The Rise of Anti-Semitism and the 2024 Election

July 9, 2024 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Tags: Anti-SemitismDonald TrumpJoe BidenIsraelIran

The Rise of Anti-Semitism and the 2024 Election

What have Democratic elected officials done to date, other than rhetorical statements, after nearly four years in office with an ever-rising tide of anti-semitism?

The October 7 massacre in Israel, followed by the upsurge in violent anti-semitism in America, must spark a review by American Jews of their political preferences. We cannot continue to do what we were doing before October 7.

“Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans.” The great essayist Milton Himmelfarb coined this aphorism to explain Jewish support for Democrats in the 1968 elections. American Jews have adopted it ever since, flattering themselves as altruists who vote in sympathy with the poor and oppressed against their own economic interests. 

Was the aphorism ever true? I doubt it. Voting for Democrats was in the Jews’ socio-economic interests for many decades. The Democratic Party also served as the more inclusive channel into the American elite.

For most of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party included ethnic and religious minorities, mainly Irish Catholics. It was also the party of organized labor, where Jews were founders and leaders. The Democratic Party promoted Jews into positions of power and prestige, including the first Jewish supreme court justice (Louis Brandeis under Woodrow Wilson), the first Jewish secretary of the treasury (Henry Morgenthau under Franklin Roosevelt), and the first Jewish mayor of New York City (Abraham Beame). Meanwhile, the Republican Hoover and Eisenhower administrations were WASP strongholds.

Most importantly for the American Jewish community, the Democrats were the pro-Israel party for many decades. Truman recognized Israel over the advice of all of his foreign policy advisors. Kennedy was the first to term it “the special relationship” and the first to give Israel a major weapons system (Hawk anti-aircraft missiles). Johnson was the first to give Israel offensive weapons (Patton tanks and Phantom fighter-bombers). Meanwhile, Eisenhower threatened Israel in a nationally televised address over the Suez War in 1957. Ford did so again over the 1975 Sinai disengagement agreement. Nixon, it’s true, approved the critical resupply of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But his anti-semitism became public in the Oval Office tapes, in which he rails against the Jews and calls Kissinger “Jew boy.”

Today, the parties’ positions have reversed both domestically and with regard to Israel. It’s time for American Jews to turn off the auto-pilot and re-examine their electoral choices.   

Anti-semitism was already growing in America, according to data compiled by the Anti-Defamation League, when it exploded in the aftermath of October 7, particularly, but not solely, on college campuses. To effectively combat the forms of anti-semitism that provoke and incite violence, we need law enforcement—arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. 

Fortunately, the Trump administration provided the federal government with an important new tool. In December 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to expand the interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include “discrimination rooted in anti-semitism.” Title VI prohibits racial discrimination—and now anti-semitism—in institutions that receive federal funding, such as universities. Also important, the Trump executive order adopted the definition of anti-semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which shows the overlap between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.

What have Democratic elected officials done to date, other than rhetorical statements, after nearly four years in office with an ever-rising tide of anti-semitism? The Biden administration did continue the Trump executive order (revoking it would not have been politically correct), but the U.S. government’s link between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism was weakened. It published a national anti-semitism plan, a Potemkin affair, without any agency assigned to monitor and enforce its measures or any announced follow-up actions. At the instigation of democratic activist groups, the plan references alternative definitions of anti-semitism that disavow any link with anti-Zionism. Among the non-governmental partners brought into the Biden plan was the outspokenly anti-Zionist Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).   

In the absence of federal actions, private lawsuits against universities for anti-semitism, based on the Trump executive order, are becoming the main enforcement agency. 

While the American Jewish community awaits the Biden administration, the Republican-led House of Representatives has taken action. Two House committees (Education and Workforce and Ways and Means) are investigating anti-semitism and holding widely watched public hearings as their follow-up letters to university presidents make clear that at stake are not just federal grants under Title VI but also federal tax-exempt status for institutions that, because of anti-semitism, no longer meet the public good.

Now, about Israel. It’s true that in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks, President Biden proved his steadfastness as an ally. However, as months went by and the war continued, Biden weakened. The critical transfer of weapons needed in wartime was allowed to revert to the normal State Department channels, where mid-level officials have the discretion (which they exercised) to slow down resupply. Ironically, among the weapons on slow-down were the precision guidance systems (JDAMS) placed on bombs and needed to avoid civilian casualties. The administration publicly put a hold on the 2,000-pound bomb used to open up Hamas tunnels. However, the United States itself used this weapon to good effect in the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) during the siege of Mosul. Biden publicly pressured Israel to commit to a permanent ceasefire, which would leave its terrorist enemy in place.

Israel faces a long, multi-front war against two barbaric organizations (Hamas and Hezbollah) funded and supplied by Iran. By comparison, the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS took several years. It began under Obama but was ended by decisive action in the Trump administration. Likewise, Israel’s war may take many more months. To end it on terms favorable for Israel will require a United States that won’t weaken.     

One chart—Iran’s oil production by year—explains the origin of recent conflicts in the Middle East. Production—and export revenue—went down in 2010–2015 owing to Obama administration pressure in the form of threats of sanctions on those who would buy Iranian oil. However, that pressure went away after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015, and production climbed. Then, during the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Iran’s oil exports again plummeted. When that pressure eased under Biden, Iran’s oil export revenue went back up, allowing it to fund Israel’s enemies.

Robert Silverman, former President of the American Foreign Service Association, is a lecturer at Shalem College and President of the Inter-Jewish Muslim Alliance (IJMA). Follow him on LinkedIn and X @silverrj99.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defined “anti-Zionism as a form of anti-semitism.” This has been corrected on July 10 to reflect the IHRA’s more qualified stance. The National Interest apologizes for this error.