Anti-Semitism: Republicans vs. Democrats

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by Jim Lobe

Contrary to the long-standing neoconservative mantra that the left poses a greater threat to Jews than the right, a national poll released late last week suggests that Democrats are considerably more sensitive to—and worried about—anti-Semitism than Republicans.

The Quinnipiac University survey, conducted March 2-6, found a yawning difference between Republicans and Democrats on whether they considered “prejudice against Jewish people in the United States today … a very serious problem.” Over half of self-identified Democrats (51%) agreed that it was indeed “very serious,” while less than one in five (18%) Republican respondents described it that way.

A total of 87% of Democrats said that they considered the problem either “very” or “somewhat” serious. By contrast, only 53% of Republicans agreed—a 34-point gap.

Overall, 35% of the 1,283 respondents considered such prejudice “very serious,” while an additional 35% described it as “somewhat serious.”

Nearly half of Republican respondents (45%) said anti-Semitism was either “not so serious” a problem (30%) or “not at all” a problem (15%). By contrast, only 8% of Democrats said it was “not so serious,” and a mere 3% said chose the “not at all” option.

The survey, which also found big gaps between Republicans and Democrats over their respective perceptions of whether “the level of hatred and prejudice in the U.S. has increased” since Trump’s election (84% of Democrats but only 42% of Republicans said yes), came in the wake of an unprecedented surge of bomb threats against Jewish schools and community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

The White House’s prolonged silence in response to these crimes has provoked growing unease within U.S. Jewish community. So has the administration’s failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its first Holocaust Remembrance Day statement on January 27 and its appointment of key advisers associated with the so-called alt-right movement. The silence was not broken until Trump referred to the threats and desecrations in his February 28 address to Congress by “condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect compared Trump’s remarks to placing a “Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration.”

Asked about the Trump administration’s response to the threats and vandalism, 71% of Republicans said they approved, while 5% disapproved. Among Democrats, a mere 10% voiced approval, while two-thirds disapproved. Independents were roughly evenly divided, 39-36%.

Connection to Israel

Although one survey can hardly be considered conclusive, the Quinnipiac poll offers an interesting counterpoint to a January Pew poll about partisan attitudes toward Israel. That poll, conducted January 4-9, found that three of every four self-identified Republicans (74%) said that they sympathize more with Israel than Palestinians (11% said more with Palestinians). By contrast, only 33% of Democrat said they were more sympathetic to Israel. That was only two percentage points more than those Democrats who said they sympathized more with Palestinians (31%).

Pew said that the 41-point gap on that question between the two parties was the largest since 1978. In that year, 49% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats sympathized more with Israel, according to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (renamed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs) which posed the same question.

The increase in Republican support for Israel presumably reflects in major part the steadily rightward drift of the GOP. This is turn was driven largely by the greatly increased influence of evangelicals and their mostly Christian Zionist leadership whose theology, as noted (euphemistically) by Irving Kristol in 1984, was pro-Israel but “not exactly pro-Jewish.” The parallel drift to the right by the Jewish majority in Israel no doubt has also contributed to both the growing Republican commitment to the Zionist state, especially under Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the growing disillusionment with it among Democrats.

In recent years, Kristol’s ideological progeny, led by Commentary magazine and other neoconservative outlets (as well as Netanyahu and his government), have tried very hard to link criticism of Israel, which has come mostly from the left, with anti-Semitism. Although some criticism of Israel has indeed been motivated by anti-Semitism, it’s also clear from the Quinnipiac survey that significantly fewer people on the right than people on the left, at least as represented by the poll’s Democratic respondents, see anti-Semitism as a “very serious problem.” Indeed, judging by the poll results, Republicans appear to be relatively complacent about both the rash of incidents and the Trump administration’s response.

The results are also hard to square with the notion that criticism of Israel by people on the left of the political spectrum is often rooted in anti-Semitism. If, after all, so many Democrats see anti-Semitism as a “very serious problem,” their views of Israel are unlikely to be tainted by prejudice against Jews.

Of course, it should be clear to virtually any informed individual—and especially to U.S. Jews—that anti-Semitism on the right (or the alt-right) poses the greater threat by far. What with people ensconced in the White House like former Breitbart CEO Stephen Bannon, who professes admiration for the notorious French anti-Semite and reactionary Charles Maurras, and Sebastian Gorka, who has ignored the Anti-Defamation League’s demand that he renounce his far-right and anti-Semitic Hungarian associations, the alt-right is becoming mainstreamed in the Republican Party.

Attitudes toward Minorities

For now, to be sure, their focus is directed primarily against other minority groups, notably Muslims and Latino immigrants. In that respect, one of the most remarkable findings of the Quinnipiac survey is the enormous partisan gap on the seriousness of the problem of prejudice against minority groups in the United States today. No less than 76% of Democratic respondents said it was “very serious” compared to 16% of Republicans—a staggering 60-point divide. And while 41% of Republican respondents insisted that the problem was either “not so serious” or “not at all” serious,” only a tiny 4% of Democrats agreed with those assessments.

Bret Stephens, one of the few neocons who early on sensed where Republicans were headed, warned just over a year ago:

It would be terrible to think that the left was right about the right all these years. Nativist bigotries must not be allowed to become the animating spirit of the Republican Party. If Donald Trump becomes the candidate, he will not win the presidency, but he will help vindicate the left’s ugly indictment.

Of course, Stephens was wrong about the election outcome, but he was right about Republicans and their trajectory. On the eve of the election, he was more explicit about the threat faced by Jews if Trump and his alt-right entourage emerged victorious. Noting the anti-Semitic dog whistles used by the campaign and its supporters, he wrote, “American Jews shouldn’t have to re-live the 1930s…”

The Republican Jewish Coalition should take heed.

Photo: Protesters in Washington, DC by Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

14 Comments

  1. To offer a further gloss on the extremely important points raised by Jim Lobe:

    It should have been clear to neoconservatives for some time that, generally speaking, progressive criticisms of Israel by Jews and non-Jews alike stem not from antisemitism but from a stance of moral universalism. By contrast, right-wing American support for authoritarian, irredentist government in Israel tends toward the particularistic (e.g. support for an “elect” or privileged people; support for tending overwhelmingly to one’s own interests, etc). The antisemitic dogwhistles we should all be attentive to? “Soros” and “globalism” — both of which are frequently little more than iterations of those antisemitic staples of the fascist 1930s, “international Jewry,” “cosmopolitanism” and “international bankers.” Putin exacerbates these trends: in pursuit of his geopolitical goal to reconstitute the former USSR, he simultaneously harnesses the power of religion and ideology to position himself as the savior of Christian civilization. Time for neoconservatives to wake up. (Neo) Fascism, least of all Christian-inflected neofascism, has never been and never will be an “ism” congenial to the interests and well-being of the Jewish people.

  2. Deborah, excellent comment, but, unless you were being diplomatic, telling neoconservatives to wake up is like telling cats to stop eating birds. That’s who they are.

  3. It is not difficult to be be pro-Israel but “not exactly pro-Jewish” with respect to “Jews” who don’t support the state of Israel and don’t believe Jews have national rights like other ancient people have. When Jews were rootless and had no permanent safe haven, they had no choice but to ingratiate themselves into whichever communities treated them the best. It was in their interest to take a more cosmopolitan perspective because nationalistic views of various countries often led to persecution.

    But the world is different today even though many Jews are stuck in their ways of the past, the morality of the ghetto Jew.

    Globalism is NOT good for Jews when the world is dominated by anti-Semitic interests, particularly from the Muslim world. Jews do not need to support “open borders” which are not in fact supported in Israel. Jews certainly should not support the importation of massive numbers of people from culture and religion that is quite hostile to Jews. It seems insane but would these Jews support making America a safe haven for Nazis and KKK members?

    As for above commenters’ references to “moral universalism,” I’m sorry but support Islamism over Zionism is not conductive to any decent moral system.

    The most ridiculous statement of all by the original poster is “Of course, it should be clear to virtually any informed individual—and especially to U.S. Jews—that anti-Semitism on the right (or the alt-right) poses the greater threat by far.”

    It is 100% clear to me and most other astute observers that Islam and anti-Zionist prejudice is the greatest threat to American Jews. I challenge anyone to demonstrate which groups commit the majority of anti-Semitic acts on college campuses today. I submit it is leftist anti-Semitic groups like SJP. Show me existence of anti-Semitic groups that are recognized and supported on college campuses but are also right wing groups.

  4. Since it is “clear” to you that “anti-Zionist prejudice” is a threat to Jews, please demonstrate that with evidence.

    Plus, what IS anti-Zionist prejudice?

  5. Two afterthoughts regarding Jim Lobe’s comments on antisemitism lest any of us suffer from historical amnesia

    1) it is a fact that the majority of American Jews before the rise of Nazism were not Zionists.
    “During the second half of the 19th century Reform Judaism became the dominant form of the American Judaism and expressions of support for Zionism were in the clear minority.
    In 1898 the synagogue organization of American Reform Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, proclaimed: ‘we are unalterably opposed to political Zionism. The Jews are not a nation but a religious community. Zion was a precious possession of the past the early home of our faith where our prophets uttered their world-subduing thoughts, and our psalmists sang their world-enchanting hymns. As such it is a holy memory but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion.’ Both Harry Friedenwald and Judah Magnes were cultural rather than Political Zionists.” (American Aliyah, by C Waxman). Thus it is ludicrous in the extreme to characterize those who are critical of either the current Israeli government or political Zionism as antisemites or — in the case of Jews — “self-hating Jews.” Einstein was most certainly not a self-hating Jew. On the contrary, he treasured Jewish pride, while condemning Zionist hubris and aggression. Incidentally, had he lived, Einstein would be 138 today and quite possibly persona non grata in today’s Likud-dominated Israel!

    2) A simple look at progressive and alt-reich, I mean “alt-right” and garden-variety rightwing sites attests to the difference between those who tend to be antisemitic and those who are not. In the comment sections of progressive sites there is nary a comment about the “Jew media” or “deporting Jews” etc. By contrast, such antisemitic comments are inescapable in rightwing forums. As for antisemitism abroad, it is not the left in France calling for Jews to leave their kippahs at home, but rather Marine Le Pen and her ilk.

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