President Donald Trump on Wednesday vowed to “crush the monstrous evil of anti-Semitism” as he signed an executive order giving the federal government more tools to defend Jews from anti-Semitism through civil rights laws protecting against discrimation on college campuses.
The move is a welcome step to define the problem and empower the government to investigate such threats on campus, but American Jews are facing increasing intimidation and peril that go well beyond the university quad.
We are seeing dangerous anti-Semitic rhetoric and canards. These acts may seem small, but taken together, they compound hatred and allow anti-Semitism to take root.
Just one day earlier, in Jersey City, New Jersey, a kosher supermarket was targeted by two assailants who came into the store with guns blazing, killing three people who were inside. Police say that one of the gunmen had connections to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a hate group, and had published anti-Semitic posts online before the attack.
There have always been anti-Semitic conspiracy theories swirling in our society, even as anti-Semitic attitudes in the United States have remained relatively low and at the same level. Yet what we are seeing today is the mainstreaming and normalizing of anti-Semitic tropes by elected leaders and media personalities that then empower bigots to speak and act with greater regularity and force than they would have even five or 10 years ago.
One of the worst offenders is the president’s favorite network: Fox News.
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Just this week, the network demonstrated that it’s not willing to take seriously the spread of anti-Semitism on its airwaves, welcoming back a guest who only weeks earlier spouted a conspiracy theory steeped in centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.
On Nov. 13, Joe diGenova, a frequent guest on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on the Fox Business Network, maligned Jewish financier and progressive activist George Soros, claiming he “controls a very large part of the career Foreign Service of the United States State Department.” DiGenova continued, “He corrupted FBI officials, he corrupted Foreign Service officers.”
Accusing Soros of “controlling” the government and world affairs is an enduring anti-Semitic slur. It is rooted in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Czarist propaganda invented early in the 20th century to demonize and scapegoat Jews. The propaganda has likewise been used as the basis to demonize, persecute and even slaughter Jews around the world for generations.
In 2018, the network condemned and banned a guest, Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch, for making the exact same claim of Soros on the exact same show, expressing regret for what he said in the wake of the tragic anti-Semitic shooting in Pittsburgh. Yet since diGenova’s last appearance, Fox has been silent, ignoring both queries from other media, as well as ignoring a letter that I sent to its CEO asking them to follow their own policy and not book diGenova.
And diGenova’s appearance was neither the first nor the last disturbing instance of guests or hosts on Fox spouting hateful rhetoric that dabbles in anti-Semitism in the past few months.
Col. Douglas MacGregor, also appearing on Dobbs’ show, claimed last week that “Soros in particular has funded or helped fund these massive migrations out of Central America.” During an interview with Michelle Malkin, a columnist and commentator who has also called Soros a “globalist,” a term that right-wing extremists and white supremacists use as a codeword for “Jew,” Dobbs referred to Soros’ “tentacles,” another ugly reference that evokes anti-Semitic images.
Then there’s prime-time personality Tucker Carlson, who is careful and typically goes right up to the line without crossing over it. He frequently denigrates Soros as well, casting subtle aspersions such as his recent assertion that Soros “used his wealth to remake our society, American society,” as if Soros was not a true citizen. And last week, Carlson ran a segment lionizing Henry Ford— a pioneering businessman but also a known anti-Semite who inspired Adolf Hitler and published the anti-Semitic screed, The International Jew. Carlson praised Ford as the ideal philanthropic member of the “ruling class,” juxtaposing him with the Jewish hedge fund investor Paul Singer, whom Carlson depicted as “feeding off the carcass of a dying nation.”
The sentiments being expressed on Fox, both subtle and blunt, contribute to anti-Semitism being normalized in our society. From television broadcasts to social media platforms, from public rallies to college campuses, and by political campaigns and influencers across the nation, we are seeing dangerous anti-Semitic rhetoric and canards. These acts may seem small, but taken together, they compound hatred and allow anti-Semitism to take root.
They are particularly alarming when our elected leaders engage in them. Anti-Semitic tropes have been tweeted out by Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Support for white supremacy, an ideology founded on theories of Jewish malevolence, is spouted by Republican Rep. Steve King. Fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz brought a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union, and then defended the decision. This should not be considered normal.
In such cases, the media has a particular responsibility to ensure that it does not give over its airwaves and provide an open microphone to bigots. And Fox hasn’t been the only one to shirk that responsibility. Last year, Arthur Jones, who was a GOP nominee for Congress, was given a national platform on CNN. Jones is a former leader of the American Nazi Party and an avowed Holocaust denier. Although his hatred was challenged on air, the decision to give him an opportunity to spout anti-Semitic ideas at length for a live national audience reflected poor editorial judgment.
We cannot win the battle against anti-Semitism and hatred in society through executive orders and legislative fixes alone.
But unlike Fox, CNN has taken corrective steps. Jones has not appeared on CNN since last year’s interview. And publications that have allowed anti-Semitic content under their watch have corrected their mistakes, too. The New York Times apologized for an anti-Semitic cartoon it published earlier this year. The Washington Post deleted an outrageous tweet last month that failed to understand the anti-Semitism lurking in the United Kingdom’s Labour Party.
We cannot win the battle against anti-Semitism and hatred in society through executive orders and legislative fixes alone. While these protections are important, we also need our news media to be fully accountable to the public they serve. Not only must they take responsibility for what is on their airwaves, but they must also ensure that their broadcasts are not turned into forums for spreading hate.