2018-06-06 / Home

Republicans and Democrats grapple with ‘Who is an anti-Semite?’

By RON KAMPEAS JTA

JOHN FITZGERALD… Republican running for a House seat in California. JTA photo courtesy of John Fitzgerald for Congress.JOHN FITZGERALD… Republican running for a House seat in California. JTA photo courtesy of John Fitzgerald for Congress.Two congressional races have been beset in recent days with charges of anti-Semitism, and each case—in California and in Virginia—uncovers challenges for Jews in the Republican and Democratic parties.

For Jewish Democrats, it’s about Israel and the party’s left wing. For Jewish Republicans, it’s about extremists.

In both cases, Jews in the respective parties are grappling with old problems made sharper by recent developments. Democrats for years have had a left wing that tended to see Israel as a problem more than an alliance, but the party’s drift from the country in recent years has brought a once marginal tendency to the fore.

Republicans, similarly, have repudiated fringe candidates who embrace far right and even Nazi identities, but President Donald Trump’s on-again/ off again embrace of the “alt-right” has lent greater urgency to facing down extremist GOP nominees.

John Fitzgerald, in California’s 11th District, is at least the third Republican nominee in a congressional district expected to vote Democratic who has associations with the far right. (Two others are in Illinois. In all three cases, extremists seized the opportunity when the state and national GOP ignored unwinnable races and secured the Republican nomination by default.)

Fitzgerald peddles myths, for instance, that an army of Jews working in government are in fact Israeli citizens. (They are not. A list he links to on his campaign website generously includes a number of non-Jews presumed to be Jewish, among them National Security Adviser John Bolton.)

In Fitzgerald’s case, GOP condemnation was so swift, landing in in-boxes before much of the media knew his anti- Semitism was a thing. In a statement sent to the media, the Republican Party in California said it took steps to remove the endorsement automatically conferred on him when he became the nominee.

“The California Republican Party’s Board of Directors took swift and decisive action to eliminate any support for John Fitzgerald due to anti-Semitic comments he made recently— those views have no home in the Republican Party,” the state party chairman, Jim Brulte, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, there is Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, once solidly Republican, but now a possible pickup for Democrats eager to retake the U.S. House of Representatives with the announcement by incumbent GOP Rep. Tom Garrett that he will not seek re-election.

The Democratic nominee, Leslie Cockburn, is a journalist who perhaps is best known as the mother of LESLIE COCKBURN… Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia. JTA photo courtesy of Leslie Cockburn for Congress. LESLIE COCKBURN… Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia. JTA photo courtesy of Leslie Cockburn for Congress. actor Olivia Wilde (“House”). But 27 years ago she earned notoriety of a different sort when she co-wrote “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship” with her husband, Andrew.

Virginia’s Republican Party seized on the book to cast Cockburn as a “virulent anti- Semite.”

Virginia Jewish Democrats appear to agree that the book is problematic, but not anti- Semitic, as they indicated in interviews with The New York Times after Cockburn attended a salon organized by Charlottesville Jews, and also in a posting on Blue Virginia, a pro-Democratic blog.

At the Charlottesville salon, The Times reported, the consensus was that Cockburn was not anti-Semitic, but that she represented a trend among Democrats unsettling for pro- Israel Jews. 

Return to top