Gottheimer on anti-Semitism
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Gottheimer on anti-Semitism

Democratic congressman talks about the resurfaced ancient hatred

From left, Peter King and Josh Gottheimer stand with local officials last week as they discuss the region’s transportation needs, and demand what they call a Doomsday plan should the not impossible happen and some of the local infrastructure fail. (Courtesy Josh Gottheimer)
From left, Peter King and Josh Gottheimer stand with local officials last week as they discuss the region’s transportation needs, and demand what they call a Doomsday plan should the not impossible happen and some of the local infrastructure fail. (Courtesy Josh Gottheimer)

Anti-Semitism seemed to have gone away, or at least to have atrophied to a nasty little shriveled hatred, buried underground.

But now it’s resurging, stoked by various cultural forces, in all sorts of contradictory places, both here in the United States and in the outside world, to many people’s horror and to the murmured sounds of “I told you so” from others.

It often takes the form of anti-Zionism, particularly on the left, where straight-out anti-Semitism would be considered crude, but hatred of Israel is not.

Josh Gottheimer, the second-term Democratic congressman from New Jersey’ fifth district, is angry, and he’s been talking about it.

A few weeks ago, speaking to an audience at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, Mr. Gottheimer said that “there is an attempt to blur the lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. I am a very strong supporter of the America-Israel relationship, which is very central to American security.

“People can disagree with what that support looks like — should it get x dollars or y dollars — and of course you can disagree with Israeli policy, but you cannot disagree with the idea that Israel has the right to exist.” He favors strong support of Israel, both because it is vital to American security and because its position as the sole democracy in an unstable and autocratic region makes it not only important but also both politically and morally deserving.

He also talks about anti-Semitism, “both what’s going on at home and around the world,” he said. “I am concerned about the growing use of anti-Semitic tropes, under the guise of disagreeing with Israel.

“After Charlottesville” — when a tiki-torch bearing group of young white men howled “Jews will not replace us” and then the riots that followed culminated in the murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was mowed down by a purposefully driven car — “we have seen the growth of anti-Semitism and hatred in general stoked by the right, and now we also see a growing division over Israel on the left, by those who have a certain view of the Palestinians. And it also blurs, and they start to use anti-Semitic tropes.

“There have been comments made in the Democratic party,” mainly by freshman representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, “that I led the effort against. We’re facing tropes like dual loyalty and Israel’s hypnotic hold on the world.”

But, he said, “some people might think that all of a sudden the Democracy party is uniform in its opposition to Israel, but that is far from the truth. You just have splinters, pockets that are bubbling up.”

Josh Gottheimer helps with Super Sunday at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

But as relatively small as those putrid bubbles might be, “we need to extinguish them immediately,” Mr. Gottheimer said.

We cannot allow the relationship between the United States and Israel to become partisan, he continued. “This administration has taken clear steps that I agree with — its move of the embassy to Jerusalem, and its undoing of the Iran deal — but on the other side there has been a cauldron of anger unleashed by the president’s comments after Charlottesville. “The bigger issue is that support for Israel should not be partisan.

“We have had both Democratic and Republican presidents who have been great friends to Israel,” he said. As controversial as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be, “this is not about any one individual leader, whoever is in office at the moment.

“It is a historic relationship. That means that whichever Democrat or Republican is in charge, and whoever is leading Israel, means less than the critical alliance between us, which is important both to our national security and to theirs.

“We cannot allow any leader to undermine that relationship.”

It is so important, Mr. Gottheimer continued, because “we need to fight Hezbollah and Hamas and Isis in the region. We have a very strong partner in Israel, and that is key to our security.” Beyond that, he said, the two countries share technologies and “economically, it is a very important relationship for Israel.”

In February, Mr. Gottheimer and a freshman Democratic representative from Virginia, Elaine Luria, who is both a retired Navy commander and Jewish (among many other jaw-dropping attributes), circulated a letter asking for House Democrats to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. This week, that resolution — either broadened or weakened, depending on an observer’s point of view, by its condemnation not simply of anti-Semitism but of all forms of hate) passed the House overwhelmingly.

In a speech on the House floor, Mr. Gottheimer talked about his background and how despicable anti-Semitic slurs are. (He’s frequently been the victim of such slurs, in person, on Facebook, and even in graffiti scrawled on constituents’ garage doors.)

“As a Jewish member of Congress who lost families in the Holocaust and whose grandfather fought the Nazis, I need no reminder about our responsibility to confront bigotry, hatred, and intolerance wherever it is found,” he told Congress. “No matter how hard one tries, the allegation of dual loyalty simply does not constitute a legitimate opinion about foreign policy. It’s a slur against Jews. It is indefensible, and it is deserving of condemnation by everyone, every time.

“More than anything, it’s offensive to question my loyalty … simply because I’m Jewish. Just as it was appalling to question President John Kennedy’s loyalty to the United States because he was Catholic,” he said. Those slurs are equally disgusting, equally baseless, and equally wrong, and in the end, they are the same slur.

More recently, President Donald J. Trump has been reported to have said that Democrats hate Jews. What does he say to that? Mr. Gottheimer’s response is pithy. “That’s absurd,” he said.

Mr. Gottheimer’s busy with other issues as well, and he puts his rhetoric about working across the aisle into action as he advocates for the region. He’s joined forces with Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, to urge the federal government to take action on the ancient, Superstorm Sandy-damaged infrastructure that links New Jersey, New York’s five boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester together. If it goes, so will the local economy, and that will have major repercussions, they say.

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