The right thinks it gets to decide who is Jewish
And they've become increasingly open about it this election cycle.
By Noah Berlatsky
Right-wingers feel increasingly comfortable stating publicly that some Jewish people aren’t, in fact, Jewish at all.
Jenna Ellis, senior legal advisor for Doug Mastriano’s gubernatorial campaign in Pennsylvania, sneered that his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro “is at best a secular Jew in the same way Joe Biden is a secular Catholic.” Mark Finchem, GOP nominee for Secretary of State in Arizona, insisted on Twitter he “loved the Jews” while arguing that George Soros — a Jewish billionaire and Democratic donor often targeted by antisemitic conspiracy theories — was not Jewish because he was a “Marxist.” (Jewish Marxists exist. They aren’t generally billionaires though.)
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Antisemitism has been more taboo on the right than other forms of bigotry. US national identity and national virtue is often based in contemporary discourse on our victory in World War II over the rabidly antisemitic Nazi Germany. In addition, white evangelical Christians, the Republican base, identify strongly with the Israeli state, both because it plays a role in end-time prophesies and because the Islamophobic right sees it as an ally against Muslim people.
As the GOP has become less apologetically fascist in the Trump years, though, guardrails against antisemitism on the right have come down. What remains is increasingly just lip service — and even the lip service is antisemitic.
“Bad Jews largely vote Democrat”
Specifically, conservatives frame Jewish people as inauthentic and sinister unless they are validated by, and subordinate themselves to, the christofascist project. Jewish people, in themselves, are fake, rootless, disloyal. Only when Jews are bathed in the blood of Christ — or stomped on by the foot of Christ — do they become provisionally respectable.
Joel Swanson at Haaretz chronicles an extensive list of examples of conservatives deciding that certain people don’t count as Jews, and therefore are fair game for antisemitic hate. Ben Shapiro, a orthodox Jew who has dedicated his career to advancing christofascism, has helped justify this rhetoric in the modern GOP. For example, in a 2011 tweet he claimed, “The Jewish people has always been plagued by Bad Jews, who undermine it from within. In America, those Bad Jews largely vote Democrat.”
More recently, in 2019, Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and Trumpist ghoul, attacked George Soros for being an evil Jewish puppet master, manipulating events in Ukraine. Soros conspiracy theories were directly behind the antisemitic massacre at Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh. But Giuliani insisted he wasn’t antisemitic because Soros wasn’t really Jewish. “I’m more of a Jew than Soros is,” he burbled. “He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DAs in the United States. He’s a horrible human being."
But as in other forms of bigotry, it’s Donald Trump who has led the way in antisemitism. He’s argued often that American Jews who do not vote for him are disloyal, both to him personally and to Israel. In a post on his own Truth Social network this month, he said that “no president” had done as much for Israel as he had, but that Christian evangelicals are “more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.” He concluded threateningly that American Jews had better “get their act together … before it is too late.”
Trump, Giuliani, and other christofascists frame Jewish identity around Israel. That’s because their own base supports Israel. But it’s also because, in the logic of ethno-nationalist fascism, people without a state are severed from their authentic selves.
Trumpers think Jews are fine as long as they know their place
Historically, Jewish people have often been considered untrustworthy, disloyal, and inauthentic. After World War II, Joseph Stalin encapsulated this disdain for the Jewish diaspora when he referred to Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans.” For Stalin, as for Hitler before him, Jewish people were ethnically cut off from the soil. They weren’t real people, but a kind of dislocated parody of humanity. In this view, only Jewish people in Israel have found their true soil and their true selves.
By that metric, Rudy Giuliani, or Christians blowing the shofar at Mastriano rallies, are the true, authentic Jews, because, as Christian nationalists, they define authenticity. Christians are real; Jews are fake. Therefore, for christofascists, Christians embody and are the arbiters of real Judaism. If Jewish people want to be real, they must show loyalty to Christians, since Jesus is the only source of authenticity.
In short, Jewish people are fine as long as we know our place. When Jewish people support christofascism, and christofascist Zionism, then they are welcomed and praised and the christofascists magnanimously talk about “Judeo-Christian values.” When Jewish people object to christofascist forced birth laws, or christofascist immigration restrictions — well, then Jewish people deserve to be targeted with antisemitism, including the antisemitic idea that they are not real Jews.
This move — where antisemites decide they get to be the final word on who is a Jew — might be called the bigotry of authentication. And it’s not just aimed at Jews. On the contrary, bigotry of authentication is present in most contemporary discourses of hate.
The bigotry of authentication may be most obvious in transphobia. Transphobes generally claim that trans people are not really their gender, and are therefore not really trans. This is how transphobes are able to say they are not bigots. The object of their hate doesn’t even exist, so how can they be said to hate anyone?
It comes up elsewhere. Women who aren’t conservative or christofascists are accused of being “unwomanly.” And white people have also often taken it upon themselves to decide when Black leaders aren’t “Black.” Fox far right host Laura Ingraham claimed in 2011 that Herman Cain would be the first Black president because he didn’t have a “white mother” like Barack Obama. In 2014, white Americans in polls also said Obama wasn’t Black, but mixed race.
As with christofascist denial of Jewish identity, the claim that Obama wasn’t Black was a (racist) rhetorical move to deny that much white hatred of him was based in racism. The bigotry of authentication gives people the right to hate by erasing those who are hated. It’s also, though, a smug exercise of privilege. Categorizing others gives you dominion over them. Christofascists revel in being the unitary authority on everything — even, or most especially, on identities which are not theirs. The power to hate Jews is nothing compared to the power to blot Jewish identity out of existence.
When christofascists say that Jewish people like Josh Shapiro, or George Soros, or me, aren’t Jews, they’re telling us they have the right to decide which Jews exist. And historically, Jewish people, and others, have real reason to worry about regimes that confer to themselves the right to rule on whether Jewish people exist, or whether they do not.
Aaron’s clip room
Covid finally got me
This obviously has nothing to do with news clips, but I’d remiss if I didn’t tell Public Notice readers that after 2.5 years of somehow avoiding it, I’ve come down with a case of Covid. I probably caught it sometime during my trip to DC last weekend (I masked while traveling but not so much while out and about) and subsequently spread it to my brother, though thankfully no other family members have tested positive so far.
As I write this on Thursday evening I’m currently on my third night of quarantining in a local hotel. It’s hard being away from my wife and kiddos, but I’m fully vaccinated and seem to have a mild case so far. Hopefully I will be out of here and back home by Sunday or Monday, but we’ll see how I’m feeling deeper into the weekend.
As you might imagine, I’ve had a lot of time to watch cable news in between coughs and sniffles these last three nights. Here are a couple few clips that have caught my attention during quarantine (and I do have a bit of brain fog, so please go easy on me).
Tucker Carlson radicalizes his viewers
Even as polls show that Republicans are likely to win the House and are only very slight underdogs in the Senate, Tucker Carlson is priming his viewers to preemptively reject the result of elections Democrats might win.