The GOP Is Pandering to Both Jews and anti-Semites

When it comes to Jews, Republicans are trying to have it both ways, as witnessed at the RNC this week.

Screenshot of anti-Semitic epithets posted as Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle addresses the RNC on  July 18, 2016.
YouTube screenshot

Whoever said the Republican Party is not inclusive must have been lying. The Grand Old Party is making a bold attempt to bring together both Jews and Jew-haters under one roof.

Just this week, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, we saw former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle doing her best to reel in Jewish voters. In her speech, Lingle went on about the Republican Party’s loyalty to Israel and the Jewish people. She mentioned Iran, BDS and the “legitimacy of Israel” as issues where Republicans are far more than pro-Israel than Democrats.

Democrats, she said, are “divided” on the issue of Israel, before reassuring the audience and people watching at home: “You’ll find no such division in the Republican Party’s leadership.”

As she was saying those words, something else was happening: The live chat feature on the convention’s YouTube livestream was getting bombarded with anti-Semitic comments such as “Press H for Hitler” and “Ban Jews” – not to mention comments referring to Lingle (who is Jewish) as a “kike.”

Eventually, it got so bad that the RNC was forced to shut the live chat feature down. The GOP issued no official rebuke and other convention speakers and attendees didn’t volunteer to mention it. It was as if the whole thing never happened. Except that it did.

In a way, this odd display of a party both pandering and tolerating hatred by its constituency was the perfect encapsulation of one aspect of the GOP’s current uncomfortable position on the Jewish issue: On the one hand, they are talking up their support of Israel, hoping to steal some traditionally Democratic Jewish voters from Hillary Clinton (and gain some goodwill with pro-Israel evangelical voters); on the other, they are turning a blind eye to the rabid white supremacist element within the party that has reared its ugly head ever since Donald Trump started surging in the polls. One could call it anti-Semitism.

So, what else is new, right? In the past few days alone, the Republican Congressman Steve King (Iowa) questioned the “contribution” of nonwhite “subgroups of people” to civilization on live TV. Soap star Antonio Sabàto Jr., a prime-time RNC speaker, said President Obama is “absolutely” a Muslim. A prayer by a Muslim RNC speaker was marred by calls like “No Islam!”

And that’s even before we get to the party platform that was approved by party delegates and includes – along with Trumpian favorites like the wall – harsh language against gay people, transgender people and women who wish to have abortions.

Bigotry, in other words, is not in short supply within the GOP these days – so why should Jews be any different? The difference, of course, lies in the fact that Republicans are not cosying up to nonwhites, Muslims or women, and definitely not transgender voters. But it does very much pander to pro-Israel Jews.

Its platform on Israel calls for an “undivided” Jerusalem; rejects the Iran deal; calls for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem; forsakes the two-state solution; opposes “any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms”; refers to the BDS movement as “anti-Semitic in nature”; and, best of all, includes exactly one mention of the word “Palestinian” – and even that is related to U.S. funding for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A supporter of Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump wraps the face of a protester from the activist group Code Pink in a U.S. flag during the convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016.
Mike Segar/Reuters

The GOP platform is ridiculously pro-Israel even by Republican standards. (According to CNN, at least some of that is due to the lobbying efforts of the pro-Israel group called Iron Dome Alliance.) It is certainly a far cry from Trump’s initial promise to be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians. Or in the words of Daniel Larison in The American Conservative: The platform is “a symbolic repudiation of the consensus view on how to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and it reflects the extent to which the GOP as a whole has become an overt backer of the most hard-line Israeli policies.”

Consider this: there are only two countries called “exceptional” in the GOP platform. One is America. The other? Israel.

Whether it’s “the most pro-Israel platform of all time” (to quote Trump), or Trump going on and on about his daughter’s “beautiful Jewish baby,” sucking up to the pro-Israel electorate seems to be a crucial part of both the Republican and Democrat strategy in this election. In the case of the GOP, though, it’s particularly jarring given how eerily silent it has been when it comes to the anti-Semitism of some of its, er, more “vocal” supporters.

A full account of the anti-Semitic and borderline anti-Semitic incidents in recent months involving Trump and Trump supporters would necessitate thousands of words at this point, so here is a short recap: There was Trump’s initial reluctance to disavow former KKK leader David Duke. There was the Trump-supporting pastor who called Bernie Sanders to convert to Christianity during a Trump rally. There was the onslaught of racist online abuse directed at Jewish reporters who covered Trump critically by overzealous Trump supporters (who acted of their own volition). And, of course, there was the Star of David on top of a pile of money that was meant to symbolize Hillary Clinton’s “corruption” – originally a white supremacist meme that was retweeted by Trump.

All of these (and so much more) have been accepted with a strange, yet stubborn, silence from the Republican nominee, his surrogates and the GOP, which Trump’s neo-Nazi fans have reportedly interpreted as an endorsement. As well they should: Trump is most likely not an anti-Semite (though he did allegedly once say that “the only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day”), and neither are most Republicans. But when faced with this sort of vile racism, anything short of absolute condemnation should be considered a tacit acceptance.

Strangely enough, just when it is firing on all cylinders trying to appeal to Jewish voters, the Republican Party has also become a place where anti-Semites feel most comfortable, leading to bizarre displays of simultaneous pandering and hatred (“panderhating,” if you will), like the Linda Lingle speech.

The GOP’s attempt to have it both ways – appealing to Jews, while not alienating its white supremacist base – is dubious at best. But it is also not entirely surprising for a party as chaotic and internally fraught as the GOP is these days.

The irony here is that its pro-Israel approach may not prove effective with the mostly Democratic Jewish voters, but might work with the many bigots who may not like Jews very much as an ethnic group but support Israel nonetheless.

As a tight presidential race inches closer and Florida becomes ever more crucial, it is unlikely that Republicans will cease pandering to Jewish voters. But hopefully, they’ll do a better job of it in the future.