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Republicans are applauding Marjorie Taylor Greene. It’s time for all Jews to admit this isn’t our party

Jewish conservatives made a lot of excuses for Trump and the rest of the GOP because of a friendly stance toward Israel. But now we've heard about 'Jewish space lasers' and fascist dog-whistles. It should be enough

Noah Berlatsky
New York
Thursday 04 February 2021 16:04 GMT
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Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) departs after a House Republican Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 3, 2021
Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) departs after a House Republican Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 3, 2021 (REUTERS)

Jewish conservatives have long made excuses for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. They have insisted that a party that supports Israel — or more specifically, a party that supports harsh anti-Palestinian policy — has the best interests of Jewish people at heart. That argument is becoming less and less tenable.

It reached its nadir when some Republicans decided not to condemn a prominent member who apparently believes that forest fires are caused by Jewish space lasers. This should be enough. It’s long past time for even the most conservative Jewish people to recognize that the GOP appears to be more and more openly embracing fascism. And a fascist party is, to put it mildly, not a safe place for Jewish people.

The Jewish space laser burble comes, specifically, from newly elected Republican Georgia House member Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene claimed in a November 2018 Facebook post that unprecedented California wildfires were ignited by lasers from space. She believed that these space lasers were controlled by the Rothschild family and other banking firms. 

Conspiracy theories centering round the Rothschilds have been a staple of antisemitism in the United States for more than 170 years. Numerous Jewish groups protested Greene’s statement and called for her to apologize and resign. She has refused. The House Republican Party has backed her up, on the basis that she was not elected when she made the comment. 

Democrats are now demanding Greene be removed from her committee assignments, both because of her previous statements and because she reportedly berated Representative Cori Bush when the latter asked her to wear a mask during a pandemic. Yet House Republicans continue to refuse to censure her. Huffington Post Congressional reporter Matt Fuller believes that 200 Republicans, an overwhelming majority of the caucus, will vote in solidarity with her to protect her committee assignments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said her views were not those of Republicans, but that she would not be censured by the caucus.  She reportedly received a standing ovation from her GOP colleagues in a closed-door session earlier this week.

It isn’t new for Republicans to embrace antisemitism. While he was president, Donald Trump frequently indulged in antisemitic dogwhistles and rhetoric. He tweeted out a picture of Hillary Clinton atop a pile of cash with a Star of David nearby. When he  addressed the Israeli American Council in Hollywood, Florida, he said that Jewish people who didn’t support his administration were being disloyal to Israel. This references the “dual loyalty” slur — the idea that Jewish people aren’t really American, but instead belong to Israel by default. In the same speech, Trump joked that Jewish people were wealthy and so had to support Trump since the Democrats taxed the rich, a crass evocation of stereotypes about Jewish greed.

And if that isn’t enough for you, in 2018 Trump suggested that billionaire Democratic fundraiser George Soros was trying to flood the United States with immigrants. Conspiracy theories around Soros are central to far-right antisemitic rhetoric. 

More mainstream Republicans use that exact same rhetoric as well: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Senator Ted Cruz have all reportedly attacked Soros in conspiratorial terms. Josh Hawley went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to target Soros too. There is virtually no one in the Republican Party who objects to these conspiracy theories. Even after it became clear that the Tree of Life shooter, who murdered 13 in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, was motivated in part by Soros conspiracy theories, Republicans continued to spread them.

When Jewish people hear Republican antisemitism, they tend to back away briskly. Jews voted overwhelmingly for Biden, as they have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidents in the past. 

Still, somewhere around a quarter of Jewish people remain Republicans. Jewish conservatives have up to now insisted that conservative opposition to Palestinian rights makes up for, or erases, blatant Republican declarations of anti-Jewish animus. For conservative Jews, Trump’s decision to move to recognize the Israeli capital in Jerusalem, and his utter abandonment of any pretense of support for Palestinians, made him a hero. 

Trump’s policy in Israel has mainly been driven by evangelical Christians who want to punish Muslims worldwide, and who see protection of Israel as central to apocalyptic end-times narratives. But conservative American Jews have been willing to embrace the results anyway.

Some of those Republican Jews may be having second thoughts. Conservative writer Bethany Mandel, a Trump supporter for the last four years, told the Times of Israel that the capital insurrection had made her think supporting Trump was no longer a “fair trade.” 

Mandel, though, still suggests that the problem with Trump up to January 6th was some “terrible tweets.” It seems, though, the problem with Trump was always fascism — the deliberate targeting and scapegoating of marginalized people in an effort to justify and rally support for authoritarian power. Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border was of a piece with his effort to ban Muslims from entering the United States was of a piece with his administration’s teargassing of peaceful anti-racist protestors. And all of that was of a piece with his vindictive, callous anti-Palestinian policies, and with his repeated, ugly use of antisemitic rhetoric. 

Jewish people were not Trump’s main targets for hatred. But a political movement built on marginalizing and harming those deemed to be outsiders will generally get around to Jewish people in the diaspora eventually. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the Republican Party’s supine response to her, suggests that Republicans may well get to Jewish people sooner rather than later. Conservative Jews who appear to have made the disgusting calculus that they and the Republican Party can happily hate some other marginalized groups together should reconsider on both ethical and pragmatic grounds. Right-wing nationalist bigotry has not been kind to Jewish people in the past. It is not likely to go well for us in the future Republicans envision either.

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