Five Things to Know This Week: With New Bill, Anti-Semitism Remains a Partisan Issue
1. Whose anti-Semitism is it anyway?
Last week, Republican Lee Zeldin introduced House Resolution 72. Its title, “Rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world,” should have promised a wide bipartisan group of co-sponsors rushing to sign on. But, so far, the list of co-sponsors is exclusively Republican. Why? Because the battle against anti-Semitism has taken on an unfortunate political tinge. As seen in every twist and turn in recent years, including in reactions to the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, each side of the political divide seems to have adopted its own version of anti-Semitism to fight: the right is battling a strain of anti-Israel criticism which questions the right of the Jewish people to their national homeland, while the left focuses on the revival of Nazi-style anti-Semitism that clings to centuries-old stereotype to vilify Jews and justify violence against the community.
Zeldin’s bill fails to avoid this pitfall. In fact, it underscores the political divide on an issue that used to achieve a consensus. The resolution lists 18 anti-Israel and anti-Semitic instances worthy of congressional condemnation. The first five are dedicated to chastising Louis Farrakhan for his repeated anti-Semitic comments, criticizing Democrats who had met with him and condemning leaders of the Women’s March who embraced him. Then comes a list of another eight instances of anti-Israel and pro-BDS expressions, with a focus on two Democratic lawmakers who endorsed them. Further down the list, there is a single mention of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and of the Pittsburgh attack.
In a statement, Zeldin urged Speaker Pelosi to schedule a vote on the resolution, which, he added, “should be passed at least on a nearly unanimous, bipartisan basis.” But what are the chances of that happening? Democrats, despite their rejection of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and their denunciation of BDS, will find it hard to rally behind a bill designed to target their own members. An opportunity to unite behind anti-Semitism, at a time when hatred against Jews in America is surging, is about to be squandered.
2. …and it’s the same in Israel
The weekly Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, held Sunday as the world observed the international day of Holocaust remembrance, echoed exactly the same kind of debate about anti-Semitism. Early that day, the Israeli ministry of diaspora affairs released its annual report on anti-Semitism, which found 2018 to be the deadliest year since 1994 and noted that most of the violent attacks against Jews worldwide were led by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking shortly after, sought to downplay the role of right wing extremism, while stressing the danger posed by left-wing and Muslim anti-Israel sentiments in Europe. “Anti-Semitism from the right is not a new phenomenon there. What is new in Europe is the combination of Islamic anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the extreme left, which includes anti-Zionism, such as has recently occurred in Great Britain and in Ireland,” he said. “What a disgrace.”
This is not an isolated event. The Israeli government has consistently focused on left-wing anti-Semitism, whether from liberal politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn in Britain or from extremists delegitimizing Israel, as well as on acts of violence against Jews perpetrated by Muslims in France and other Western European countries. At the same time, Israel has chosen to embrace European right-wing leaders accused of harboring anti-Semitic views and has shielded Trump from claims that he has been hospitable to white nationalists.
3. How did everyone miss ACTA?
By now, anyone following U.S.-Palestinian relations, or what is left of them, understands that something went terribly wrong with a well-intentioned piece of legislation known as ACTA—the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act—which was signed into law last year. In short, it allows American victims of terrorism to file civil lawsuits in federal courts against any country or organization that receives aid from the United States. In other words, if you get American taxpayer assistance, you’ll be under the jurisdiction of American law, at least for terror-related civil lawsuits. But as the February 1 implementation date approaches, it has become clear that the law would inadvertently deliver a blow to key American and Israeli interests. Palestinians, fearing they will face hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, announced they will no longer take any U.S. assistance—including that directed at security cooperation programs with Israel. These programs, funded and directed by the U.S., have won praise from Israeli politicians and security officials and their demise would sever one of the most effective channels of preventing terrorism.
This can explain the frenzied legislative work going on this week in an attempt to correct ACTA and carve out an exemption for Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation. Israel wants to fix it, and so do the Trump administration and the Palestinians
The question to ponder is this: Who dropped the ball on ACTA? Was Israel too excited about the prospect of taking Palestinians to court that it did not notice the damage the law could cause? Was AIPAC unaware of its adverse impact? Did liberal groups neglect to look into it? Or perhaps was it a result of the fact that Palestinians no longer have a permanent representative in Washington who could have alert activists that ACTA would put an end to security cooperation? Either way, this lapse now seems have succeeded in uniting all sides to find a last-minute fix.
4. Golan Heights watch:
The congressional drive to recognize Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights is no longer a Republican-only priority. Jewish Insider reported that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, supports a congressional move to accept the 1981 Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, which Israel has held since the 1967 war against Syria. “Israel should maintain control of the Golan Heights,” said a spokesperson for Hoyer. Other backers of the move on the Democratic side include Eliot Engel, who recently assumed the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
Recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights emerged only recently as a political issue, following the civil war in Syria and an Israeli-American consensus that a potential peace deal with Syria, which would include return of the territory, is off the table. Israel had requested U.S. recognition shortly after Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and it was raised in the previous Senate by Republicans Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.
5. First Jewish president watch:
Starbucks’ former CEO Howard Schultz is in the race, probably. Schultz told 60 Minutes he is definitely considering a run—as an Independent. “I am Jewish, I have faith in God. I’m not running as a Jew, if I decide to run for president. I’m running as an American who happens to be Jewish,” he said. Other Members of the tribe contemplating a run include Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg and Eric Garcetti.