House Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are declining to condemn and punish antisemitism within their own party, preferring instead to argue that Democrats have the prejudice problem.
This comes amid the rise and mainstreaming of antisemitic rhetoric in the United States in recent months, including by major entertainers and top athletes, not to mention a sharp uptick in the last year of assaults on American Jews. Hate speech, threats and violence against American Jews are at their highest documented level in decades.
The issue came into focus in the last week after former President Donald Trump welcomed to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida for dinner the well-known white power leader and antisemite Nicholas Fuentes, an organizer and speaker at many “Stop the Steal” protests after the 2020 presidential election.
“Anyone who engages in antisemitic tropes or makes antisemitic remarks should face the consequences of his or her actions. It’s not enough to just call out someone on the other side of the aisle when it meets your political aims,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “Frankly, what we need to see more of, is leaders of both parties standing up to antisemitism within their own ranks.”
Some Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky denounced Trump’s dinner with Fuentes while others, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, offered milder criticism.
“I don’t think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes. He has no place in this Republican Party,” said McCarthy to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday. He went on to defend Trump, claiming the former president was ignorant of Fuentes’ well-known racist and antisemitic views when he had him over for dinner.
At the same breaking-bread affair, Trump also hosted the hip-hop superstar Kanye West, who now goes by Ye and drew national scorn in recent weeks for verbal attacks on Jews on social media.
“I condemn his [Fuentes’] ideology. It has no place in society at all,” said McCarthy, who is struggling to lock down the votes he needs from his caucus to become the next House speaker in January. Like other Republicans, McCarthy has stopped short of directly saying Trump has supported antisemitism with his actions.
In part to boost support for his candidacy with the conservative House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy has promised if he becomes speaker he will hold a House floor vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a freshman lawmaker in 2019, Omar was roundly criticized for comments that elevated common antisemitic tropes about dual loyalty and Jewish influence over American politics.
Notably, however, House Democratic leaders led the criticism of Omar and she apologized. Though there have been other moments of tension in the ensuing years between Omar and the House’s Jewish Democrats over her criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, she hasn’t repeated the antisemitic tropes she made in early 2019.
The expected next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said he would likely support Omar’s removal from the panel.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee has always been very pro-Israel, pro-Jewish, and I don’t think she’s a perfect fit,” the Texas Republican said on Tuesday.
Omar in a statement rebuked McCarthy and House Republican leaders.
“Whether it is Marjorie Taylor Greene holding a gun next to my head in campaign ads or Donald Trump threatening to ‘send me back’ to my country … this constant stream of hate has led to hundreds of death threats and credible plots against me and my family,” she said of Taylor Greene.
“Instead of doing anything to address the open hostility towards religious minorities in his party, McCarthy is now lifting up people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Emmer and so many others,” Omar said. “If he cared about addressing the rise in hate, he would apologize and make sure others in his party apologized.”
In contrast to Omar, some House Republicans haven’t apologized, repeating antisemitic conspiracy theories and amplifying Holocaust deniers — including in the last year.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has defended Fuentes and spoken at events organized by Fuentes’ America First Political Action Conference, which the Anti-Defamation League describes as a white supremacist gathering.
Taylor Greene also spoke at one of Fuentes’ conferences in February. And she has made remarks trivializing the Holocaust and endorsed and elevated multiple conspiracy theories based on antisemitic or Islamophobic tropes. For those and other actions supporting political violence, Taylor Greene had her committee assignments taken away in 2021 by a House vote, which drew the support of11 Republicans.
McCaul denied having any awareness of Taylor Greene’s and Gosar’s connections to Fuentes and denounced white supremacy.
‘Keeping that promise’
McCarthy indicated he sees removing Omar from the panel as fair play for the treatment Taylor Greene and Gosar received from House Democrats, implicitly putting Omar’s use of antisemitic tropes on the same level with his Republican colleagues’ friendly associations with and defense of some of the country’s leading white supremacist figures.
“Last year, I promised that when I became Speaker, I would remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee based on her repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks. I’m keeping that promise,” McCarthy said in a Nov. 19 Twitter post.
Gosar was also removed from his committee assignments a little over a year ago as punishment for circulating an animated video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Though he reportedly privately reprimanded Gosar for publicizing the video, McCarthy didn’t support taking away his committee assignments, nor did the rest of the GOP House caucus save for two members.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., hasn’t faced any meaningful consequences from House Republicans for her anti-Muslim remarks about Omar.
Additionally, members of the House GOP leadership team, including McCarthy himself, have obliquely referenced the antisemitic trope about Jews exercising an inordinate amount of influence in politics. In 2018 as House majority leader, McCarthy posted a tweet that said George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, who are all Jewish, were trying to “buy” the upcoming midterm elections.
Although McCarthy deleted the tweet, he denied it was antisemitic, contending it was merely poorly timed because of the bombs that had recently been mailed to two of the men.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who earlier this month won a contested caucus election for the position of majority whip in the next Congress, made a similar reference in a letter he sent as National Republican Congressional Committee chairman that accused Bloomberg, Soros and Steyer of having “bought” control of Congress for Democrats.
Despite denials from Emmer and McCarthy, their reference to the influence of the three well-known Jewish billionaires is an antisemitic dog whistle, experts who study antisemitism said.
“One of the most popular unfortunately antisemitic tropes is the idea that Jews are pulling the strings,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
“People aren’t expected to know everything about antisemitism, but when something gets called out the right response is, ‘Thank you for letting me know. I didn’t know that. I won’t do that again.’ We have not seen that from McCarthy and others. We have just seen deflecting and rejecting,” she added.
And Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 3 House Republican, this year ran a series of Facebook ads through her campaign committee that accused Democrats of supporting citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in order to “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority.”
Hate and violence
That phrasing echoes the “great replacement theory,” a far-right idea that is itself rooted in antisemitic tropes.
“When you look at white nationalist online chatter, it’s very much all about this supposed Jewish plot. We saw it in the person who murdered Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh,” said Jacobs, referring to the 2018 antisemitic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life synagogue that killed 11 people. “His rationale was that Jews were bringing in refugees to destroy America.”
Antisemitism has been rising among both the far right and the far left, although experts said it is the far right that is statistically more likely to commit violent acts against Jews.
Last year, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and condemns antisemitism, documented 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the United States, a 34 percent increase over the prior year and the highest number recorded since the organization began its monitoring work in 1979. That figure included 88 incidents of violent assault, a 167 percent increase from 2020.
In New York City last month, police arrested two young men, one of whom said he ran a white supremacist Twitter group and had been posting threats to imminently shoot up a synagogue. According to news reports, the duo appeared to have recently been gathering weapons and ammunition for the thwarted terrorist attack.
Democrats and progressives are still divided over how to calibrate criticism from their side of the aisle about the Israeli government’s human rights abuses of the Palestinians without crossing the line into antisemitic tropes.
“To fight antisemitism, you really need people from across the political spectrum. If you look at the violence against Jews in the last three or four years, it mostly comes from the extreme right. But if you know anything about antisemitism you know that it could someday come from other parts of society,” said Ira Forman, a former special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism in the Obama administration. “Democrats should be calling out Democrats and liberals and Republicans ought to be calling out conservatives.”