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Will Donalds condemn anti-Semitism at home in Southwest Florida?

by David Silverberg

Hypocrisy in politics is as old as human interaction itself.

People have become inured to blatant hypocrisy, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel, especially the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”

As common as it is, especially since 2016, sometimes political hypocrisy is so pure, so unadulterated and so outrageous it stands out on its own.

But sometimes it also presents a challenge to do right.

So let us set the stage for this instance. It concerns anti-Semitism, which is emerging as a chronic problem in Southwest Florida.

The local context

For months Southwest Florida has been plagued by instances of anti-Semitism, whether in the form of vandalism in Cape Coral, or leafletting in Naples or in one of the most egregious cases, the posting of an overtly anti-Semitic video by Katie Paige Richards, the then-campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier.

But this is also a problem throughout Florida, which has seen anti-Semitic banners hung from overpasses, anti-Semitic light projections on stadiums and buildings in Jacksonville, and Nazi fanatics complete with swastika flags demonstrating outside Disneyworld in Orlando. Moreover, its two leading presidential nomination candidates, former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), have used anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes in their election campaigns.

To its credit, law enforcement has fought back when crimes were committed. For his part, DeSantis signed state House Bill 269 prohibiting a variety of actions taken by anti-Semites, while also condemning anti-Semitism in a speech delivered in Jerusalem.

Throughout this, Southwest Florida’s Republican political establishment has remained notably silent. For example, the Collier County Republican Party never condemned anti-Semitism in general or repudiated Richards’ video. Neither have Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives spoken out.

But now one has. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, has condemned anti-Semitism—and he blames the Democratic Party for it.

The congressional context

What prompted Donalds to finally weigh in were remarks by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-7-Wash.), head of the House Progressive Caucus, on July 16 at a conference in Chicago by Netroots Nation, a progressive training and political activism organization.

When she was speaking she was confronted by angry, rowdy people who felt that progressives weren’t doing enough to condemn Israel for its actions.

“Hey guys, can I say something? Can I say something as somebody that’s been in the streets and has participated in a lot of demonstrations?” Jayapal told the group. “I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible.

“While you may have arguments with whether or not some of us onstage are fighting hard enough, I do want you to know that there is an organized opposition on the other side, and it isn’t the people that are on this stage,” she added.

Jayapal’s characterization of Israel as racist brought an immediate wave of condemnation from Democrats and provided Republicans an opportunity to both condemn her statement and try to drive a wedge into Jewish support for Democrats.

Jayapal herself subsequently issued a lengthy statement saying “I attempted to defuse a tense situation” and “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist.” However, she also noted, “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”

She continued: “As an immigrant woman of color who has fought my whole life against racism, hate, and discrimination of all kinds and viscerally feels when anyone’s very existence is called into question, I am deeply aware of the many challenges we face in our own country to live up to the ideals of our nation here. The only way through these difficult moments is to have real conversations where we develop our own understanding of each other and the traumas we all hold. These are not easy conversations but they are important ones if we are ever to move forward. It is in that spirit that I offer my apologies to those who I have hurt with my words, and offer this clarification.”

Forty-one congressional Democrats, including six from Florida, issued a statement condemning Jayapal’s statement: “We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to undermine and disrupt the strongly bipartisan consensus supporting the US-Israel relationship that has existed for decades,” it stated. The signers wrote they were “deeply concerned” with Jayapal’s comment and “we appreciate her retraction.” (The six Floridians were: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-25-Fla.), Jared Moskowitz (D-23-Fla.), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-20-Fla.), Frederica Wilson (D-24-Fla.), Darren Soto (D-9-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.)).

On July 18, the House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 57 affirming that Israel is not a racist or apartheid state, rejecting all forms of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and affirming that the United States will always be a staunch partner of Israel. It passed by an overwhelming vote of 412 to 9 with one member voting present.

The Donalds context

Donalds, like all his Republican colleagues condemned Jayapal and attempted to exploit the controversy.

But he also went further, painting all Democrats as anti-Semites. “There is a strain of anti-Semitism embedded deep within the Democratic party,” he tweeted on July 19. “Many Dems believe Israel should give up more territory & even question its existence.”

He elaborated in an interview on “The National Desk,” a news program produced by Sinclair Broadcasting, prior to the congressional vote.

“Let me be clear on this one,” he said. “They do believe that the state of Israel should give up much of its territory and that maybe they shouldn’t even be in that region. It’s really unfortunate that you have this strain of anti-Semitism that is embedded deep within the Democrat Party. This was not a mistake, this is actually a main line thought process amongst congressional Democrats, senatorial Democrats and it’s the Democrat Party. And so their Party’s got a lot to answer for and for Jewish voters in our country, please keep in mind that these aren’t just comments here or there that go away because the media chooses not to talk about them anymore and ignore these statements, these are a state of fact within the Democrat Party. So we’re going to vote today, that’s all well and good but that vote is not going to be indicative of the mindset of too many Democrats.”

In fact, the vote revealed the pro-Israel, anti-hate mindset of 195 Democrats who supported the resolution. A tiny minority of only 9 Democrats opposed it. (Reps. Jamal Bowman (D-16-NY), Cori Bush (D-1-Mo.), Andre Carson (D-7-Ind.), Summer Lee (D-12-Pa.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-5-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-7-Mass.), Delia Ramirez (D-3-Ill.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-12-Mich.))

Commentary: Hypocrisy and its cure

While Donalds may have suddenly discovered the menace of anti-Semitism, it did not prevent him from turning around and exploiting tired anti-Semitic tropes and scapegoating in his fundraising.

“Radical left-wing Democrats funded by George Soros are targeting me with a disgusting smear campaign,” he declared in a July 22 fundraising appeal. He didn’t identify either the smear campaign or these radical, left-wing Democrats. Using the specter of Jewish financier George Soros to make his appeal more urgent is a common conservative, anti-Semitic tactic used both by DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

“Fighting back against their vicious attacks won’t be cheap…Which is why I was so concerned when my finance director flagged our fundraising numbers on our campaign’s weekly call yesterday.” Then, of course, he asked for money.

To condemn anti-Semitism in others and then exploit it to one’s benefit is the essence of hypocrisy. This instance was particularly glaring and, to use a Yiddish word, “chutzpadik.”

First, for the record, George Soros, 92, retired as head of his foundations and hedge fund on June 12.

Still, Soros will no doubt continue to be a scapegoat for far-right, conspiracy-minded conservatives for the foreseeable future.

But now that Donalds has established himself as a staunch defender of Israel and put himself on the record opposing anti-Semitism and xenophobia with his vote, can he bring himself to condemn and fight the ground-level, grassroots anti-Semitism infecting Southwest Florida, especially among Republican MAGA conservatives?

Congressional Democrats can take care of themselves. But it’s everyday Jewish citizens who need to hear him repudiate the extreme anti-Semitic conspiracy fantasies and baseless accusations infecting his district in Southwest Florida.

He should do it. Constituents will be watching closely.

What’s more, it’s in his personal interest. After all, the kinds of people who hate Jews don’t like him, either.


Editor’s note: From 1981 to 1983 the author worked as Assistant Editor of The Near East Report, the newsletter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the premier pro-Israel lobbying organization on Capitol Hill. He extensively covered Middle East policy and politics during his active career in Washington, DC.

Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally published on July 25, 2023.

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