Why Jewish Republicans Are Going ‘Alt-Right’
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