Antisemitism comes in left-wing and right-wing forms. But there is a fundamental difference in the way the two parties relate to antisemitism on their flanks. Left-wing antisemitism is oppositional — antisemitism is one component of the pro-Palestinian movement, which in turn is almost entirely opposed to the Democratic Party’s leading elected officials. (Pro-Palestinian activists tried to shut down the Democratic National Committee, not the Republican National Committee).
Right-wing antisemitism is allied with the Republican Party and its leaders. The latter dynamic was on display with perfect clarity this weekend when Ron DeSantis refused to criticize white-nationalist slurs.
Last week, Elon Musk endorsed a white-nationalist account stating he was “ deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations” because “Jewish communties [sic] have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites.” This was not just an antisemitic trope — a metaphor that is connected to, or suggestive of, antisemitic ideas — of the kind Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have occasionally echoed. It was an overt claim that Jewish people are collectively responsible for major social problems and therefore collectively undeserving of sympathy.
Musk, of course, not only endorsed DeSantis but literally staged his presidential-campaign launch. I requested comment from DeSantis’s office on Musk’s antisemitic post last week but received no response.
On Sunday, DeSantis appeared on CNN, where Jake Tapper solicited his thoughts on Musk’s comment. In the face of repeated prodding, he absolutely refused to condemn the comments.
When Tapper asked him the first time, DeSantis claimed he didn’t see Musk’s comment, but proceeded to explain why Musk was actually the victim:
I did not see the comment. And so I know that Elon has had a target on his back ever since he purchased Twitter, because I think he’s taking it in a direction that a lot of people who are used to controlling the narrative don’t like.
Note that DeSantis was not only refusing to condemn the slur but placing it in the positive context of Musk fighting back against the dominant narrative.
Tapper then displayed Musk’s comment, nullifying his excuse that he hadn’t seen it. DeSantis again refused to condemn it. Instead he claimed that left-wing antisemitism is a much greater problem because it has powerful support:
I would say this. The difference is, is that, on the left, that tends to be attached to some major institutional power, like some of our most august universities, whereas I think, on the right, it tends to be more fringe voices that are doing it.
This is obviously a bizarre defense when the supposedly powerless antisemite, Elon Musk, is the wealthiest man in the world and controls its most powerful social medium. (Handing over your campaign launch to an anonymous nobody would have been a weird choice.)
After Tapper generously tried to change the subject (“But let’s turn on — turn to another topic”), DeSantis again insisted right-wing antisemitism is insignificant because “on the institutional side, you have seen this become part of a left-wing movement, a very significant pro-Hamas movement, and it is backed by institutional power.” This prompted Tapper to note again that Musk is hardly powerless, to which DeSantis again claimed, “I haven’t seen it. I know you tried to read it. I have no idea what the context is.”
DeSantis obviously has had plenty of time to review Musk’s comments once again and has still remained silent.
This is not the first time DeSantis has refused to condemn antisemitism on the right. Early last year, a band of white supremacists in Orlando held a rally and roughed up a Jewish student. DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw suggested the reports were unreliable, or that the white supremacists were Democrats in disguise, trying to make DeSantis look bad.
Asked at a press conference about Pushaw’s wild deflections, DeSantis refused to back down. He alluded to “these Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to try to smear me,” running through a historic list of left-wing antisemites.
DeSantis has claimed he was merely denying oxygen to the white-supremacist cell that was operating (and continues to operate) in central Florida. But his refusal to condemn Musk reveals the hollowness of that excuse. You can’t starve Elon Musk of attention. And you can’t deny Elon Musk’s opinions have any weight when you personally selected him as your campaign surrogate.
The true explanation is that DeSantis grasps with perfect clarity that Donald Trump has activated white nationalists as an energetic Republican faction. White nationalists are far from the majority of the party, but they have a loud enough voice that he feels the need to placate them.
“Blessedly, responsible institutional stewards in the Democratic Party have largely refused to indulge the ugly sentiments expressed by the activists in high orbit around the party. But the same could be said of institutionalists within the GOP,” insists National Review’s Noah Rothman.
The term “institutionalist” seems to be Rothman’s lawyerly way of writing the statement to exclude Donald Trump, a loophole so large it renders the defense almost meaningless. The GOP has become a personality cult in thrall to an America First demagogue who routinely traffics in antisemitism and other bigotry, but at least he’s not an “institutionalist”! (Try our hamburgers, now 97 percent maggot-free!)
But DeSantis and Musk reveal that even Rothman’s almost-meaningless defense is not even true.
Before Trump, white nationalists were largely walled off from Republican politics, and a prominent Republican leader would have had no hesitation in denouncing white nationalism. DeSantis is showing what happens when the firewall collapses.