Lost in the avalanche of commentary about the shocking victory of a Republican in a heavily Jewish New York Congressional district this week was one inexcusable comment from a prominent Democrat about the prospect of just such a defeat for his party. Rather than defend his party on the issues, and echoing a well-established anti-Semitic cliché, Rep. Henry Waxman claimed the reason many Jews were trending Republican was only because they care about their money.
Here’s the complete quote in an article in The Hill published Tuesday:
“I think Jewish voters will be Democratic and be for Obama in 2012, especially if you get a Republican candidate like Gov. Perry. But there’s no question the Jewish community is much more bipartisan than it has been in previous years. There are Jews who are trending toward the Republican Party, some of it because of their misunderstanding of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, and some of it, quite frankly, for economic reasons. They feel they want to protect their wealth, which is why a lot of well-off voters vote for Republicans.”
This is odious.
Accusing Jews of being motivated only by economic factors, like “their wealth,” is the sort of thing we expect to hear from anti-Semites not liberal Congressmen from California.
While American Jews, like anyone else, can be said to have economic interests, the language that Waxman used here is loaded. The idea that Jews care only about “their wealth” has been a staple of anti-Semitic invective for centuries. It was part of the foundation of hate that paved the way for the dehumanization of Jews that led inevitably to the Holocaust.
But Waxman’s statement is not only deeply offensive; it is also a lie. Wealthy Jews are just as likely to be part of the majority of the community that identify as liberals and Democrats. The demographic slices of American Jewry that have shown the most promise for Republicans are the young, the Orthodox and immigrants, most of whom are less likely to have acquired much wealth to protect than other Jews.
Waxman’s goal here was not to debate those members of his own community that disagree with him on policy but to delegitimize them as selfish misers who care nothing for others, exactly the sort of anti-Semitic trope that can be found in the literature of hate. That he would parrot anti-Semitic rhetoric is highly ironic since, like many Jewish public figures, he has been subjected to such attacks in the past.
Waxman is well known as the sort of politician who is liable to use the most vicious rhetoric about his opponents. But the desperation and anger of liberals at the prospect of losing a portion of the Jewish vote seems to have unhinged him.
Contrary to his claim, Jews don’t “misunderstand” the Obama administration’s attitude toward Israel. In fact, they understand it all too well despite occasional acts of friendship from the president. But they also understand when they are being libeled. Waxman deserves to be censured by the Anti-Defamation League (we expect that were he not a prominent liberal Jew, the ADL would have already roasted him in public) and condemned by all decent members of the community whatever their political affiliation.