When Non-Jews Wield Anti-Semitism as Political Shield

Talia Lavin
In recent weeks, some Republicans have raised the specter of anti-Semitism as a convenient distraction from detention camps and racist tropes. And the Jews are tired of it.

There’s a meme I’ve seen go around a thousand times in Jewish spaces online—in Facebook groups, or Twitter exchanges between snarky leftist Jews—a still from a Yiddish lesson series on Youtube, with the phrase “The Jews Are Tired.” It’s an all-purpose response for Gentile fuckery—speaking for Jews, about Jews, around Jews, against Jews, utilizing us without our consent or input. Black background, white letters: The Jews Are Tired.

And after the past few days, in which a fleet of Republicans and the president himself have utilized Jews as human shields for racist rhetoric, the Jews are tired, tired, tired of being used as defenses against naked racism, tired of being used to justify conditions at detention camps. Just plain tired.

This week, Donald Trump banged out a series of twisted tweets demanding that four congresswomen of color “go back” to the countries from which they came, utilizing a classic schoolyard racist trope that still rings in the ears of every nonwhite person in this country. When the backlash came, he raised Jews up like a shield with a Star of David daubed on it in thin, flaking paint to defend him. The four Democrats he targeted, he tweeted later, “hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion” and “have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.” They are, he continued, “Anti-Semitic...Anti-America,” and “anti-Israel, pro Al-Qaeda,” among other salvos, all in the past forty-eight hours.

Other Republicans took their cues from their president. Among them was Steve Daines, senator from Montana, who wrote: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the Jewish population of Montana stands at a scant 1,395. Daines has never made mention on his Twitter account of the anti-Semitic people and events in his home state—including Richard Spencer, whose hometown is Whitefish, Montana, nor Andrew Anglin, who released a troll storm so vile on a Jewish woman living in Whitefish that a court awarded her $14 million in damages this week. Daines declined to tweet out a statement of solidarity after a white nationalist gunned down eleven Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh; Daines was silent after another white nationalist attack on a synagogue in Poway, just outside San Diego, earlier this year. But when an issue was made of the President’s naked racism, Daines rode up with a cargo of Jews—imaginary Jews, silent Jews, the easiest kind of Jews to employ—to defend him. Daines isn’t the only example of right-wing politicians who wish to wield anti-Semitism as a convenient cudgel against their political enemies, with scant if any evidence. But Montana’s vanishingly small Jewish population makes it particularly clear that this strategy has little to do with flesh-and-blood Jews at all.

If it did, why would Israel return again and again to the fore? There are millions of Jews living in this country, who have known no other home than America, many of whom have strong objections to racism–and who vote, in a supermajority, for the Democratic Party. Jews and Israel are not synonymous; nor is support for Palestine synonymous with anti-Semitism; nor is questioning the orthodoxy of the Republican party, which the majority of us do with relish, an insult to Jewry.

It’s not a surprise, though, that the Republican establishment makes public statements about its superglued-to-Netanyahu foreign policy as if it inoculates them against anti-Semitism. Nor is this the first time Trump has conflated American Jews with Israel. At a White House Hanukkah party, Trump told a gathering of American Jews that Israel was “your country.” More strikingly, when blood ran on the streets of Pittsburgh after the pogrom at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, Trump did not meet with community leaders of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, nor the family members of the dead, nor even the city’s mayor. He spoke with Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. The city’s Jews led a massive protest against his visit. The message, though politely veiled, was as stark as his message to congresswomen of color: you may live here, but this is not your country. You are not from here; you are not of this country. If you don’t like it, leave.

Meeting with the ambassador of Israel to offer comfort to American Jews affected by white nationalist violence underscores exactly for whom these comments—about “anti-Semitic,” about “anti-Israel” sentiment—are being made. The strongest supporters of an uncritical, anti-Palestinian foreign policy are white evangelical Christians—the most politically mobilized segment of the president’s base, and his audience for these remarks, and these actions. Their support for Israel is grounded in an apocalyptic vision in which Palestine is “restored” to the Jews—the Palestinians expelled or slaughtered, it makes no matter—and the Jews subsequently convert en masse, disappearing into the flock of the righteous. In this Revelations-tinted vision, Jews are pawns, too, a populace to be maneuvered into the correct conditions for a welcomed end of days, and to vanish, with all our particularities, into the fold of believers in Christ. Erasure is the condition of their allegiance.

More recently, a spate of ultra-Christian would-be spokespeople have demonstrated outrage against congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for daring to use the term “concentration camps” to describe the camps in which thousands of migrants are concentrated in squalor, and have died, on the Southern border. Wyoming representative Liz Cheney and Meghan McCain have volunteered, unasked-for, as blonde Christian Loraxes, prepared at all times to speak for the Jews. In late June, Cheney demanded Ocasio-Cortez apologize for utilizing the term, stating that “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”

But Jews are not trees, not animals, not mute props to use as cudgels in a war of escalating rhetoric. We do not need to be spoken for, we who have been here since before this country was a country, and want to remain, and know no other home; we are not waiting for your apocalypse. As if to prove a counterpoint, on Tuesday, July 15, one thousand “Jews and allies” led by a group called #NeverAgainAction and the immigrant justice group Movimiento Cosecha enacted a protest in Washington, D.C., blockading the entrances and exits to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s headquarters and the approaching street. Their chief slogan defied those who would use Jews’ bloody history to deny present atrocities; those who would utilize Jews as weapons to silence anti-racists; those who want us to wait, meekly, to be cozened by Christ in the end of days. What they chanted, holding hands, were four simple words: “Never Again is Now.”

Talia Lavin is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her first book, Culture Warlords, is forthcoming in 2020 from Hachette Books.

Originally Appeared on GQ