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Marjorie Taylor Greene: Inside the Republicans' Phony War on Antisemitism

In its race to absolve Marjorie Taylor Greene and divert attention towards Ilhan Omar, the GOP is pushing a totally false comparison which whitewashes the persistent antisemitism within its own party

Joshua Shanes
Joshua Shanes
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U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill.Credit: REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger
Joshua Shanes
Joshua Shanes

Marjorie Taylor Greene did not apologize and did not disavow anything.

She said she had been "allowed to believe things that were not true," that the "media was just as guilty as QAnon," and that Democrats in Congress wanted "to condemn me and crucify me in the public square."

Greene has spread deranged conspiracy theories (that still feed death threats against parents who lost children in Sandy Hook), has called for violence against her colleagues (including liking a post calling for a bullet in Nancy Pelosi’s head and posting an image of herself pointing a gun at three other members of Congress), endorsed sedition leading up to the January 6 coup, and has spread persistent and repeated antisemitic and Islamophobic statements.

The entire Republican delegation in the House of Representatives (minus 11 members) voted against any consequences for her. Let bygones be bygones. Don’t let the Democrats launch a witch-hunt against Republicans. After all, in the spirit of compromise, and on the floor of the House, Greene did actually admit that 9/11 happened.

For anyone with a memory span reaching back as far two whole years, this is truly jarring. Was there this spirit of forgive and forget for infinitely less incendiary comments about Israel by Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?

Yet in their race to whitewash Greene, Republicans have constantly suggested an analogy between the two cases. In fact, several GOP representatives considered tabling an amendment for censure – but swapping out Greene’s name for that of Omar.

What should we understand from the GOP’s kid-glove handling of Greene?

1. The party of "personal responsibility" is once again blaming others for their own choices.

Greene, her Republican colleagues and her entire media ecosystem blames "the media" and Democrats for their own deranged beliefs, words and actions. When Greene stated she was “allowed to believe things that weren’t true": what does that passive voice even mean?

It’s in the exact same spirit as their expert revisionist Nikki Haley, who commented in regard to Trump’s instigation of the January 6 uprising: "Give the man a break." Personal responsibility is for others, the poor and people of color.

2. The Republicans are far deeper into Trumpism than ever before.

The antisemitism has grown more front and center as QAnon grows increasingly mainstream. Just two years ago, Representative Steve King was stripped of his committee assignments for statements – as racist and antisemitic as they were – that fell far short of Greene’s, and lacked her persistent (and often individualized) calls for violence.

3. Even worse is the Republican “both sides” spin, and its eager adoption by too many Jewish pundits and organizations.

It’s not just the usual suspects backing this false equivalence. It’s hardly surprising that an extremist group that calls itself the "Coalition for Jewish Values" – a group so extreme that when GOP Rep Mary Miller quoted Hitler at the January 6 insurrection it called defending her a "moral imperative."

Mainstream rabbis, Jewish organizations and everyday Jews have piled on too. Some want to defend their continued support for the Republican Party, others want to exploit the moment to repeat their inexhaustible hatred for Representatives Omar, Tlaib and even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar react as they discuss travel restrictions to Palestine and Israel during a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Building, August 19, 2019. Credit: \ STRINGER/ REUTERS

This is an utterly false and exceedingly dangerous comparison.

Yes, Representatives Omar and Tlaib have unnuanced views of Israel/Palestine, and yes, they cross the line occasionally conflating Israeli and Jew and should be called out when they do.

They were raised and live in the universe of Palestinian hasbara parallel to the universe of Israeli/Zionist hasbara in which I and most of my friends were raised. They only learned one narrative, one that emphasizes Palestinian suffering and de-emphasizes Palestinian culpability. This is not an excuse, but it is an explanation, and it puts their comments and potential for growth and allyship in a very different place.

Indeed, I (and almost every Jew I know) was raised with a similarly one-sided view that hid Israeli crimes and misdemeanors (ongoing and getting worse by the day), lied about history, pretended that the Zionist narrative was the only true narrative, denied Palestinian nationhood existed (the flip side is often called antisemitic), and engaged in low-level and often not so low-level anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.

Frankly, most of the people I read calling out Omar and Tlaib still live in that world. The hate-mongering Zionist Organization of America, for example, remains a member in good standing of the Conference of Presidents.

Often the accusations of "antisemitism" against Omar and Tlaib are actually just against statements of Palestinian advocacy, statements preferring the Palestinian narrative to the Jewish one (when the reverse is considered acceptable), or complaints about factual U.S. administration bias in favor of Israel.

A cyclist riding next to a billboard supporting President Donald Trump, ahead of the U.S presidential election, in Tel Aviv, October 21, 2020. Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

And yet, even though their statements are nothing like the deranged antisemitic and other conspiracies of Greene, even though they never call for violence against anyone and quite definitely not to execute their own colleagues, they are still called out, and by their own party. And they apologize. Greene, in contrast, was given a standing ovation by her party. All are relatively new, junior faces in the House. Omar and Tlaib are marginal figures. Greene is a rallying point.

This notion of parallelism, that Omar equals Greene, or even that Omar cancels out Greene, disgusts and enrages me, and I do not use those words lightly. It is perverse to compare calling Israel’s policies racist – however fair or unfair you find the accusation – to the antisemitic, racist, and above all violent incitement of Greene and QAnon.

This is how the Republicans are trying to win twice: to avoid admitting to moderate audiences what they have become, while whispering loudly to their base that this is exactly what they are, and that they stand by their woman.

This "both sides" argument, incidentally, is part of the problem of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which blurs the distinction between "unfair" criticism of Israel and actual, deadly antisemitism. They are very different.

The "Coalition for Jewish Values" notably cited the IHRA definition in arguing explicitly that calling Israel racist is the same as saying – as Greene has done – that there is an international Zionist/Soros/Rothschild conspiracy to destroy America and the world which must be confronted.

Jewish space lasers may make for funny memes, but Greene is deepening the lies and conspiratorial thinking that actually get Jews killed, while stoking the violence to pull the trigger. There is nothing like that on the Left.

Meanwhile, perhaps there’s a reason that House Minority Leader McCarthy, as well as other GOP figures, is circling the wagons around Greene. In 2018, he published his own election ad accusing a Soros-Bloomberg-Steyer Jewish conspiracy of trying to buy the election.

That was only one of tens of GOP candidates who used the Soros conspiracy line against their Democratic opponents. In the recent Georgia runoffs, Jon Ossoff faced a GOP opponent who, Nazi eugenics-style, ran ads deliberately elongating his nose.

U.S. Senator David Perdue's ad depicting Jon Ossoff seemingly with a larger noseCredit: Jon Ossoff

And let’s not forget Trump who, on top of five years of hate-mongering racism, explicitly called Jews disloyal; who suggested on multiple occasions that they were not fully American; who brought the 'globalists' trope into everyday use; who fueled conspiracy theories left, right and center, including the 'Soros immigrant caravan' theory taken up by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter; who praised QAnon and called Greene a "rising star" of the GOP; and who capped his presidency by inciting a violent coup with a video that, as Jason Stanley shows, promoted Nazi notions of Jewish globalists destroying America.

A cutout of U.S. President Donald Trump is pictured as supporters take part in a protest against the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election in Atlanta, Georgia, November 21, 2020. Credit: CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRY/REUTER

No apologies have come from any of them. Just protection, and redirection towards Tlaib, Omar and even AOC, who has faced lies and attacks in response to her testimony about January 6th, when she feared for her life.

I strongly recommend you watch how Rep Steny Hoyer described the violent threat posed to his colleagues, members of Congress, by Greene.

"[L]ook at this image and tell me what message you think it sends," he said in the House, with pain in his voice, holding a Greene tweet enlarged to poster size, showing her armed with an assault rifle pointed at Omar, Tlaib and AOC.

"You removed [Steve King] from all of his committees. But [on Greene] you did nothing...you gave [her] a standing ovation." He mentioned Greene’s support for the call to put a bullet in Speaker Pelosi’s head. "Did any of you hear Steve King say anything like that?"

He called on his GOP colleagues to "reclaim their party from the dangerous cancer of QAnon, and violent conspiracy theories that promote and have demonstrably resulted in sedition and insurrection."

And, most saliently, Hoyer noted: "Republicans have yet to offer a clear and unambiguous declaration that political violence is unacceptable and has no place in their ranks."

Think about the antisemitism and the political violence Greene has embraced, both against specific individuals and broad categories of Americans.

Then ask yourself if you can really make the case that both sides are the same.

Joshua Shanes is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston and Director of its Arnold Center for Israel Studies

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