In New Hampshire, as in the rest of America, Jewish voters tend to overwhelmingly vote Democrat. But unlike some other elected leaders, New Hampshire’s congressional Democrats have responded to a series of anti-Semitic incidents in their own party with an ongoing silence. And now some Jewish Granite Staters are starting to ask why.
“I think [Rep. Ilhan] Omar’s comments were anti-Semitic and I think they were unacceptable,” says former N.H. congressman Paul Hodes. “Had I been a member of Congress, I think — I hope — that I would have been clear in rejecting anti-Semitic comments and holding the speaker accountable,” he tells NHJournal. Hodes was the first Jewish member of the House of Representatives elected from New Hampshire.
The Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) story first broke in January when her previous claims that “Israel has hypnotized the world” were widely publicized. After being called out over this reiteration of the “sinister Jews” smear, Omar apologized.
Just days after that apology, Omar was forced to issue another, “unequivocal apology,” for asserting that Israel and its Jewish allies were buying support from Americans (“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted). “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech, but Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes is deeply offensive,” Speaker Pelosi said at the time.
Then came Omar’s “allegiance to a foreign country” comment, echoing the anti-Semitic suggestion that Jews and/or supporters of Israel have divided allegiances and can’t truly be loyal to America. Omar’s behavior was so bad that even the Democrat-friendly Anti-Defamation League complained to Speaker Pelosi asking her to act.
“We urge you and your colleagues to send the unambiguous message that the United States Congress is no place for hate,” wrote the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt.
Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership did act, issuing a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and Omar’s specific comments. However, under pressure from progressive organizations like MoveOn.org and other supporters of Rep. Omar, Democrats in the House withdrew that resolution and replaced it with a generic condemnation of hatred.
Last week, MoveOn followed up by calling on Democratic presidential candidates to skip this year’s AIPAC policy conference. After their call went out, all of the major Democratic presidential candidates announced they were boycotting this week’s AIPAC gathering: Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Housing Secretary Julian Castro; and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
On Tuesday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called out the Democratic no-shows. “We know anti-Semitism begins with words and it ends with something far worse than that. We all have an obligation to stand up to it, but Democrats aren’t doing that. They’re cowering, they’re enabling the anti-Semitism in their party and they ought to stop it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was forced to address AIPAC via video feed from Tel Aviv due to rocket attacks on his country, referenced Omar’s comments in his remarks:
“Take it from this Benjamin: it’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said. “The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values.”
But even as politicians across the spectrum have confronted the anti-Semitic strain within the Democratic coalition, New Hampshire Democrats have maintained an eerie silence. Since January, NHJournal has made repeated requests for comment from all of New Hampshire’s elected federal representatives: Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen; and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas. They all declined comment. They have also declined to issue any public statements either condemning Omar’s comments, or the refusal of their party to hold her accountable, or opposing the boycott of AIPAC.
And NHJournal was not alone in reaching out.
“I sent letters to the senators [Shaheen and Hassan] because I kept receiving solicitations from them,” Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman of Temple B’nai Israel in Laconia, N.H. told NHJournal. “I expressed my view to them that ‘I don’t hear anything from you. I hear silence from you. I don’t hear any clear and overt protest against anti-Semitism.’
“I did not get any response to that,” Rabbi Heilman said.
In his sermon on March 10 (which he posted online) Rabbi Jon Spira-Savett of Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, N.H. wrote that he reached out to Rep. Kuster. “I wrote her a few weeks ago when this began to heat up, asking for her support on this question of ‘dual allegiance,’ and more than that, asking her to reach out personally to Rep. Omar.” Rabbi Spira-Savett says he heard back from her personally. But publicly, Rep. Kuster remains both silent on anti-Semitism, and an ally of Rep. Omar.
Some in New Hampshire’s 10,000-member Jewish community see a disturbing trend.
Former Republican state Rep. Elaine Swinford of Barnstead, N.H. tells NHJournal that “it’s the Democrats who are very quiet about this. They don’t feel like they can engage. They don’t want to put a target on their backs.”
In his sermon, Rabbi Spira-Savett said, “I hear Rep. Omar and am horrified out of my own religious, leftish Zionism… This is part of a larger story of Jews not being seen or acknowledged or even allowed in certain places on the activist Left,” he wrote.
Perhaps because he’s a former elected official, Rep. Hodes is more pragmatic. “Let’s face it: There aren’t many Jewish voters in New Hampshire. I get the politics and I get the math. The question is, where do politics, math and personal integrity meet?”
Rabbi Heilman is more blunt:
“I’m a second-generation survivor. My mother escaped from the Nazis four times. My father lived in Israel at the time, but at the end of the war, he received a letter his brother had written a few moments before was forced to board a train to Auschwitz. So I grew up believing — and I believe even more strongly now — that silence and hiding are not the proper response to anti-Semitism.
“All I can say is that Rep. Omar’s comments were anti-Semitic, and that silence is wrong.”