Rise in anti-Semitic incidents strains Democrats and GOP alike

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who is Jewish, said she thought the rhetoric regarding the most recent conflict contributed to the current increase in anti-Semitic incidents, adding that she was “upset and discouraged” by what’s resulted.

Biden has been “doing everything he can diplomatically,” Rosen said of the shooting war between Israel and Hamas, but the “rise in anti-Semitic violence has to stop. And so we have to be very vigilant to figure out what to do about that moving forward.”

Rosen co-chairs the bipartisan Senate Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism and has been outspoken about attacks motivated by discrimination against Jews. The president and his top deputies have vocally condemned the rise in anti-Semitic violence. And on the GOP side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) are set to introduce a bill this week to address the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Democrats have long underscored that their criticisms for Netanyahu’s government — which some progressives have described as an “apartheid” regime — should not be mistaken for anti-Semitism or even a lack of support for Israel’s sovereignty. They have pointed to recent actions including the possible evictions of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem to support their view that the U.S. should not be funding what they see as human rights violations.

Sophie Ellman-Golan, director of strategic communications for Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, said the ascendancy of the Jewish left was drawing a firmer distinction between alignment with the Israeli government and alignment with the interests of American Jews.

“For a long time, pro-Israel politicians and advocacy groups have spoken about Jews in the diaspora and the state of Israel as if we are one and the same,” she said. “We aren’t, and the increased visibility of the Jewish left is making it harder for people to claim otherwise.”

Some of the most vocal liberal critics of the Israeli government, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have spoken out against the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks while also condemning the actions of the Israeli government. But that willingness of pro-Palestinian progressives to condemn anti-Semitism hasn’t stopped some more moderate Democrats from pushing liberals to do more on behalf of American Jews.

“I’ll say the quiet part out loud; it’s time for ‘progressives’ to start condemning anti-semitism and violent attacks on Jewish people with the same intention and vigor demonstrated in other areas of activism,” Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish, (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter. “The silence has been deafening.”

Meanwhile, the GOP faced its own political headache over discriminatory sentiment after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made comments last week likening mask requirements by House Democratic leaders to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. Greene’s statements were roundly denounced by Republicans including Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Peter Meijer of Michigan, though not by any sitting member of House GOP leadership.

American Jewish advocates said Greene was an outlier and urged lawmakers to keep their focus on concrete actions to combat anti-Semitism.

“It’s just the latest manifestation of her mania, her lunacy. The reality is on the ground in public places, the Jewish community is worried about their own literal physical safety and security — and that’s what we need to keep focused on,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO.

U.S. Jewish groups are calling for steps to stem the violence like increased security at synagogues and actions to curb a rise in white supremacy. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which Biden signed into law last week, included provisions to improve hate crime reporting at the state and local level long sought by civil rights groups, though the lack of uniformity among state-level hate crimes statutes has hampered data collection.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who helped shepherd the legislation through Congress, said “there’s no reason why [anti-Semitic hate crimes] wouldn’t be” covered by her measure — which was inspired by a rise in attacks against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic and amended to include additional anti-hate crime provisions.

Others just want cooler heads to prevail amid the inflammatory rhetoric.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who is Jewish, declined to link the anti-Semitic incidents to the Gaza conflict without talking to experts or learning more about the incidents. Ossoff said he was “deeply pained” by the increase and added: “For too long, there have not been serious efforts made to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions.”

Joel Rubin, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said there was a “broad middle of American Jews” who wanted to see peace in the Middle East but were “incredibly dismayed” by the language that had entered American politics, and “that has to be turned around.”