Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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The Strange Anti-Semitism of the Pro-Jewish Right

Marjorie Taylor Greene loves the Jews to death.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is perhaps best known for having shared her belief that California wildfires were deliberately started by space lasers controlled by the Rothschild family in order to seize land for a mass-transit project that was never built. Chagrined at the blowback, she later explained that she didn’t realize the Rothschilds were Jewish. Taylor Greene has clearly been looking to demonstrate her philo-Semitic bona fides, and she saw an opportunity to do so by using the plight of the Jews to highlight another of her favorite conspiracy theories: that the coronavirus is mostly harmless but the vaccines extremely dangerous.

Seized with anger at a report about a grocery store that will allow its vaccinated employees, sporting a logo on their name badges to reassure customers, to work mask-free, Taylor Greene compared the scheme to the Nazi persecution of the Jews:

Putting aside her obviously flawed grasp of epidemiology, punctuation, the history of the Third Reich, logic, and the distinction between state power and private property, what’s notable about this analogy is her utter shock that anybody would treat it as offensive to Jews. Here she is, comparing the Holocaust to another form of persecution (incentives for getting a free, life-saving vaccination.)

Her bewilderment calls to mind a scene in Arrested Development in which Buster, the man-child with an unhealthy attachment to his mother, assures his much-older girlfriend, Lucille, that he is not getting her psychologically mixed up with his mother, who is also named Lucille. “It is exactly the opposite,” he replies. “I’m leaving my mother for you. You’re replacing my mother.”

You can almost see the gears in Taylor Greene’s mind (very slowly) turning: You all have this backwards. I’m calling the Nazis bad!

And while Marjorie Taylor Greene is in some ways an outlier within her party, the peculiar form of her anti-Semitism is not unique to her. Modern right-wing anti-Semitism is often twisted around as a kind of extreme philo-Semitism, retaining all the contours of the old anti-Semitic theories while repurposing them for a program that is at least superficially committed to protecting and even venerating the Jews.

One version of this thought system was espoused by Donald Trump, who frequently praised Jews for their shrewdness at negotiating while asserting that their primary loyalty is either to Israel or to themselves. Trump’s allies often expressed indignation at any suggestion that Trump’s rhetoric and political style had a whiff of anti-Semitism. How could this be, when Trump was constantly denouncing anti-Semitism (on the left, anyway) and standing behind Israel?

One reason is that anti-Semitism is associated with a style of political thought that retains its form even when explicit references to Jews are omitted. Trump’s rhetoric against “globalists” blamed a shadowy cabal of international financiers who secretly directed a series of catastrophic events for their own benefit. Not surprisingly, explicit anti-Semites who had previously sat out partisan politics thrilled to Trump. It didn’t bother them that he omitted the Jew parts. The music was the same, and they could fill in the lyrics themselves.

The explicitly anti-Semitic politics of the 19th and early-20th century has endured and even seen a revival. It has retained the familiar pieces: a handful of oligarchs secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes, undermining what is supposedly their own nation on behalf of foreign interests. The villains don’t need to be named Rothschild, or even have names at all, for the themes to work.

A good sample of this political style is supplied by Lee Smith, a close ally of Devin Nunes, the passionate Trump defender and vocal Israel hawk. Writing in Tablet (a conservative Jewish magazine), Smith posits that the anti-Semitic violence that has appeared in a handful of American cities is actually a false-flag operation, orchestrated by the the “oligarchs” who run the Democratic Party to terrorize their own voters under the pretext of anti-Semitism.

I strongly encourage you to read this deranged column to see that I am not making it up. Smith’s argument is quite clear. He begins by noting the apparent anti-Semitic violence in a few places is actually not anti-Israel animus running out of control, as one might expect an Israel hawk to say.

“Apologists for the violence reason that the demonstrators are angry about the deaths of innocent Palestinian babies under Israeli fire in Gaza so they’re taking their frustrations — admittedly misplaced! — out on American Jews,” he suggests. “That is not what’s happening.”

What is happening? They are not anti-Israel activists at all:

Who knows how many of the activists waving the Palestinian flag as they beat Jews and detonate fireworks in front of Jewish-owned businesses are genuinely Palestinian Americans? Maybe some aren’t even Arab or Muslim, but that’s irrelevant — they are staking their claim to recruit, promote, and represent Arabs and Muslims as an interest group. And so the flag they’re really flying isn’t for the Palestinians but rather for the Democratic Party.

Smith proceeds to unpack the conspiracy that has played out undetected before our eyes. “Since the late spring,” he writes, “many have noted that these blue militias have typically avoided laying waste to red regions.” Perhaps you think the explanation for why left-wing demonstrators have marched in big cities is not so strange. Yet Smith sees it as a deeper clue to the strategy of their hidden puppet masters: “The answer is because that’s their job — not to confront their alleged red state enemies, but to remind their neighbors and fellow Joe Biden voters that their security, indeed even their lives, depend on them keeping the faith, no matter how much the party’s pet projects might hurt or offend them personally.”

The reason the Democratic Party’s oligarchs have been forced to hire gangs to pose as pro-Palestinian demonstrators to terrorize their own voters is that they realize they need coercion to retain their voters. “Given a choice, no rational person would defend any of these [Democratic Party] policies,” he argues. “Thus the need for street violence, to take decision-making out of the realm of the rational. It’s about fear: Mouth off and you won’t like what happens to your business, your home, your wife, your children.”

Now, exactly why Smith believes people would respond to violent left-wing demonstrators by increasing their support for the Democratic Party he does not bother to explain. After all, it seems more intuitive that getting beaten up by left-wing Israel-haters — or paid thugs pretending to be left-wing Israel-haters — would make Jewish people less likely to support the Democrats. Even if they were somehow intimidated into compliance, it’s difficult to understand how this coercion would succeed in controlling their vote, which is made through a secret ballot.

But Smith is so confident this is happening that he doesn’t merely suggest it but states as a simple fact that “gangs are employed to target Americans on behalf of a political party whose policies appear to be designed to destroy America.” (Smith’s casual assumption that the Democratic Party’s agenda is designed to destroy the country might be the least-insane premise in the entire column.)

On the one hand, Smith is not anti-Semitic in the traditional meaning of the term. He surely sees himself as a staunch defender of the Jews, and his staunchness has turned into outright fanaticism. Smith’s pro-Jewish zeal has brought him around to the belief that apparent anti-Semitic attacks are actually being staged by paid thugs working secretly on behalf of a clique of oligarchs committed to an agenda of deliberate national destruction. Call it The Protocols of the Elders of Something.

The Strange Anti-Semitism of the Pro-Jewish Right