Taking on our own side
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The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

By Dan Schnur

Too many American Jews wallow in selective outrage

(Jewish Journal via JNS) The nation’s attention has been riveted as of late on Palm Beach, Florida, where FBI agents recently searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for confidential government documents that the former president may have taken with him when he left the White House on his last day in office. A little-noticed footnote to the political drama is the perfunctory role played by federal magistrate judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the bureau’s request for a warrant to search the resort premises. Although Reinhart’s decision was simply a bureaucratic step to allow the investigation to proceed, the judge has been the target of hateful invective and death threats from the former president’s most fanatical supporters since issuing his ruling.

The fact that Reinhart happens to be Jewish is a footnote to the footnote, except to a group of particularly repugnant individuals who have used the judge’s decision as an opportunity to spread their noxious brand of antisemitism. Right-wing message boards and other social media platforms have been rife with slurs against Reinhart’s religious faith, his family and his synagogue. As a result, both the Anti-Defamation League and local law enforcement are monitoring the threats, and the temple where he is a board member has been forced to hire additional security and cancel an outdoor service.

Reinhart has been predictably criticized by many Republicans as a partisan agent. But there is a difference between typical knee-jerk political gamesmanship on one hand and threats of violence and outright bigotry on the other. No notable conservative figure has crossed this line, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has called for the arrest of anyone threatening violence against Reinhart. But at the time this article was written, no significant Republican figure had publicly condemned the antisemitic ugliness targeted toward the judge that has been emanating from the far-right fringes of online media.

One of the recurring themes in this column has been the dual challenges that American Jews face from both extreme ends of the political spectrum. Because the debate over Israel within the Democratic Party has become so heated in recent years, and because disagreements over Middle East policy have become an increasingly important aspect of many party primaries, I have spent more time writing about the threat to Israel — and the accompanying danger to American Jews — from the left than from the right. But I have consistently made the effort to note that these hatreds come from both ends of the political spectrum and that the antisemitic menace from ultra-conservatives is equally pernicious as that from equally radicalized progressives.

The blood-and-soil invective against Judge Reinhart now serves as a necessary reminder that no political party has a monopoly on irrational bigotry. Virulent antisemitism is an ongoing feature of the hard-core nationalism that has infected the most distasteful elements of conservative reactionary-ism, just as irrational anti-Zionism from the far left regularly oozes into equally intolerant antisemitism from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. 

Meanwhile, too many American Jews continue to wallow in the type of selective outrage that allows us to see those repulsive sentiments only when they come from the other side of the aisle.

It’s easy for a loyal Democrat to denounce the blood-and-soil antisemitism on the far right. It’s just as painless for a loyal Republican to push back against the river-to-the-sea polemics of the extreme left. The challenge is for Jews of all ideological stripes to stand up to the intolerance inside of their own party — even when the haters agree with them on abortion or immigration or climate change policy.

Many credible pro-Israel organizations have demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to the base of their own parties. But only when many more Jews — on both the left and right — develop the same courage and are willing to confront the bigots within their own ranks will our enemies begin to retreat. But minimizing or rationalizing the behavior of antisemites because they vote for the same candidates as we do only guarantees that these indefensible sentiments will continue to flourish.

Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall. This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.

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