The Case for a Congressional Jewish Caucus in the House of Representatives
The fight against anti-Semitism in America must begin at the top.
As anti-Semitism continues to rise rapidly across the U.S. and in Europe, Jewish leaders in America are considering ways to fight back.
A Rise in Anti-Semitism
Over the weekend in Chicago, two arsonists’ plan to torch several Jewish Synagogues was, thankfully, thwarted. Two Hasidic Jewish teenagers were harassed on the streets of New York City as they returned home from prayer services by shouts from a passing car of ‘we love Hitler!’ The teenagers were, thankfully, able to run away and were not harmed.
Two journalists with Al Jazeera were merely suspended for a recent article that denied and downplayed the Holocaust, claiming Jewish ultra-savvy publicists were responsible for drawing so much attention to over 6 million Jews systematically murdered during the terrible march of the Nazis across Europe in the 1940’s.
A sentiment, it should be noted, that merely substitutes ‘wizard publicist cabal’ as a modern variation on the age-old anti-Semitic theme of wealthy Jewish puppeteers, or evil Jewish magicians, or Satanic Jews secretly controlling the whole world.
Not exactly progressive.
The New York Times found itself in particularly hot water weeks ago when it published a now-notorious cartoon depicting the age-old anti-Semitic trope of Jews controlling the world and manipulating gentiles. The cartoon pictured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog with a Star of David on his collar leading a blind U.S. President Donald Trump, shown wearing a yarmulke, on a leash.
Though the immediate backlash from the Jewish community and beyond was so intense it drew a rare editorial apology from the New York Times, many Jewish people in America felt it wasn’t enough.
Notorious hate-monger and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, and several prominent white nationalists, were suspended from Facebook recently. Many American Jews felt like that wasn’t enough, either. The most virulent anti-Semitic, violence-encouraging people and groups remain active on the most popular platforms; they post in a different language than English.
Not that anyone need go that far to find people inciting hatred and openly-advocating violence against Jews; the U.S. has at least a dozen radical Imams that use their tax-exempt Mosques to spread anti-Semitism weekly.
White nationalist groups are also hard at work, spreading hate online and, emboldened in part by the ‘America First’ rhetoric of the Trump administration, moving their demonstrations to the streets encouraging, among other things, violent anti-Semitism.
But even in the wake of two recent synagogue shootings, Jewish students at NYU report that a student group on campus, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is making them feel unsafe at school. They are far from alone. Not even Chelsea Clinton was safe from the founders of the SJP; Clinton was angrily confronted and filmed earlier this year while attending a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand Christchurch Mosque for statements she made defending Jewish people on social media.
Anti-Semitism all but killed the Women’s March movement, as the organization was much too slow responding to attitudes uniquely antagonistic towards Jews displayed by the some of the march founders and their close associates, like the controversial Laura Loomer-esque, Linda Sarsour. Sarsour is yet to be banned from social media platforms.
Political leaders in the U.S. have been especially slow to react to the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S.
President Donald Trump was dismissive about the rising threat of white nationalism after the Mosque shootings in New Zealand, and though he did not call white nationalists ‘very fine people’ in Charlottesville, his administration’s policies on immigrants at the border and the ‘Muslim ban’ in particular have resonated with and empowered the most racist and xenophobic elements of American society.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans have been grappling with a major anti-Semitic albatross and political liability in the form of Rep. Steve King (R-) for far too long. House Republicans did at last manage to relegate King into political oblivion at the beginning of this year, following the groundwork painstakingly laid out by former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan before he resigned his position.
Though Republicans certainly took their time about it, King has at last been stripped of his Congressional committee assignments, rendering him virtually powerless in the House. He has also lost the support of major corporate donors in his district. The RNC has renounced him and announced it will not be supporting King’s bid for reelection in 2020.
Perhaps the final nail in the coffin of King’s career is a Republican primary challenger in his district going fundraising gangbusters; raising over $100,000 in the first week alone and currently sitting on a $260,000 war chest.
On the other hand, House Democrats are also facing an anti-Semitic element in the House of Representatives and seem unsure collectively of what to do about it.
House Democrats recently invited a controversial Imam who often makes anti-Semitic remarks on social media, Omar Suleiman, to give the opening prayer on the House floor. In addition, two freshmen Democratic members in particular are sticking in the craw of American Jews, the majority of whom are Democrats themselves.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have, by turns, expressed sentiments on social media that have been viewed by many Jewish people as anti-Semitic. Many of their statements have also reflected a one-sided, deeply misguided perspective and a profound lack of factual knowledge about the geopolitical situation in the region, especially as it pertains to the decades since Jews were repatriated to Israel in 1948.
After a particularly strong outcry following one of Omar’s more incendiary comments about Jews, Democratic House leadership caved to pressure to water down a House resolution created to condemn anti-Semitism.
While individual members of Democratic leadership, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have openly expressed support for the Jewish community and recently reaffirmed American common cause with Israel, a failure by Democratic leadership as a whole to take a more solid stand against anti-Semitism has left American Jews in a difficult position.
What can be done to halt the steady march of anti-Semitism in the U.S. if the highest legislative authority refuses to expressly condemn it?
Forming a bipartisan Congressional Jewish Caucus is one strategy Jewish leaders in America are hoping will prevail in the battle against the creeping anti-Semitism in the U.S.
Congressional caucuses are formed by House members who share common legislative objectives and form an internal voting body that wields more power than members would on their own.
Congress already has a caucus for everything; the American Jewish community deserves a seat at the table.
Jewish people are a marginalized community worldwide, and a demographic that routinely experiences discrimination and hardship in America. The fact that this discrimination and violent persecution is increasing illustrates better than anything the urgent need for a raised, united Jewish voice in Congress.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)