St. Louis Jewish leaders urge Josh Hawley to avoid partisanship in condemning anti-Semitism

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Policy Conference in Washington, DC on June 27, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley on Monday blamed the recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents in American cities on Democratic lawmakers’ rhetoric about Israel.

During an appearance on Fox News, Hawley said that President Joe Biden “needs to call members of his own party and tell them it’s time to stop this rhetoric. I mean, when you say things like calling [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu an ethno-nationalist on the floor of the United States Congress, when you call Israel an apartheid state, which Democrat members of Congress have done on the floor of the United States Congress, that’s incendiary rhetoric.”

With Israel and the terrorist group Hamas engaged in a violent conflict in recent weeks, there has been an increase in the number of anti-Semitic attacks across the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The groups agreed to a ceasefire May 20.

On May 13, a group of progressive Democratic lawmakers such as U.S. Reps. Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, on the House floor condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza.

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Bush, whose district includes St. Louis and surrounding suburbs, has described Israel as an apartheid regime and said, “Palestinians know what state violence, militarized policing and occupation of their communities look like.”

Tlaib, of Michigan, criticized Biden’s support of Israel saying that based on his statements, “You would hardly know Palestinians existed at all.”

Omar, of Minnesota, tweeted that Israeli airstrikes in Gaza were “an act of terrorism.”

In response to Hawley’s criticism of Democrats, Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “This is not about the left or the right.”

“Have a strong opinion about the conflict, but [don’t] use it as some sort of opportunity to blame someone you don’t agree with,” she said.

U.S. Rep Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also wrote an op-ed published Thursday in the Jewish Light offering similar criticism of Biden and Democrats’ response to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“When members of Joe Biden’s Democratic Party continue to support Hamas and shout anti-Semitic tropes, he should stand strong and condemn them,” Wagner wrote. “Instead, he turns a blind eye to those who think it is okay for Hamas to fire rockets into Israeli cities.”

Democratic congressional lawmakers have not expressed support for Hamas.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, called for avoiding partisanship in condemning anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism needs to be unequivocally condemned whenever and wherever it appears,” Picker Neiss wrote in an email. “Rhetoric that contributes to anti-Semitic attacks has no place in our government institutions and must be clearly rejected. Anti-Semitism transcends parties and should never be used for partisan gain or political maneuvers. Both Democrats and Republicans must work together to eradicate hate in all its forms.”

Mike Minoff, who is Jewish and has organized pro-Israel rallies in St. Louis, doesn’t blame the anti-Semitic attacks on members of “The Squad,” a group of representatives, including Bush, elected in recent years who have been more critical of Israel than others in the Democratic party.

But, he wrote in a text message, “I do think their tweets can lead to others feeling comfortable sharing their antisemitic thoughts and threats.”

State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Jewish Democrat from St. Louis County who challenged Wagner in the 2020 election, described recent rhetoric from the Democratic lawmakers who harshly criticized Israel as “hurtful.”

But Schupp, who said she was grateful to see the ceasefire, also said “there have been anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country and throughout the world for certainly as long as you and I can remember.”

“I have seen Josh Hawley — and others — use these kind of tools and devices to benefit their own political careers, and frankly, I’m tired of it,” Schupp said. “There are real people’s lives on the Israeli and Palestinian side at stake here, and this is much more than some kind of political game.”

On Thursday organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Hadassah; the Orthodox Union;  WZOA, Inc., Reconstructing Judaism; Union for Reform Judaism; and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, held a virtual rally they are called “a day of action against anti-Semitism.”