The Mislabeling of Antisemitism | Opinion

We should all be extremely sensitive to the dehumanizing language used by antisemites, and the discrimination and even violence that often comes from it. Antisemitism must always be denounced evenhandedly, whether it's coming from Democrats on the Left or from Republicans on the Right. But before using the "A" word we must try to fully understand the context of a statement and not rush to judgment.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has provided a perfect example. In a floor speech on the $749 billion Inflation Reduction Act, he criticized the wasteful spending and pointed out that crime prevention is a much greater issue for most Americans than getting a tax break on an electric car. Tweeting out a video excerpt of the speech, Senator Rubio wrote, "The democrats just blocked my effort to try & force Soros backed prosecutors to put dangerous criminals in jail."

What the senator was referring to was the fact that George Soros, a Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire, funded the campaigns of many progressive candidates in local district attorney races. His numerous political action committees were very effective in these campaigns, spending millions of dollars on each, with a focus on police misconduct, cashless bail and criminal justice reform. Soros spent $1.5 million on ads to elect Larry Krasner as District Attorney in Philadelphia, $2.5 million on George Gascon in Los Angeles, $2 million on Kim Foxx in Chicago, and $1.1 million to elect Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. In all, 24 far-left prosecutors were elected with the financial backing of George Soros. Each of them have established policies that many argue are "soft on crime," because these DAs often choose not to prosecute various criminal offenses.

Though Senator Rubio was accurate in his statement that the prosecutors were backed by Soros, the Twitter response was nevertheless fierce. New York congressman Jerry Nadler called Rubio's comment a "conspiracy of Jewish $" and an "antisemitic trope." NBC contributor Joyce Alene said, "Sometimes the dog whistle is just outright anti-Semitism." Actor George Takei announced that "Non-Jews need to call out this anti-Semitism too." Reporter Helen Kennedy described it as "Rubio putting out the old canard that rich Jews are manipulating the Justice system." Washington Post columnist Max Boot declared "Every time Republicans say 'Soros' you should hear 'the Jews.'" Journalist Soledad O'Brien said, "When he says 'Soros-backed' he means 'Jewish.' But you already knew that." Even teachers' union head Randi Weingarten joined the attack, commenting, "This is an example of how anti-Semitism takes root and spreads."

George Soros
Hungarian-born US investor and philanthropist George Soros looks on after having delivered a speech on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting, on January 23, 2020 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP/Getty Images

When the Rubio-Soros Twitter war ended, tens of thousands of people had weighed in on the topic, which "trended" for the day. But was the Rubio comment a classic antisemitic trope, as alleged by a legion of Democrats on social media, or was it merely a simple statement of fact, without a larger message about Jews? As Ben Shapiro put it, "Soros spends lots of money backing progressive prosecutors. Saying so does not make you anti-Semitic. It makes you correct."

There are wrong ways and right ways to talk about George Soros and other Jews in the news. Former New York assemblyman and founder of Americans Against Antisemitism Dov Hikind argues that using Holocaust imagery or propaganda, references to the Jewish religion or Jewish symbols, and tying individuals to global conspiracies are out of bounds. What is completely acceptable, on the other hand, is to engage in debate over an individual's policies or statements—such as Soros's position on Israel, support for the BDS movement, and embrace of antisemites like congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. The fact that Soros is a Jew should be completely irrelevant to a discussion on the policies he backs.

What makes the label of "antisemitism" even more ludicrous here is the fact that Soros himself just published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "Why I Support Reform Prosecutors." In the op-ed, Soros explains his reasons for funding those who prioritize his concept of justice, claiming that it will reinforce community safety. In light of the spate of crimes and antisemitic attacks plaguing American cities, that assessment holds little value.

The attack on Senator Rubio for alleged antisemitism is an unfair characterization of a man who has long supported Jewish institutions, the safety of Israel, and Holocaust education. It is a label being unfairly applied by the Left in order to stifle debate, for purely political aims. Most ironically, the people who are accusing Rubio of antisemitism are completely deaf to antisemitism when it comes from the Left, and when Orthodox Jews are being beaten on the streets of Brooklyn and murdered in Monsey, N.Y.

We need more prosecutors who take crime seriously, not the ones supported by George Soros. Saying so doesn't make you an antisemite. It makes you someone who is rightly concerned about public safety.

Joel Petlin is the superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District in Orange County, NY and a contributor to numerous publications. On Twitter @joelmpetlin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.