Melany Rochester
Culture + Religion /16 May 2019
05.16.19

On the Rise of Anti-Semitism and a Congressional Jewish Caucus

It’s no secret that anti-Semitism is on the rise across the globe. For some insight into why this is the case I turned to Munr Kazmir, the Vice President of the American Jewish Congress.

Our conversation, conducted via email and edited only for content, is below.

Jack Rosen, the president of the American Jewish Congress, has called for, in an op-ed for The Hill, a Congressional Jewish Caucus. Can you elaborate some more on the need versus five, ten or fifteen years ago?

Anti-Semitism has always existed here in America, but until recently we believed it to be in decline; now we know that anti-Semitism is something we must constantly fight back against. The events of the past few years have shown us that Jews must be constantly able to advocate for ourselves, and the success other minority groups have had with their own caucuses suggests this would be an effective model for us as well. A Jewish Caucus will be a strong step toward making the most of Jewish representation in Congress.

With almost 700 congressional caucuses, will a Congressional Jewish Caucus have the same impact? There’s a danger that it could get lumped in with the hundreds that deal with specific religious issues.

The simple truth is that none of those 700 caucuses exists solely to represent the Jewish people. Jewish Americans are an integral part of American society and have been for generations, but we also make up only 2% of the population. Many caucuses on Capitol Hill are informal, which is why it’s important that this one is formalized.

Our hope is that America’s leaders will recognize the importance of having a Jewish Caucus – but yes, it is always a risk that the Jewish Caucus will be sidelined. Ultimately it will be up to Jewish Members of Congress to ensure that our community’s voices are sufficiently heard on Capitol Hill.

What do you attribute to the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy?

White Supremacy (and I would consider White Nationalism to be a form of White Supremacy) is and has always been deeply anti-Semitic. In fact, hatred of Jews is one of its core tenants.

This is because White Supremacy is highly reactionary and driven by fear of change. The world is changing a lot, society and politics feel more polarized, and there’s a lot of fear and misinformation out there about things like globalization. And while there are a lot of great things about the internet and social media, they are the perfect vehicle for hateful ideas and misinformation. So when people are scared of the future, white supremacists can play on their worst fears and point their fingers at other groups, including Jews.

White Supremacists have always viewed Jews as their archenemies, the puppet masters of globalization and racial tension. Jews are the ultimate scapegoat. So as white supremacist ideas spread, anti-Semitism is part of the package.

Some on the right have attempted to paint the Democratic Party as anti-Jewish. Aside from some newly elected members of Congress who are inarticulate on social media, do you subscribe to the same argument? It is highly doubtful voters in Minnesota would have elected an anti-Semite in Rep. Omar.

Generalizing an entire party based on the actions or words of a few people can be an easy trap to fall into, but it’s one we must avoid. Many Democrats are staunchly pro-Israel and proponents of the Jewish community, and have backed pieces of anti-BDS legislation, for example.

The Democratic Party is not anti-Jewish. However, Democratic leadership could do a better job of cracking down on anti-Semitism in its party ranks and signaling to Jews that it has their interests at heart.

Has membership of your organization, the American Jewish Congress, grown since the recent spate of vile attacks on members of the Jewish faith?

Our audience has certainly grown, and our voice is carrying farther. The American Jewish Congress has been advocating for the Jewish community for 100 years, but the resurgence in anti-Semitism has renewed the urgency of our mission. It is our responsibility to be more vocal and more engaged so that our work is as effective as it can be.

Some Democrats have broken very openly with the likes of Louis Farrakhan. Why has it taken them so long?

Generally speaking, I don’t think people knew how anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan is until recently, and a lot of people still don’t realize. With anti-Semitism rising so dramatically in America, the media are covering his words more and, thanks to social media, those stories are reaching farther and gaining more traction.

The other factor is that recent events are causing politicians to take anti-Semitism more seriously and realize what a threat Farrakhan’s influence is. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long, but it’s good that it’s happening and I hope all Democrats join together in condemning bigots like Farrakhan.

Facebook just announced that it banned Alex Jones, Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semite, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson. How is social media lagging in confronting peddlers of hate like Louis Farrakhan and others?

I think there are two parts to this. First, at this point, it’s clear that the American far-right has a lot of overlap with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories which touch on both. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are major platforms for the spread of hate, and they’ve finally recognized the hate on the far right. But anti-Semitism and other forms of hate exists on the far-left too, and it’s taking longer for society at large to see that.

Second, all those people Facebook just banned are known conspiracy theorists and really at the fringes of the discussion; they don’t have much legitimacy to begin with, so it’s easier to denounce them completely. In contrast, Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam, a historically significant black organization. In the past, Farrakhan has gotten the benefit of the doubt because on the surface he’s an important community leader. But social media companies and politicians alike need to come to their senses and realize that he has exploited his position to peddle hate. You don’t have to condemn the Nation of Islam to condemn Louis Farrakhan; those are two completely different things.

Broadly speaking have we lost the ability to have a reasonable debate about U.S. support for Israel?

No, not at all. We’ve hit a roadblock, that’s for sure, and returning to a productive and nuanced dialogue about U.S. support for Israel will take hard work, listening, understanding, and respect. We need to keep having these conversations and we need to understand why people are turning away from supporting Israel. The truth is that U.S. support for Israel is important for both countries – for our values, for international security, and for peace. I’m optimistic that the truth will prevail in the end.

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