A certain Minnesota politician, not so long ago, made baseless, textbook anti-Semitic, charges of dual loyalty against pro-Israel politicians and groups. That politician’s party barely responded.
I refer not to Ilhan Omar but to Jason Lewis, a former Republican member of Congress now running to represent Minnesota in the Senate.
During a 2013 radio show, Lewis, the host, was responding to a worried caller, who observed, falsely, that there are a number of dual citizens of Israel and the United States in Congress. Lewis agreed. “There are a number of dual citizens,” he said. Then, moving beyond Congress, he said, “John Bolton is a dual citizen . . . of Israel and America.” No, Bolton, who recently stepped down as National Security adviser, and who wasn’t even serving in government in 2013, is not a dual citizen of Israel and America.
But the idea that our foreign policy is controlled by dual citizens, which often goes along with the idea that every Jewish member of Congress is a dual citizen, is widespread. If you believe that the left traffics in anti-Semitism when it grossly exaggerates the influence of Israel on American politics, then you can’t deny that Lewis was trafficking in anti-Semitism when he falsely asserted that, during the Bush administration, “there were a number of dual citizens, citizens of Israel, citizens of America who were making policy.”
If you believe that “Israel lobby” often means “Jewish lobby,” and that attacks on the Israel lobby are often veiled attacks on Jews, then you can’t deny that Lewis, who used “Israel lobby” and “Jewish lobby” interchangeably, was trafficking in anti-Semitism when he said that pro-Israel lobbyists “control the Republican Party.” And you can’t fail to hear thinly disguised anti-Semitism in “when you get these sort of dual loyalties, what happens when it’s not in America’s best interests?”
The story was broken by CNN, and the audio is there from anyone to hear. Lewis hasn’t denied that he said exactly what CNN claims he said. Instead, he decries attacks on “his 25-year career as a political commentator—which naturally meant asking rhetorical questions, challenging audiences, playing devil’s advocate, and seeing both sides of every issue.” But he wasn’t playing devil’s advocate. He made every one of the claims in question in his own name.
His next line of defense is that, as a member of Congress, he had a pro-Israel voting record. What are we to make of this? Was Lewis, as a radio host, merely spreading to his listeners a vile anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that he never believed? Or was he, as a freshman congressman, trimming his sails and voting with the party? Neither conclusion saves Lewis. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was therefore entirely in the right when he said, according to the Jewish Journal, that “Republican leaders need to condemn Lewis’s remarks.”
But the only such leader I’m aware of is Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who is not an elected official and whose response was equivocal. Yes, Lewis’s remarks were “indefensible,” he said, but they were made when he as a “shock jock”—which Lewis wasn’t exactly—and besides, Lewis had an “outstanding record of support for Israel” in Congress.
We rightly blamed Democrats for failing unequivocally and clearly to denounce Ilhan Omar’s remarks about dual loyalty. But the Republican response to Lewis, who hasn’t even pretended to apologize for his remarks, and whom the party will very likely be putting up as its candidate for Senator from Minnesota, has been still more tepid.