Perhaps it was inevitable that an American argument about immigration policy would eventually lead to a discussion of "Anglo-Saxons," but not many outside of the far right were prepared for having Israel’s opposition to a Palestinian "right of return" to also become part of it.
But while neither the people who were overthrown by the Normans in 1066 nor the Jewish state have much to do with an increasingly bitter argument about what to do about a growing crisis on America’s southern border, both have somehow been injected into it courtesy of two of the most controversial figures in American politics.
The shout out to Anglo-Saxons was the work of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who managed to push herself into the latest controversy involving what liberals say is more proof of white nationalists taking over the Republican Party.
The office of the congresswoman from QAnon produced a document about the formation of a congressional "America First Caucus" that would promote "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions." But only a few other outliers in the GOP expressed interest.
At that point she dismissed it, and said she hadn’t read it through. That's despite - having been stripped of her committee assignments over some of her past extremist statements - she has more free time on her hands than other members of the House.
The episode provided more fodder for those who believe that a Republican Party that is still dominated by former President Donald Trump is embracing racism and white supremacy. But Taylor Greene’s abortive initiative was a mere sideshow to the main event involving a far more important figure on the right: Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson has lately been highlighting the ongoing crisis at America’s southern border as the resources of the government have proved inadequate in dealing with a surge of illegal immigration that began shortly after President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump last November.
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In March, it reached a 15-year high as 171,000 people were taken into custody for entering the country illegally. As Republicans like Carlson haven’t hesitated to point out, now it is a Democratic administration and not Trump, that is putting "kids in cages," with large numbers of unaccompanied children (18,000 in March) who can neither be returned to Mexico nor released on their own being kept in adequate facilities, to which the press has been denied access.
For conservatives, this is a dilemma entirely of Biden’s making since the influx of migrants is directly linked to the president’s overturning of Trump’s border policies and the Democrats’ plans to overhaul the system in order to loosen up restrictions and to offer amnesty and a path to citizenship for those already in the United States without permission.
While the number of 11 million illegal immigrants has been cited by government officials for years, a 2018 Yale University study widely quoted by conservatives asserts that the true total is far higher, ranging anywhere from 22 to almost 30 million, if for no other reason that there are no reliable statistics on a population that does its best to stay in the shadows.
Republicans fervently oppose amnesty from a practical point of view since it was tried in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan and just encouraged more illegal immigration. But the possibility that this legislation will create millions of new voters, widely believed to be likely supporters of the Democrats, was also bound to arouse GOP opposition.
And it is that possibility that caused Carlson to say that the whole point of Democratic immigration policy was a power grab in which these new immigrants would essentially "replace" Republican voters and by electorally overwhelming them, disenfranchise the existing population of the United States.
Demography isn’t necessarily destiny. It can be argued that an influx of Central American migrants helped transform California from a red state in the 1980s to its current status as a deep blue one. But it’s also true that it’s clear that the longer Hispanics are in the country, the less likely they are to be reliable Democratic voters. The fact that Trump did better among Hispanic voters in 2016 even better in 2020 than previous GOP candidates shows that assumptions about voting patterns remaining static are often mistaken.
But the mere mention of the word "replacement" by Carlson was incendiary. It conjured up memories of the August 2017 torchlit march in Charlottesville, Va, where neo-Nazis chanted "Jews will not replace us." So it was unsurprising that the Anti-Defamation League would jump on that quote and demand that Carlson either resign or be fired on Fox for spreading white supremacist propaganda.
But not only did Fox refuse to comply, Carlson was ready with an answer. As he pointed out, the notion of demography transforming American politics is something liberals and Democrats have been boasting about for years.
Articles and studies published in recent years from The Atlantic, the liberal Brookings Institution, the pro-immigration Niskanen Center as well as the Pew Research Institute all centered on idea that a rising tide of immigrants were changing the demographics of the United States and tipping the political balance of power to the Democrats.
These themes were echoed repeatedly by left-wing pundits and Democratic politicians who find it hard to contain their triumphalism when discussing demography.
Indeed, in 2018, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg actually published a column under the headline, "We Can Replace Them," in which she argued that Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was leading a tide of newly registered minority and immigrant voters to transform Georgia from a red state to a purple or blue one.
But Carlson also analogized his statement to those, including the ADL, who have defended Israel’s right to remain a Jewish state, with respect to opposing a so-called Palestinian "right of return." Carlson cited Israel’s refusal to be voted out of existence as an example of "a country that doesn’t hate itself."
That had to make supporters of Israel cringe, especially since Carlson is not known for being a fan of the Jewish state.
But the analogy doesn’t work.
The United States is a nation whose existence is rooted in universal values. Like most other nations on the planet, Israel is an expression of particularism. Its purpose is to reconstitute and defend Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland of the Jews, and not to be the last and best hope of all mankind.
The tension between America’s universalism and Israel’s particularism has made many liberal Jews uncomfortable supporting an avowedly Jewish state.
By bringing Israel into the argument, Carlson raised suspicions that he was echoing white supremacists who sometimes speak of "open borders for Israel," in which they fantasize about the Jewish state’s destruction while claiming that it should get the same medicine that liberal Jews are prescribing for the United States.
Is this enough to cause Jewish Republicans to rethink their political allegiances lest they find themselves in bed with white supremacist antisemites? Not likely.
In the context of a bifurcated American political universe, no conservative is listening to an ADL that has dropped its former non-partisan stance in favor of becoming, to its critics, a Democratic Party auxiliary seeking to demonize Carlson and other Republicans because of their opposition to intersectional racial politics that they believe threatens Jews.
Jewish conservatives may be wary of Carlson, whose views on Israel make him an outlier on the right. But they agree with him about illegal immigration and the border.
They’re also not buying the claim that appropriation of the liberal meme about immigrants turning the country blue is evidence that the GOP is becoming a white supremacist enclave. They’re far more likely to believe it’s a ploy to divert attention from the humanitarian and law enforcement crisis that the Biden administration has created.
The notion that support for immigrants, legal or illegal, is a consensus Jewish issue also went out the window years ago. That’s both because there are virtually no more Jewish immigrants entering the country (HIAS, the community’s immigrant aid agency no longer serves Jewish clients and is now just one more liberal advocacy group) and because conservatives believe the push to normalize illegal immigration is a threat to the rule of law.
It’s also true that, irrespective of what marginal extremists may believe, many have come to the same conclusion as Carlson has, that the point of amnesty is political, not sympathy for the Biblically-inflected "stranger."
In an era of unprecedented partisanship, Jewish Democrats and Republicans no longer share common ground, even on issues where they once might have agreed. They may not trust Carlson, but Trump’s pro-Israel policies helps them feel at home in the party he still dominates.
No one should expect that Jewish conservatives are about to ditch the GOP because of anything Carlson says, especially when they likely agree with him on substance.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a columnist for Newsweek. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin