Why Jewish Repub­li­cans Are Go­ing ‘Alt-Right’

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Peter Beinart

If you want to un­der­stand Amer­i­can Jewish pol­i­tics in the Don­ald Trump era, pay close at­ten­tion to the skir­mish that took place in July be­tween the Anti-Defama­tion League and Ohio Repub­li­can State Trea­surer and U.S. Se­nate can­di­date Josh Mandel. It’s a fore­taste of things to come.

On July 18, the ADL is­sued a re­port ti­tled “From Alt Right to Alt Lite.” It ar­gued that in ad­di­tion to the “al­tright,” which “overtly” es­pouses “white su­prem­a­cist ide­ol­ogy,” a sec­ond group of com­men­ta­tors and ac­tivists — the “alt-lite” — ped­dles big­otry, too, just more sub­tly. While the “alt-lite” doesn’t speak the lan­guage of white na­tion­al­ism, the ADL ar­gued, it “em­braces misog­yny and xeno­pho­bia.” Among the peo­ple it as­so­ci­ated with the term are two pro-Trump me­dia per­son­al­i­ties and con­spir­acy the­o­rists, Mike Cer­novich and Jack Poso­biec.

Two days later, Mandel — who is Jewish — slammed the re­port. “Sad to see @ADL_Na­tional be­come a par­ti­san witch­hunt group tar­get­ing peo­ple for po­lit­i­cal be­liefs,” he tweeted.

The ex­change would have been un­think­able two years ago. The ADL has long taken a lib­eral line on do­mes­tic is­sues like gay and les­bian rights and im­mi­gra­tion. But be­fore Trump, it was best known for its ten­dency to de­fine harsh crit­i­cism of the Is­raeli govern­ment as anti-Semitic. On that, the ADL and Mandel would gen­er­ally agree.

The ADL’s views on Is­rael haven’t changed much. But in Pres­i­dent Trump’s era, 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. That in­cludes big­otry against Amer­i­can Mus­lims. Last Novem­ber, Green­blatt said that if the govern­ment cre­ated a reg­istry of Amer­i­can Mus­lims, he would sign up him­self.

This fo­cus has put the ADL on a col­li­sion course with am­bi­tious Repub­li­can Jews like Mandel, who rec­og­nize that hos­til­ity to Mus­lims and Is­lam has be­come one of their party’s core be­liefs. A March 2016 poll in Mandel’s home state of Ohio, along with Florida, North Carolina, Mis­souri and Illi­nois, found that two-thirds of Repub­li­can vot­ers backed Trump’s pro­posal to ban Mus­lims who aren’t Amer­i­can cit­i­zens from en­ter­ing the United States. For a Repub­li­can politi­cian today, de­fend­ing Mus­lim rights is a bit like de­fend­ing abor­tion rights. It’s an ex­cel­lent way to alien­ate your po­lit­i­cal base.

So when the ADL at­tacked the “al­t­light,” Mandel saw an op­por­tu­nity to earn street cred with pro-Trump con­ser­va­tives. The two men he “stand[s] with” have both ex­pressed vir­u­lently anti-Mus­lim views. Cer­novich has ac­cused for­mer Hil­lary Clin­ton aide Huma Abe­din of hav­ing ties to ter­ror­ists, a charge that John McCain called “spe­cious,” “de­grad­ing” and “con­trary to ev­ery­thing we hold dear as Ameri- cans.” Poso­biec has con­grat­u­lated the govern­ment of Poland for re­fus­ing to ad­mit a sin­gle Mus­lim refugee. And he has ap­prov­ingly cited Dutch politi­cian Geert Wilders’s call to “close mosques” and “Ban [the] Ko­ran.”

In fact, Mandel of­ten “stands with” with anti-Mus­lim big­ots. Last De­cem­ber he retweeted a tweet that said” “I am so sick and tired of PC id­iots wor­ry­ing about of­fend­ing Is­lam. I stand with Is­rael and my Judeo-Chris­tian cul­ture and I find Is­lam of­fen­sive.” I find Is­lam of­fen­sive. Imag­ine for a mo­ment if an Amer­i­can Mus­lim politi­cian had retweeted a tweet declar­ing “Ju­daism of­fen­sive.”

This past Fe­bru­ary, Mandel retweeted a link from the Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity Pol­icy, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that in 2015 pub­lished a re­port that urged read­ers to “Speak up against the open­ing of more mosques in your neigh­bor­hoods,” “say no” to “a spe­cial Halal food sec­tion in a Min­neapo­lis pub­lic food bank” and “pub­licly crit­i­cize the con­ver­sion of Catholic churches into mosques.” Try that ex­er­cise again. Imag­ine a Mus­lim politi­cian retweet­ing the work of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that urged Amer­i­cans to op­pose the build­ing of syn­a­gogues and the pro­vi­sion of kosher food.

Then, in March, Mandel tweeted, “Ohio Mosque chains kids to walls & beats them for not read­ing Qu­ran. We must pro­tect women & kids from these peo­ple.”

Sounds pretty scary. Ex­cept that the link Mandel in­cluded was over 3 years old, and re­ferred to al­le­ga­tions that Chil­dren Ser­vices in Franklin County, Ohio (where the mosque sits), had been found to be base­less. When asked about the tweet, Mandel’s spokesper­son said, “Whether it was three weeks ago, three months ago or three years, Trea­surer Mandel will be a fierce fighter against the abuse of chil­dren and against the anti-wo­man Sharia law.”

A fierce fighter against the an­ti­woman Sharia law. Sharia is Is­lamic law. Ob­ser­vant Mus­lims use it to guide their re­li­gious prac­tice and to re­solve dis­putes. But, ob­vi­ously, it does not ex­empt them from Amer­i­can laws re­gard­ing the rights of women, or any­thing else. Imag­ine if an Amer­i­can Mus­lim politi­cian — cit­ing the fourth stanza of Birkat HaShachar, in which

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