Analysis

Roseanne Barr Is Convenient Scapegoat for Right-wing Racism and anti-Semitism

Pro-Israel advocates embraced the disgraced Hollywood star despite – or possibly because of – her history of deranged outbursts

Roseanne Barr arriving at a media event in California, April 2014.
AP

Roseanne Barr once called Israel a “Nazi state.” She said the “Jewish soul is being tortured in Israel.” She accused Israel of being “inhuman” toward Hamas. She lambasted “trolls” who objected to her support for a Holocaust denier. And she was photographed dressed up as Adolf Hitler taking “Jews” out of an oven.

You would think that such a history would suffice to keep Jewish advocacy at arm’s length from someone who is so obviously unbalanced. But you would be wrong. Once Barr underwent her “transformation,” “discovered her Jewish identity” and enlisted in the fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, she was embraced as a prodigal daughter returning to the fold. She may have been the same foul-mouthed racist as before, but now she was OUR foul-mouthed racist.

Pro-Israel Jews – and not only those on the loony right – adopted her and adored her.

Barr became the poster girl for StandWithUs, the relatively mainstream, Los Angeles-based anti-BDS lobby that unabashedly proclaimed “We love you” in a 2016 Facebook post.

She was the star guest at a 2016 conference in Tel Aviv hosted by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, in which she actually shared a stage with President Reuven Rivlin. And she headlined this year’s Jerusalem Post conference in New York, where she said – in an interview with one of Israel’s most prominent TV journalists – that she might come to Israel and run for prime minister, for which she received a tumultuous ovation.

Barr’s racist tweets against former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett this week and her anti-Semitic tweet against George Soros proved a rant too far for ABC, which canceled the popular, pro-Trump revival of her iconic 1990s sitcom “Roseanne.”

A screenshot of the offensive tweet that was deleted by Roseanne Barr.
Twitter screengrab

Now that she’s been disgraced, one can expect her former pro-Israel admirers to run for the hills as well. But what is their excuse? They didn’t know she was unhinged? Didn’t they applaud her when she said the University of California at Davis should be “nuked” after student senators voted for divestment from businesses with Israeli ties? Didn’t they praise her when she called Haaretz’s Rogel Alpher a “privileged fat skinhead”? Didn’t they egg her on at every turn when she obscenely attacked leftists, liberals and Trump-haters? Did they miss the part where she called Hillary Clinton, of all people, anti-Semitic?

Of course they didn’t. They loved it. Barr was the pro-Israel right’s Donald Trump, the blunt advocate who says what they feel, no-holds-barred. Barr may have been exaggerating, they reasoned, and she certainly was outspoken, even vulgar. But hey, isn’t it about time all these Israel-haters started to get a taste of their own medicine? Didn’t it feel good to have a “convert” savage the same people who once loved her for hating Israel?

Of course, no self-respecting Jew would dare say of Valerie Jarrett that she was a “baby of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes” – at least not out loud. But anyone who was privy to conversations among right-wing Jews in Israel or the United States throughout Obama’s tenure can attest to the frequent allusions to his birthplace, race, religion and, of course, his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Once a Muslim, always a Muslim,” right-wing provocateur Debbie Schlussel wrote back in 2006. Judy Mozes, wife of Israel’s then-Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, tweeted in 2015, “Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak.” And I well remember how shocked I was when one of the leaders of the New York Jewish community, not necessarily known as a crazy right-winger, talked to me about the “Muslim monkey” and was surprised to see me blanch. “That’s the way [they] speak of him on the East Side,” he said, by way of an apology.

The same is true of the canard about George Soros, then a 12-year-old boy, supposedly being “a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth,” as Barr wrote in a tweet Tuesday and retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., no less. Glenn Beck, then on Fox News, made the same despicable claim in 2010. To this day, it appears regularly in newspaper articles and right-wing blogs and outlets in Israel. Barr didn’t invent this inanity: It is “common knowledge” in the crazy and not-so-crazy right.

It was Donald Trump, after all, who made a name for himself by questioning Obama’s birth certificate and asserting that he must have forged his grades at Harvard. It was one of his appointees, William C. Bradford, who called Obama a “Kenyan creampuff.” It was Trump’s New York co-chair, Carl Paladino, who reportedly said of Michelle Obama: “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” Barr, in comparison, was tame.

Barr was simply adding her own crude colors to racist and anti-Muslim themes that became commonplace in recent years in right-wing discourse in general, and the Jewish right in particular. Countless American-Jewish leaders and Israeli ministers, after all, regularly made allusions to Obama’s anti-Semitism and secret sympathy for Muslims.

Soros, meanwhile, remains one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite whipping boys – another tie that binds him to Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán, who recently based his entire election campaign on anti-Semitic portrayals of Soros that could have been lifted directly from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In 2018, classic anti-Semitism is no barrier to being considered a dear friend of Israel.

Barr simply said the wrong thing at the wrong time and in the wrong way. But her controversial tweets were not some wild, outlandish outbursts, disconnected from time and place. They are grounded in the rabid right’s unbridled hatred, latent and not-so-latent racism, and hostility toward liberals in general and liberal Jews in particular.

Whether they emanate from Jews or not, their attitude is laced with the same kind of unvarnished anti-Semitism that Barr reflected in her Soros tweet.

Most Israeli and Jewish right-wingers, one assumes, weren’t born racists or anti-Semites. But after years of Obama Derangement Syndrome, the sense that the “whole world is against is,” and the legitimization that Trump has given to racist nuts in America and throughout the world, the right has been infected with the virus of craziness.

It would be wishful thinking to assume that Barr being tarred and feathered this week by one and all will spark a bout of soul-searching.

It would be nice to see responsible right-wing, pro-Israel advocates ponder the significance of the wholehearted embrace she was accorded by pro-Israel advocates. But that is not what is going to happen. Instead, Barr will serve as a convenient scapegoat, a handy whipping girl – thrown to the wolves in order to whitewash the sins of a great many others.