Like Jewish baseball fans in search of Jewish heroes of the diamond, a certain type of political junkie spent the first week of congressional impeachment hearings pondering the number of Jewish players in the high stakes conflict between President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponents. From impeachment major domo Rep. Adam Schiff on one side to the men who helped orchestrate former New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents, there are plenty of Jewish names to be dropped in the impeachment debate.
But at the heart of this dialogue of the deaf between the left and right in which both have long since stopped listening to, or even believing, a word anyone on the other side of the partisan divide says, are two basic conspiracy theories that are connected to Jewish interests.
A significant portion of the left believes that lurking behind conservative critiques of liberals who are fighting Trump is a thinly disguised anti-Semitism that exemplifies the president’s empowerment of the forces of hate. On the other hand, some on the right believe that impeachment is a deep state conspiracy, a legal coup d’état that is aimed at thwarting Trump’s efforts to overturn the status quo, including longstanding prejudices against Israel on the part of the State Department.
Each is rooted in genuine fears about the motives of political opponents. But both also lend themselves to gross distortions of the truth that ought to worry Jews. Ironically, one Jew is part of both arguments: liberal financier and political donor George Soros.
Some on the left have always believed that Trump’s insults of his opponents and the focus on specific Jews in the ranks of the “resistance” is the thin edge of the wedge of a new wave of anti-Semitism. Each Trump tweet about Schiff or conservative radio or TV talker diatribe about Soros’ support for anti-Trump efforts is mined for links to anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and Jewish influence. They not only see critiques of Soros’ activities as inherently an expression of Jew hatred and tropes about the malign influence of Jewish money, they worry that a successful impeachment of Trump will result in an anti-Semitic backlash that will fundamentally endanger American Jewry.
But the notion that it is impossible to express anger at Schiff or Soros without it being linked to anti-Semitism is just wrong. The pro-Trump camp remains solidly philo-Semitic and pro-Israel even though most liberal Jews continue to harbor unfounded suspicions about the motivations of conservative Christians and others on the right.
Similarly, the assumption on the part of some on the right that Soros’ money and influence is part of a conspiracy to not merely topple Trump but to also harm Israel is just as fanciful. Soros’ funding of left-wing groups in the United States and Israel is fair game for criticism, but, contrary to former Trump lawyer Joseph DiGenova, he does not control the State Department or pull the strings of the professional diplomats who have sought to block the president’s policies.
Trump has coarsened our public discourse to the point where extremism of all types — including anti-Semitic invective — has started to seem commonplace. That doesn’t mean Trump is anti-Semitic or enabling anti-Semitism. To the contrary, he is pro-Israel and friendly to Jewish interests. Nor are expressions of nationalism and critiques of globalist perspectives inherently anti-Semitic. But such sentiments are seized upon by extremists to justify their hate.
Similarly — as former UN ambassador Nikki Haley has made clear in her new book — there is no denying that the same forces that have sought to stop Trump’s Ukraine policy were just as opposed to his tilt toward Israel and away from President Barack Obama’s quest for “daylight” between the two allies or appeasement of Iran. Support for their resistance to Trump on Ukraine is not entirely consistent with critiques of the longstanding prejudice against Israel on the part of State Department veterans and foreign policy establishment pooh-bahs.
It is possible to oppose impeachment and Soros’ activism without being an anti-Semite. And it is possible to seek Trump’s removal without being part of a deep state conspiracy or an opponent of Israel.
Shoehorning competing narratives about impeachment that incorporate the fears of the left and the right about anti-Semitism may feel right in this hyper-partisan moment in American history, when expressions of our deepest suspicions of the motives of our political opponents have become depressingly commonplace. But those who are seeking to superimpose our well-earned paranoia about Jew hatred on the impeachment crisis are doing neither the Jews nor the country any good.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a columnist for the New York Post.