The Racist Nerve of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

That the Left would denounce President Trump as a racist was a foregone conclusion from the moment he became the presumptive nominee in 2016. In 2008, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) led condemnations of John McCain for “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” and tried to connect him to Alabama’s segregationist leader, George Wallace. In 2012, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Mitt Romney’s criticisms of Obama policies were “shockingly transparent . . . a dog whistle for voters who consider race when casting their ballot.”

These smears were forgotten soon after the election; like Harry Reid’s calumny about Romney’s taxes, no one claimed to believe them after President Obama won his second term. The “racist” McCain gained the Left’s outright love and admiration by joining their assault on Trump; now Romney is clearly angling for the same treatment. Coming from a man who once sought the job of secretary of state in the Trump Administration, his recent craven remarks in the Washington Post would be universally disparaged were they not so wonderfully expedient.

President Trump is brash, exaggerates, and speaks without precision, but the Left’s distortion of his words and actions takes dishonesty to a new level. It began with the ridiculous tale that the president mocked a reporter’s disability, when he used the same limp hand-waving gesture he employed to dismiss unclear thoughts from many others as well. The supposedly-targeted reporter (one whom the President had not seen in over 25 years) does not suffer from spasms or palsy—he has a permanently-bent wrist due to arthrogryposis. Yet in the hands of the leftist media, this lie became Trump’s “worst offense” affecting voters’ opinions in the summer of 2016.

Trump’s travel moratorium targets specific countries identified during the Obama Administration as hotbeds of Islamic terrorism and hatred for American values. But initially the president was unclear about which of the numerous Muslim countries and regions are places where the teachings of Islam encourage hate and violence. For his concern about the threat of terrorism and referring to his initiative as a “Muslim ban,” he was denounced as “Islamophobic.”

In Charlottesville, the president clearly denounced bigotry and violence “on many sides,” while saying that there were “good people” on both sides as well, expressing his belief that not everyone who wants to preserve statues of Confederate generals is a racist. In the hands of the media, it became accepted truth that he had referred to neo-Nazis as “good people.”

More recently the Left, especially leftist Jews, immediately blamed Trump for October’s horrific shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, although the shooter specifically disavowed the president because he was “surrounded by kikes.” These “experts” had no comment when, in early December, the FBI arrested a man who admired and sought to replicate the Pittsburgh shooting at a synagogue in Ohio—in the name of ISIS. Logic required them to claim that the same president they previously slandered as an “Islamophobe” is fomenting Islamic terror.

Trump’s History Puts the Lie to the Slanders
These lies about Trump were always particularly outrageous given their target. In 1990, Trump told Vanity Fair that he would not join an exclusive Palm Beach club “because they don’t take Blacks and Jews.” He then bought properties there, sued the town council, and opened his Mar-a-Lago resort—using his wealth to integrate Palm Beach. “Those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, become members of the other clubs now had a club of their own.”

Lynne Patton, describing herself as “a black female executive at the Trump organization,” stepped forward during the campaign to denounce the “repeated and reprehensible attacks to align my boss and his family with racist hate-mongering groups” and called them “one of the most generous, compassionate and philanthropic families I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, and the honor to call friends.” She said that Trump hired “more minority and female executives than any other company for which I’ve ever worked.” Kellyanne Conway became the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign. Trump’s inner circle also includes an extraordinary number of clearly-observant Jews, not least among them his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

More Bogus “Dog Whistles”
Even with all of the foregoing, there is something yet more repugnant about these same incendiary lies when coming from the lips of freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In particular, her frequent references to the “dog whistles” of racism. She is projecting her own defect.

Several years ago, seeing resurgent anti-Semitism dressed up as “criticism of Israel,” I developed a short curriculum on the obvious hallmarks of that which Robert Wistrich described as “the longest hatred.” This is an area where rabbinic expertise is obvious, and Rabbi Naftali Berlin, one of the foremost rabbinic scholars in Europe of the late 19th century, wrote a short work to explain the nature of anti-Semitism, and how the encounter of Jacob with his father-in-law Laban in the Book of Genesis serves as a paradigm.

The Biblical Laban falsely accuses Jacob of theft: “Laban truly believed that Jacob’s gains were achieved through deceit and injustice, and Judaism was to blame for all of this,” writes Rabbi Berlin. In Laban’s mind, Judaism permitted Jews to take advantage of non-Jews, to treat them unfairly.

It is this fundamental idea, that Judaism permits deceit and injustice, which has motivated anti-Semites throughout history. It is why Jews were prohibited from property ownership or tradecraft, and forced into ghettos throughout the Middle Ages. It is why kings, dukes and Nazis expelled the Jews in the belief they would otherwise steal their nations’ wealth. And it is why, to this day, bigots from Farrakhan to the Pittsburgh shooter describe Jews as parasites, sapping the resources of their “hosts.”

In July, Ocasio-Cortez gave her now-infamous interview on PBS’s “Firing Line,” in which she was unable to articulate any knowledge of the Middle East, save for her assertion that there was an “occupation of Palestine” causing an “increasing crisis of humanitarian condition.” Pressed, she referred to “settlements that are increasing in some of these areas . . . where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing.”

In reality, Israel’s stunning victory against explicitly genocidal Arab armies in 1967 brought superior healthcare, increased longevity, higher education, and economic opportunity to Arabs in the region previously derided by Jordan as the “West Bank.”

Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where an Arab (or anyone else) has the right to vote. And although it is situated in the Jewish homeland, a place Jews never left except by the tip of a sword, Israel—refuge for Jews thrown out of their homes and off their land across the Arab world—takes great pains to avoid misappropriation of property.

As seen recently in the news, the Palestinian Authority recently sentenced an Arab-American to a life sentence for selling land to a Jew—putting the lie to claims of theft by Israel. Israel built new cities in empty areas, while individual Jews buy homes and land. In Jerusalem and Hebron, they are often buying the very homes from which Jews were previously expelled.

AOC Has Much to Learn
Israel’s barriers and checkpoints exist for the same reason officers X-ray your bags and send you through a scanner before boarding a plane—or visiting Ocasio-Cortez in her new Capitol office. She does not complain that we Americans “are experiencing difficulty in access” to our elected representatives when it is her life being protected, only when those defended are Jews in Israel.

In her narrative, legitimate purchases and defense against terrorism are misportrayed as the same old deceit and injustice, taking (“occupying”) property of others and mistreating the purported “natives” (causing them “difficulty in access to their housing”). These lies are speedily employed to justify acts of “resistance” which are, as always, murder and expulsion of Jews.

None of these classic signs of anti-Semitism were identified after Ocasio-Cortez appeared on the scene, in the way the Left invented “dog whistles” never associated with racism or bigotry prior to the Trump candidacy. On the contrary, the checklist was written centuries before Ocasio-Cortez  went on PBS to tick off its boxes.

The Bronx Democrat is the last person qualified to accuse someone else of dredging up hidden signals of racism, especially against a president who has, from the beginning, opposed racism and bigotry in all its forms. She has a great deal more to learn about Middle East history, tolerance and human rights.

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Photo Credit: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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About Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic public policy organization in America.