worse?
Former president Donald Trump took to the stage in Pennsylvania last week with a fiery speech, throwing flames at everyone from President Biden (“an enemy of the state”) to the FBI (“vicious monsters”), and even taking issue with the attire of a Democratic Senate candidate (“dirty, dirty, dirty sweatsuit”).
The scary yet fascinating appearance—Trump’s first since his home was raided by authorities in search of illegally removed White House documents—was quite a sight. But it’s also worthwhile to take a look at some of the warmup acts before Trump’s speech.
One of them was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who just a couple of days earlier had tweeted a doctored video of Biden resembling Hitler with swastikas in the background. The tweet was condemned by the ADL as “disgraceful,” by other Jewish groups and even by an Israeli diplomat. Another special Trump guest was Cynthia Hughes, who spoke out in support of her nephew, a convicted January 6 insurrectionist named Tim Cusanelli who is awaiting his sentence. Cusanelli is a Nazi sympathizer, has posed as Adolf Hitler, and reportedly told coworkers that “Hitler should have finished the job.”
Also on stage to receive support from Trump was the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, who had paid the far-right social media platform Gab $5,000 for consulting services. Gab is the platform of choice for white nationalists and antisemites, among them Robert Bowers, who murdered 11 Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue attack in 2018. Mastriano later distanced himself from Gab and from its founder and stated that he rejects any form of antisemitism.
Three troubling connections to one Trump rally.
In late August, the Jewish Democratic Council of America claimed in an article that “right-wing extremism and antisemitism are part and parcel of today’s Republican Party.” The claim was based in part on a recent ADL report analyzing extremism in the 2022 midterm races, which found that of the 119 extremists who ran in the Republican primaries, nearly a quarter won.
2. Is it just a MAGA problem?
There’s no clear Pinocchio test to answer the question: Is there a problem of antisemitism in MAGA circles?
All incidents of antisemitism are abhorrent, but not all are equal. Does Mastriano’s association with Gab put him on the same level as MTG and her Hitler-musing? Does the decision of the Trump-rally organizers to allow Cynthia Hughes to take the podium and praise her insurrectionist nephew make them culpable, even if they didn’t know about his neo-Nazism?
The answer to the broader question posed here is yes: MAGA Republicanism has attracted, in its far, far margins, some far-right extremists, who include a garden variety of neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and plain old antisemites.
But it’s also a dangerous assertion. The claim of antisemitism is so toxic, so irredeemable, that using it against an entire political party, or even against one faction of this party, could eventually prove to be counterproductive.
3. Why now?
Some of the uptick in antisemitic incidents and comments in recent months has to do with the simple fact that this is an election season. Each side is more sensitive, and each side sees advantage in politically weaponizing claims of antisemitism. Democrats have rightly identified a growing issue with extremists finding their way into the MAGA circles of the Republican Party, just as Republicans have successfully pointed to the problem of anti-Israel sentiments, some of them extreme, seeping into the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
But these issues are separate, different and not equivalent. And once election madness dies down, there will be work to do: Republicans, free from midterm electoral constraints, will need to take real action against those in their party who have crossed the line on antisemitism. Democrats, enjoying a temporary relief from the political horse race, would be wise to set aside their broad brush, and refrain from judging an entire political party by actions of the few.
4. Talking points on Iran
A return to the Iran nuclear deal (wonks like to use the official acronym JCPOA) may be just around the corner, or alternatively, further away than ever before. As negotiators in Tehran, Washington and Brussels exchange drafts, responses, final responses and then final-final ones, AIPAC sent out to congressional offices its memo detailing the lobby’s concerns over the Iran deal. Nothing you haven’t heard before, but here are the highlights: The new deal is weaker and covers a shorter time span than the original 2015 JCPOA; the deal will benefit Russia, an ally of Iran (this is a new argument that was introduced following the Russian invasion of Ukraine); there is a need for the International Atomic Energy Agency to complete its probe over Iran’s previous attempts to develop nuclear weapons; and, the memo claims, sanctions relief would provide Iran with some $100 billion a year (AIPAC and Israel’s estimates), which, they argue, will be used to fund terrorism.
Echoes of these concerns can be found in the recent letter sent by 50 U.S. House members, 34 of them Democrats, to the Biden administration expressing their concerns over the looming nuclear deal.
5. Making lists, counting votes
Congressional letters are made up of two parts: the content and the list of signatories. Often, the latter is more important.
Let’s ignore the Republican signatories on the Iran letter—it’s clear that all Republicans will oppose the deal—and focus on the Dems. If 34 Democrats oppose the new deal, that would easily tilt the House balance against rejoining the JCPOA and deliver a bitter defeat to the Biden administration.
But the letter does not contain any mention of voting against the deal, if and when it is presented for congressional review. Lawmakers who signed it stated that they are “deeply concerned” about parts of the deal and stressed the need to share it in full with Congress, but this doesn’t mean 34 House Democrats will vote against it.
Nor is it clear that skeptical Democrats in the Senate, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who just spoke out against the deal during a trip to Israel, will vote “no” at the end of the day. And even if they do, it is unlikely they’d reach the needed majority to overturn the deal.
Ultimately, all sides will be pleased with the outcome if a deal is indeed reached. Biden will be able to overcome any congressional hurdle; hawkish Democrats will be able to speak out against it without risking confrontation with a Democratic president; and Israel and supporters of its Iran policy will be able to hold onto the claim that neither America, nor Congress, was ever united in support of the deal.