Moses said to the people in his final charge "I put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life...Be strong and resolute..for the Lord will not forsake you" Deut. 30 and 31. Former US National Debate Champion and Ordained Rabbi tackles issues of Public Policy, Israel, Islamic Terrorism, Antisemitism, Jewish Wisdom and the Chicago Bears
Underdog presidential candidates need all the publicity they can get, but the attention directed at Senator Bernie Sanders as a result of his interview yesterday with NPR’s Diane Rehm wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. Sanders was, no doubt, hoping for a little boost for his challenge to Hillary Clinton from an appearance on a Washington, D.C.-based show with a liberal host and audience. But what he got instead was a bizarre question from Rehm about whether he held dual citizenship with Israel. The Vermont senator indignantly denied the preposterous query and said he didn’t know when she then pressed him whether other members of Congress might be Israeli citizens. Rehm later apologized, and much of the discussion about the flap has centered on the radio host’s ignorance and the way myths circulate on the Internet. But the problem here isn’t just one incompetent radio show host who was subsequently subjected to mockery on Twitter. The real concern is the way insidious tropes about the dual loyalty of American Jews are working their way into mainstream conversation as a result of the invective being hurled against the Jewish state and its friends. The problem is anti-Semitism, not Facebook.
In an apology she issued later, Rehm claimed that she got the idea that Sanders was a dual citizen from a comment on Facebook that she incorrectly stated as a fact. She then compounded her fault by saying, “I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.” That is utterly disingenuous since this “rumor” was being ignored by most of the human race until she chose to air it out, something that despite her apology and the opprobrium directed at her will only give it new life.
Yet the issue isn’t just the way some people who should know better believe what they read on the Internet and re-circulate it without checking. I’m sure there are plenty of goofy posts on Facebook that Rehm sees without taking them seriously, let alone using the “information” as fodder for questions to guests. Rather, Rehm’s question is the product of a growing current of anti-Israel invective that seeks not merely to slander the Jewish state and Zionism but to delegitimize its supporters.
The dual loyalty smear was key to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that sought to portray Israel’s supporters as suborning the best interests of the United States to those of its sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Concocting lies about members of the House and the Senate who are Jewish as being Israeli citizens is merely a corollary of this effort to brand any and all Jews as suspect and disloyal to America. Such claims are an insult to generations of Jews who have fought and died for the United States, as well as the proud service of so many others who work in our government as well as the defense and intelligence sectors.
The point of these attacks is to make anyone who has visited or has ties to Israel suspect. Sanders has been to Israel including a youthful stay on a kibbutz. But he never immigrated to the country, which is what would be necessary for an American Jew to gain Israeli citizenship.
While Sanders is not Israel’s most fervent defender in the Senate nor unwilling to criticize it from the left, neither has he sought to disassociate himself from it. And he has spoken up against anti-Israel smears from some of his fellow leftists. To his credit, Sanders immediately shot Rehm down but the problem with such lies, whether from Holocaust deniers or 9/11 truthers is that the facts are irrelevant to their assertions and their willingness to keep promoting them.
It would be one thing for such anti-Semitic slurs to persist on the margins of society or in the fever swamps of the far right and far left, but what is most troubling is that they are now gradually worming their way into the conversation on seemingly respectable venues. The rising tide of anti-Semitism that has swept through Europe is now achieving toeholds on American shores. Supporters of the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement against Israel have taken to conducting inquisitions targeting Jewish students aimed at forcing them to renounce Israel or branding them as unworthy if they refuse to do so.
Such questions were a clear sign that the thin veil between BDSers anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was slipping. Rehm’s comments, even though they were retracted, is another that the tropes of traditional anti-Semitism, whether in terms of Jewish money buying Congress (a libel that has been circulated by none other than the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman as well as scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer) and the noxious notion that Jews can’t be trusted to be loyal to America.
Other people at major media outlets have lost their jobs or been suspended for much less than what Rehm did. But her fate doesn’t particularly interest me. What does scare me is how a liberal talking head found a question about Jewish dual loyalty to Israel be a reasonable idea in the first place. The impulse to target Jews, even those on the left, if they are not willing to attack Israel, illustrates the way anti-Semitism is gaining ground even in the supposedly sane liberal world of NPR.