Thursday, August 16, 2012

Whose Anti-Semitic Dog Whistling Now?

Whose Anti-Semitic Dog Whistling Now?

Jonathan S. Tobin

Democrats have spent the last few days happily beginning their effort to demonize Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But yesterday, Ryan’s appearance at a Las Vegas gathering of GOP donors gave the left a chance to tie him to the man they really hate: billionaire philanthropist and political donor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s well publicized donations to first Newt Gingrich and now Mitt Romney have enraged liberals who think there’s something shady about a billionaire donating money to promote political causes as long as his name isn’t Soros and the ideas he supports aren’t liberal.

That rather unexceptional meeting between a candidate and his party’s donors was detailed in an article in the New York Times that rightly pointed out that it was likely that Adelson and other leading GOP givers probably wanted a chance to ask some questions about Ryan’s views on foreign policy and his stands on Israel. There’s little doubt that Adelson was probably satisfied with what he heard since although Ryan’s main focus is the economy and the budget, he’s also a strong supporter of the Jewish state. But the chance to link the left’s new favorite Republican demon to their old standby Adelson was irresistible. And as Ben Shapiro reported on, Democrats were quick to make an issue of the meeting. The Obama campaign’s Julianna Smoot sent out an email blast saying Ryan was “making a pilgrimage” to the country’s sin capital to “kiss the ring” of Adelson. While both Ryan and Adelson are fair game for political criticism, the sort of imagery used in the email is a not too sublet attempt to use religious imagery that would depict the very Catholic Ryan as paying obeisance to a man who is a Jewish piƱata for leftist attacks on the pro-Israel community. This is a classic anti-Semitic dog whistle signaling voters that Ryan is in the thrall of the “Israel Lobby.”

Ironically, most of the accusations about such nasty tactics have been directed at the GOP. Earlier this year, Gal Beckerman at the Forward made the eccentric argument that Newt Gingrich’s attempts to tie President Obama to the legacy of leftist ideologue Saul Alinsky was, “an anti-Semitic dog whistle” intended to besmirch the Democrat as somehow the tool of a Jew with, “an obviously Jewish, foreign sounding name.” Given the fact that Gingrich is widely acknowledged, even by those who disagree with his politics, to be philo-Semitic and a staunch backer of Israel, this was absurd, especially since the evangelical base of the Republican Party today is equally friendly to Jews and Israel.

But it’s not clear that liberals who are rightly worried about anything that seems vaguely anti-Semitic will be as concerned about such things as long as the whistles are sent in the direction of Gingrich’s buddy Sheldon Adelson or Ryan.

Adelson’s gambling empire makes him an easy target for all sorts of criticism, some of it perhaps legitimate though much of the focus on his dealings in China is, as I wrote yesterday, more the function of his political prominence than about his business practices. But those who worry about the intent of those who would link President Obama to someone with “an obviously Jewish, foreign sounding name,” need to be equally vigilant about the way Democrats invoke the specter of Adelson.