Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times/REDUX
the national interest

It is Actually Possible to Oppose Bias Against Jews and Muslims at the Same Time

A revealing complaint from the right.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times/REDUX

Here is a simple proposition: You can oppose antisemitism without condoning hatred of Muslims or Arabs. Likewise, you can oppose bias against Muslims and Arabs without condoning antisemitism.

This may sound like a simple idea. Yet it is one the entire Republican Party seems unable to grasp.

Last May, the Biden administration announced what it called the most ambitious strategy to oppose antisemitism ever undertaken. In the wake of Hamas’s terrorist attack last month, President Biden and Second Gentleman Douglass Emhoff held a roundtable with Jewish leaders to express support for Israel along with opposition to antisemitism. And as antisemitism has grown on campuses, the administration recently announced new stoops to combat it.

Republicans insist Biden and his party are complicit in antisemitism. The main reason they give is that the Democrats also oppose bigotry against Muslims and Arabs.

Given that I am accusing the Republicans of failing to grasp a principle a literal child could easily understand, you may be justifiably suspicious I am either making it up or picking on one or two random outliers. So I am going to supply several examples, all taken from published journalism, not random social-media posts.

Daniel Henninger has written a Wall Street Journal column headlined, “Democrats Have an Anti-Semitism Problem.” Many of the examples he cites consist of people protesting the Democratic Party’s positions (progressive activist groups released a “Gaza 2024 statement” asserting they won’t vote for Joe Biden “if he does not end U.S. support for Israel’s brutal war in Gaza. … Anti-Israel protesters paraded in front of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s house in San Francisco last Saturday evening.”), which is obviously evidence for the complete opposite of his point.

But in the midst of that confusion, he cites this as evidence for Democratic antisemitism:

Because the Democrats now consider Muslim Americans an important part of the party’s voting coalition, meetings were held this week at the White House with Muslim leaders. Mr. Biden in his national address last month spoke at length against ‘Islamophobia.’

In a National Review column headlined “Why Joe Biden Is Caving on Israel and Antisemitism,” Charles C.W. Cooke asks, “Why, at this moment, is [Biden] launching a bizarre ‘National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia and Related Forms of Hate,’ when everyone with eyes can see that we are in the midst of the worst bout of antisemitism in recent memory?”

The Federalist’s John David Danielson sneers:

On Wednesday, the White House announced a “National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia,” the necessity of which, according to awkwardly scripted remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris, is that Muslims endure a disproportionate number of ‘hate-fueled attacks and other discriminatory incidents,” Leave it to the Biden White House to pick a moment when a wave of antisemitism is surging across America to announce this.

The New York Post has a news story asserting, “The Biden administration faced backlash Wednesday after announcing that it would develop ‘the first ever US National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia’ in the US amid rising levels of antisemitism.”

Tom Cotton attacks the administration for calling Islamophobia America’s top concern.

If you watch even a few seconds of the video he links, you can see Kamala Harris labels hatred the top concern, and defines this to include hatred against both Jews and Muslims or Arabs.

Cotton is simply lying about this, but there’s a genuine confusion in the right-wing mind about the relationship between Islamophobia and antisemitism. It is true that, broadly speaking, the conflict between Israel and Arabs has pitted antisemites and Islamophobes against each other. But that does not mean that opposing one form of prejudice requires accepting or embracing the other. Not every political conflict must be resolved in zero-sum terms.

Conservatives — ironically, like many radical leftists — see the world in zero-sum terms, so that opposing prejudice against one party to a conflict means accepting it toward the other. Segments of the anti-Israel left cannot bring themselves to denounce antisemitism precisely because they see doing so as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. The right’s mentality is a mirror image of that thought process.

But the conservative refusal to denounce Islamophobia is an important reason why it is necessary for liberals — especially liberals who support Israel — to do so.

Muslims and Arabs do, in fact, face a lot of prejudice in the United States. This prejudice is routinely inflamed by Republican leaders. Donald Trump has routinely attacked Muslim Americans as foreign and unworthy of participation in civic life, smeared with fake claims of having supported 9/11, and recently vowed to keep them out of the United States unless they accept “our religion.”

The American conservative movement is institutionally committed to ignoring Trump’s flagrant racism, even while it hyperactively engages with the most deranged claims about institutional racism from activists and academics. Meanwhile, Trumpian racism against Muslims and Arabs has spread quickly within the party.

In recent days, prime time Fox News host Jesse Watters said:

“I want to say something about Arab Americans and about the Muslim world. We — and when I say we I mean the West and western technology — have created the Middle East. We made them rich. We got that oil out of the ground, our military protects all of these oil shipments flying around the world, making them rich. We fund their military. We respect their kings. We kill their terrorists. Okay? But we’ve had it. We’ve had it with them!”

Notice how Watters, not unlike Trump, conflates “Arab Americans” with people living in the Middle East, dismissing them all as enemies. It is almost impossible to find Republicans who will denounce any of this rhetoric.

The Republican idea that the Democratic Party’s opposition to prejudice in general somehow weakens any of the particulars is a projection of their own ethnographic view of the world. What they are attempting, instead, is to leverage their dehumanization of Arab and Muslim Americans into a play to attract Jews. But the ultimate safeguard of Jewish security in America lies not in subjugating and demeaning other minorities, but in enshrining the principle of civic equality.

It’s Possible to Oppose Bias Against Both Jews and Muslims