Why Jewish Repub­li­cans Are Not Go­ing ‘Alt-Right’

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By J.J. Gold­berg

My col­league Peter Beinart has de­scribed the tiff that broke be­tween the Anti-Defama­tion League and Ohio state trea­surer Josh Mandel. The tiff re­volved around an ADL re­search re­port ti­tled “From Alt Right to Alt Lite: Nam­ing the Hate,” which con­cerns the new right-wing hate groups that are gain­ing main­stream in­flu­ence in the Trump era.

Beinart be­lieves that this trend — of Repub­li­can Jews mak­ing com­mon cause with the Alt Right — is go­ing to be­come par for the course in the Trump era. But he’s wrong. Here’s why.


Beinart’s main point is that Jewish Repub­li­cans are about to move to­ward Bre­it­bart-style pol­i­tics and open flir­ta­tion with the Alt Right, but that’s highly un­likely, once you look at who the Jewish Repub­li­cans ac­tu­ally are.

Chas­ing the vot­ers isn’t as ur­gent for Jewish Repub­li­cans as it is for nonJewish Repub­li­cans, be­cause there are so few Jewish Repub­li­cans in elec­toral pol­i­tics. Jewish Repub­li­cans are a size­able, tal­ented and in­flu­en­tial group, but they rarely hold elected of­fice. Their politi­cians pale in num­bers and in­flu­ence be­fore two other sub­groups: donors and pun­dits.

Among non-elected Jewish Repub­li­cans, a mi­nor­ity stands with Trump, no­tably megadonors Shel­don Adel­son and Ron­ald Lauder. The most vis­i­ble sub­group, the neo­con­ser­va­tives, are nearly unan­i­mously anti-Trump.

What can we ex­pect from the Jewish Repub­li­cans whose ca­reers de­pend on vot­ers? There’s no clear an­swer.

Jewish Repub­li­cans hold­ing or seek­ing elected of­fice are too few and too di­verse to char­ac­ter­ize neatly. But if there’s a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor that cap­tures even a plu­ral­ity, it’s “mod­er­ate.” A se­ri­ous lurch to the right is prob­a­bly a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

It wasn’t al­ways thus. In the 1950s and 60s, Jewish se­na­tor Ja­cob Jav­its gave his name to a whole wing of the GOP that didn’t blanch at the term “lib­eral.” In the mid-1980s, four of the eight Jews in the Se­nate were Repub­li­cans. Today, there are no more than a dozen or so Jewish Repub­li­cans na­tion­wide hold­ing state or fed­eral elected of­fice.

Elected Jewish Repub­li­cans are of­ten lon­ers. Fre­quently they’re ec­cen­tric or volatile types who last a term or three be­fore re­turn­ing home. Hard-line Jewish con­ser­va­tives rarely last long, in part be­cause their tar­get voter base tends to be Chris­tians who tend to want to vote for a Chris­tian. Eric Can­tor, the long-serv­ing Vir­ginia con­gress­man, long the sole Capi­tol Hill Jewish Repub­li­can, lost his 2014 pri­mary — while serv­ing as House ma­jor­ity leader — to a pri­mary chal­lenger usu­ally de­scribed as a Tea Party ac­tivist but ac­tu­ally a voice of the Chris­tian Right.


Beinart ar­gues that the ADL was “best known” un­til re­cently for tar­ring Is­rael crit­ics as anti-Semites. But the ADL ac­tu­ally pi­o­neered that equa­tion in 1968, just af­ter the Six-Day War — and dropped it by 1993.

Be­fore 1967, main­stream Is­rael viewed its con­flict with the Arabs as a clash be­tween two peo­ples claim­ing the same land. By turn­ing the con­flict into a case of anti-Jewish big­otry, the ADL added a new moral di­men­sion to counter the grow­ing post-1967 ac­cep­tance of Pales­tinian claims. Paint­ing Is­rael-bash­ing as anti-Semitic had the ad­di­tional ben­e­fit of putting the Is­rael is­sue squarely on the ADL agenda.

The anti-Is­rael-as-anti-Semitic strat­egy started to un­ravel in the 1980s. It wob­bled in the moral fall­out from the 1982 Beirut mas­sacre. It shat­tered amid the widen­ing Likud-La­bor pol­icy rift over ter­ri­tory. By 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo peace ac­cords, the ADL had largely aban­doned that ar­gu­ment. The league even be­gan play­ing a quiet role as me­di­a­tor be­tween main­stream pro-Is­rael lead­er­ship and newly vo­cal Jewish peace groups like Amer­i­cans for Peace Now.

THIS ISN’T A NEW ADL Beinart says at the out­set that the ADLMan­del ex­change “would have been un­think­able two years ago,” since it’s only in “Pres­i­dent Trump’s era” that

“the group’s new na­tional di­rec­tor, Jonathan Green­blatt, has thrown the or­ga­ni­za­tion into the fight against the na­tivism and big­otry ris­ing on the Amer­i­can right.”

Un­think­able? Maybe that was true once, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. In 1964, for ex­am­ple, when Ran­dom House pub­lished “Dan­ger on the Right,” the 300-page ex­posé of na­tivists and big­ots by ADL na­tional di­rec­tor Ben Ep­stein and gen­eral coun­sel Arnold Forster, no Jewish Repub­li­cans de­fended the ex­trem­ists.

In fact, the ADL had been in­fil­trat­ing and ex­pos­ing the ex­treme right non­stop since World War II. Fol­low­ing the tur­bu­lent 1960s it be­gan tar­get­ing groups on the left as well. Many lib­er­als never for­gave it.

But dan­gers on the right have only metas­ta­sized, es­pe­cially since the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion opened its doors to a clown car of ex­trem­ists. ADL re­ports be­came ex­plo­sive stuff, none more so than 1994’s “The Re­li­gious Right: As­sault on Free­dom and Tol­er­ance in Amer­ica.” The 170-page ex­posé sparked a fu­ri­ous coun­ter­at­tack led by Pat Robert­son of the Chris­tian Coali­tion.

The furor rat­tled the Jewish com­mu­nity. Dozens of prom­i­nent Jewish con­ser­va­tives signed news­pa­per ads at­tack­ing the ADL. Young pun­dit Bill Kris­tol, in a 1994 For­ward in­ter­view, called it “short­sighted and self-de­struc­tive for a Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion like the ADL to un­justly and gra­tu­itously alien­ate Chris­tian con­ser­va­tives.”

The bat­tle ended in 1995, when jour­nal­ists no­ticed a 1991 Robert­son book, “The New World Or­der,” in which he painted con­spir­a­cies by shad­owy “Euro­pean bankers” with names like Roth­schild and War­burg. Robert­son was forced to apol­o­gize. The ADL notched a vic­tory. On the other hand, Robert­son is still around, and he’s not even the GOP’s far-right flank any­more. Any­one, lib­eral or con­ser­va­tive, who wants to en­gage po­lit­i­cally with the Jewish com­mu­nity will get nowhere if they don’t learn how the com­mu­nity works. The Jewish com­mu­nity is, among many other things, a quasi-po­lit­i­cal en­tity that plays a rec­og­nized role in broader Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. How it plays that role de­pends largely on who both­ers to learn the rules and show up. These days, con­ser­va­tives are bet­ter at that than lib­er­als, though that’s hardly the whole story. There’s an im­por­tant les­son to be learned in the con­tin­ued rise of elected Jewish Democrats and near-dis­ap­pear­ance of elected Jewish Repub­li­cans that has yet to be ex­plored.

Ei­ther way, who­ever is up or down at any mo­ment, we all have a stake in the sys­tem. We all suf­fer when it’s bro­ken.

Jewish Repub­li­cans hold­ing or seek­ing elected of­fice are too few and too di­verse to char­ac­ter­ize neatly.


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