1. What (almost) everyone agrees on: Marjorie Taylor Greene is dangerous
By now, there is no need to introduce Georgia Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. The QAnon believer and member of the 2021 freshman class is all over the news. Details from her past actions and social media comments pop up daily, illustrating her unusual set of beliefs, which include conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, school shooting denial, and more.
The egregiousness of Greene’s behavior, and the fact that her social media comments emerged just as the nation was reeling from the January 6 insurrection attempt, created a rare alignment: Democrats and Republicans (well, some Republicans) joined in the condemnation, made an effort to distance themselves from her beliefs, and seemed to agree about the need to deliver a stronger message by imposing punitive measures.
It almost worked.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped from her House committee assignments, in a move backed by all House Democrats and 11 Republicans. At the Senate, Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell warned of Greene’s “loony lies,” though he did not mention her by name. On the other hand, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy led the opposition to her removal from committees, accusing Democrats of turning the issue into a political debate.
2. In a fractured GOP, where do Jewish supporters stand?
Political analysts can’t have enough of the identity crisis engulfing the Republican Party. In endless talk and commentary, they speculate where the GOP will end up: Will it be McConnell and Liz Cheney’s party, or the party of Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene?
Events of recent weeks indicate that–if forced to choose–Jewish Republicans will go with the former, with a party more in the lines of the Bush-era GOP (or that of the Reagan golden-era,) rather than support a permanent shift toward post-Trump Trumpian populism.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is a case in point.
The Republican Jewish Coalition didn’t wait for mainstream GOP members to speak out against Greene. The group issued a strong statement condemning the Georgia congresswoman, noting how it opposed Greene from the very beginning and chose to back her primary rival. “We did so because we found Greene’s past behavior deeply offensive,” RJC stated. “We opposed her as a candidate, and we oppose her now.”
Christians United for Israel, a massive pro-Israel evangelical organization, also took a bold stand and sided with the 11 Republicans who voted for Greene’s removal from the House committees.
Both the RJC and Christians United for Israel had received significant funding from the late GOP mega-donor, Sheldon Adelson.
Does this mean Jewish Republicans have chosen their horse in this race to shape the GOP’s future?
Although it’s clear that most Jewish Republican voters and donors felt some discomfort with Trump—especially when it came to the former president’s attempts to undermine the electoral and judiciary systems—they are not yet willing to shut the door on his followers. Those Trump supporters may lead the party in four years and follow Trump’s policy on Israel, his main selling point for Jewish voters.
3. Is there an equivalent on the Democratic side?
For a moment, there was a sense that the Jewish political world was united—as if Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jewish space laser somehow bonded together Jewish Democrats, Republicans and non-partisan activists. All seemed to be joining forces in need to remove Greene, and the strand of conspiratorial anti-Semitism she represents, from American public life.
But it was a fleeting moment of unity.
What started with a broad agreement on the danger posed by a Republican lawmaker quickly devolved into the usual discourse of mudslinging, false equivalences, and a whole lot of whataboutism.
First came David Harris, head of the non-partisan American Jewish Committee, who tweeted: “A right-wing Member of Congress accused Jews of starting wildfires via space lasers. A left-wing Member of Congress accused Jews of dual loyalty. They may actually have more in common than they realize! Another reminder of the potential dangers of extremism—both right & left.”
A right-wing Member of Congress accused Jews of starting wildfires via space lasers.
A left-wing Member of Congress accused Jews of dual loyalty.
They may actually have more in common than they realize!
Another reminder of the potential dangers of extremism—both right & left.
— David Harris (@DavidHarrisAJC) January 31, 2021
Harris’s tweet, in which he equated Greene’s anti-Semitic comments on social media with Democratic representative Ilhan Omar’s insinuation of dual loyalty regarding pro-Israeli Jewish Americans, raised the ire of Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. In a Forward op-ed, Soifer took issue with what she described as “egregious parallels.”
“The fact that two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum have both been accused of antisemitism does not make their offenses equal,” she writes, noting that Omar apologized for her offensive tweets.
Further communal infighting broke out after the vote to remove MTG from committees when Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, tweeted: “Let’s see if you take that same position when we take the majority in 2022 and strip Ilhan Omar of her committee assignments. We’ll check back with ya.”
Let’s see if you take that same position when we take the majority in 2022 and strip Ilhan Omar of her committee assignments. We’ll check back with ya. https://t.co/nm3akuqTui
— Matt Brooks (@mbrooksrjc) February 5, 2021
4. Does equivalency matter?
There’s nothing wrong with drawing comparisons for political reasons. Admitting wrongdoing in your own camp while pointing to similar problems on your rival’s side is par for the course in political discourse. It works both ways: Just in this past year, any time Bernie Sanders talked about conditioning aid to Israel, mainstream Democrats responded: We disagree with him, and while we’re on the issue, what about racist comments from people in the Trump camp?
That’s how politics works.
But for those trying to figure out the facts and their context, these political comparisons are useless.
Here’s a suggestion for a (hopefully) more useful comparison between Greene and Omar:
- Rehashing anti-Semitic stereotypes: Both did it. MTG’s Rothchild space laser burning through California’s forests and Omar’s “push for allegiance to another country” comment fit the bill. They reflect on dangerous (and baseless) accusations used against Jews: that they are rich and use their money in nefarious ways to control the world, or that they are loyal to the Jewish state of Israel, instead of to their own country–the United States.
- Apologizing and retracting: Both congresswomen had a chance to correct course. MTG gave a floor speech before the vote to strip her from committee assignments. She conceded that 9/11 did happen and that school shootings are real, but–despite having the floor and given the chance–she said nothing about her anti-Semitic comments. On the other hand, Omar apologized and expressed her gratitude for “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
- How did the party react? Democrats passed a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism (alongside Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination) following Omar’s comments. It was a watered-down resolution and carried no practical meaning, but it earned all House Democrats’ votes, including Omar. As for MTG, 11 Republicans voted for her dismissal from committees (a much harsher measure than the resolution following Omar’s comments). The overwhelming majority of House Republicans–199–voted against her removal.
5. Impeach? On Shabbat?
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that David Schoen, one of the lawyers representing Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, requested to suspend the trial if it is not completed by Friday at 5:24 PM when the Sabbath begins. Schoen explained that as an observant Jew, he cannot work during the Sabbath, “So, respectfully, I have no choice but to make this request.”
It’s an interesting case to watch, even though it will have no impact on the trial’s outcome.
Does observance of the holy day come before legislative work?
The issue rarely comes up in Congress or government work since they usually refrain from working during the weekend.
Still, sometimes the dilemma surfaces.
Former senator Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, likes to tell the story of how he walked 4 miles from his Georgetown home to Capitol Hill to take part in a critical vote scheduled for a Saturday.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are also Orthodox, said that a rabbi had permitted them to take planes and car rides during the Sabbath when urgent government work required their presence.
So, it’s a personal issue. Sometimes it’s obvious that matters of national importance require observant Jews to work on Shabbat or make special arrangements to attend. Is an impeachment trial for a former president one of them?