Why Is the Chair of the Democratic Party Accusing Marco Rubio of anti-Semitism?

Because she won't challenge his policies toward Israel.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart
U.S. Representative and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), July 30, 2014.
U.S. Representative and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), July 30, 2014.Credit: Bloomberg
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

If you want to understand what’s wrong with the way the Democratic Party treats Jews and Israel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is a good place to start.

On September 22, a Dallas plutocrat named Harlan Crow held a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio. Crow collects historical artifacts. He owns a helmet worn by Dwight Eisenhower, a silver mug designed by Paul Revere, a copy of the first U.S. census signed by Thomas Jefferson, a cannonball from the Battle of Gettysburg, statues of various deposed communist dictators and lots of other expensive historical stuff. He also owns two paintings by Adolf Hitler, some of the Fuhrer’s tableware and a signed copy of Mein Kampf. Wasserman Schultz pounced. “Today,” she declared, “as the sun is setting for Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement and the most holy day on the Jewish calendar – Senator Marco Rubio will hold a fundraiser in a home that features two paintings by Adolf Hitler, a signed copy of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, and a cabinet full of place settings and linens used by the Nazi leader An event at a home with items like these is appalling at any time of the year. Adding insult to injury, Rubio is holding this event on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar There’s really no excuse for such a gross act of disrespect.”

There’s really no excuse for such a brain-dead slander. No one, including Wasserman Schultz, has offered any evidence that Crow is an anti-Semite. He’s a rich guy who buys historical objects, some of them associated with famous good guys and some with notorious bad guys. And what’s wrong with owning Mein Kampf anyway? If Wasserman Schultz hasn’t read it, she should. It’s a good case study in how individuals, and whole societies, can descend into racist madness.

As for Wasserman Schultz’s suggestion that Rubio compounded the offense by attending the fundraiser on Yom Kippur, it’s absurd. Rubio didn’t do anything anti-Semitic. Thus, the fact that his act of non-anti-Semitism occurred on the 10th of Tishri instead of the 9th is utterly irrelevant.

Why is Wasserman Schultz uttering such idiocies? To fill the void left by what she won’t say. Rubio has declared that as president, he would not be bound by the Iran deal. He’s also said he would not try to create a Palestinian state. He’s called U.S. President Barack Obama’s criticism of Israeli settlement construction “deplorable.” This is hardly surprising given that his most important home-state patron is a man who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the settlement of Ariel.

If Wasserman Schultz wants to convince Jews to vote for Democrats, and not Rubio, she should explain why Rubio’s views are bad for America and Israel. But she hasn’t. In fact, when it comes to Mideast policy, Wasserman Schultz generally hews to the safest, most clichéd, most AIPAC-friendly talking points possible. This June, when the Palestinian Authority sued Israel at the International Criminal Court, she said, “this kind of unilateral action further undermines efforts to reignite direct negotiations” and could lead to the “suspension of all economic aid to the PA.”

But what’s “unilateral” about appealing to the ICC, an international body with 123 member nations? In fact, the only reason the Palestinians joined the ICC was because the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to make them a non-member observer state by a vote of 138 to 9. That’s a lot less unilateral than Israel’s ongoing subsidies for settlement construction in the West Bank. Yet Wasserman Schultz has never suggested suspending aid to Israel in response to that? Nor, as far as I’m aware, has she suggested that anything Israel has done – even putting diplomacy with the Palestinians in the hands of a man who opposes a Palestinian state – might undermine “direct negotiations.”

On Iran, Wasserman Schultz is almost as timid. Last year, she refused to support a House resolution urging Obama to “give diplomacy” with Iran “a chance.” In August, she reportedly blocked the Democratic National Committee from considering a resolution endorsing the Iran deal. In September, she finally came out for the deal — as head of the DNC, it would have been virtually impossible not to — but only once it was clear the agreement would pass.

Some other Jewish Democrats – Senator Diane Feinstein, for instance, and Congressman Sander Levin – argued early, and forcefully, for the agreement. But despite having been chosen as DNC head in part to help Obama woo Jews, Wasserman Schultz almost never forcefully defends his Middle East policies. To the contrary, she generally minimizes her party’s differences with the GOP on Middle East policy while slamming Republicans on domestic issues. And she looks for opportunities to cry anti-Semitism. Politico even reported that when Obama aides considered dumping her as party chair in 2013, Wasserman Schultz threatened to call the White House anti-Semitic.

Rubio is an articulate spokesperson for the view that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves complete freedom of action, backed by American weaponry, money and diplomatic cover, and that the Palestinians don’t deserve basic rights. Democrats deserve spokespeople able, and willing, to explain why he’s wrong. They need spokespeople willing to say that being pro-Israel doesn’t mean being pro-Ariel, and that the party of Lyndon Johnson and John Lewis believes Palestinians deserve civil rights too.

Instead, as party chair the Democrats have Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who thinks that when it comes to Jews, Marco Rubio’s problem is that he raised money at the house of a guy who owns Hitler’s napkins. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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