Leaders confronting extremists in Congress

Leaders confronting extremists in Congress

Navigating outliers on both sides provides test for the community

The U.S. Capitol is reflected in a puddle of water a day after Americans voted in the  midterm elections, on November 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. Democrats have won control of the  House of Representatives while the U.S. Senate remains in Republican control.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in a puddle of water a day after Americans voted in the midterm elections, on November 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives while the U.S. Senate remains in Republican control. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

While a former Nazi and several Holocaust deniers went down to defeat in the midterm elections, the new Congress includes several members said to express anti-Semitism and others openly critical of Israel as a Jewish state.

And even though his bid was unsuccessful, one big vote getter was Seth Grossman, a Republican who sought a House seat from New Jersey’s second congressional district. The Anti-Defamation League said he “came within striking distance of winning, garnering 46.2 percent or 108,822 votes.”

“Grossman has praised racist opinion pieces that appeared on white supremacist websites, including American Renaissance and VDare,” the ADL noted. In addition, it said he has written on Facebook that faithful Muslims cannot be good Americans; Islam is a cancer; and gay men with HIV should have been quarantined in the 1980s.

Grossman’s candidacy was condemned by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had asked him to drop out of the race.

Among those re-elected last week were Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.), with ties to Nation of Islam leader Rev. Louis Farrakhan — who is widely condemned for engaging in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism — and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whom the ADL asked to be censured for his alleged anti-Semitic words and actions.

Among those elected for the first time was Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, who has declared Israel an “apartheid regime,” wants the U.S. to normalize relations with Iran, and in 2012 tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Also elected was Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan who is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and who supports cutting aid to Israel because it “doesn’t fit the values of our country.”

Those defeated included a man who claimed 9/11 was the work of Israelis and Jews, a Jewish woman who invited a “messianic rabbi” to offer a prayer for the Pittsburgh synagogue victims, virulent anti-Semites, white supremacists, and a woman who co-authored a book advancing anti-Semitic claims that Israel controls American foreign policy.

“We’re seeing the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism,” observed Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. But Jewish leaders said they must also learn to deal with the new political reality resulting from these midterm elections and cautioned that it would be wrong to totally dismiss members of Congress who hold different views on Israel.

Although saying that she completely disagrees with those who promote a one-state solution, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said in an email that “holding such a position does not automatically make a person an anti-Semite.”

“As a Jewish community, we should be prepared to engage with these new members of Congress to encourage them to support the rights of Israelis and Palestinians and not dismiss them out of hand,” she said, adding that “we should similarly demand that those elected who support the extremist policies of the current Israeli government stop taking steps that bring us farther and farther from a peaceful solution.”

Hoenlein said American Jews, who generally hold the political middle ground, are today “losing the center in America to the extreme left and the extreme right. The country seems to be more polarizing, which is benefiting the extremes. We have to learn how to deal with [the new members of Congress] intelligently and not play up the many bad guys. We have to invite them — even some who expressed views that are troublesome but who know very little — and we have to do a real job to educate them and isolate those who harbor unacceptable views and attitudes.”

Of all those elected to Congress last week, Jacobs said she is “primarily concerned” about the re-election of Steve King, who “proudly associates with white nationalists.” In addition, she said she is concerned that “thousands of voters supported other Republican candidates who deny the Holocaust or who identify as Nazi sympathizers.” She said the Pittsburgh shootings prove that “can lead to deadly ends.”

The Anti-Defamation League found that “more than 1.8 million Americans voted for known extremists and bigots who were running for national offices. In races for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, extremists pulled in, on average, 29 percent of the vote.”

King pulled in 157,221 votes to win with 50.4 percent of the vote, according to the ADL.

Former American Nazi Party leader Arthur Jones lost his bid for Congress, but still received 56,350 votes, or 26.5 percent of the vote.

Corey Stewart, a Virginia Republican running for the Senate who openly spoke of his admiration for white supremacist Paul Nehlen, lost to incumbent Tim Kaine but still amassed 1.3 million votes — 41 percent of the vote.

Asked if the number of extremist and bigoted candidates who ran in the general election this year was different from prior years, Jessica Reaves, senior writer at the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said people with “extremely problematic-to-racist views have run for office before, but the extent to which they feel comfortable expressing these views in public forums is extremely unusual. There has been a real shift in terms of political rhetoric and what is acceptable, and what people are willing to express in terms of the white supremacists we saw running.”

Stewart Ain is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication.

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