Alabama politics are a bad omen for Jews

Larry Levin is the former publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light. 


One might not think that state politics in Alabama would be of concern to Jewish St. Louisans.

Think again.

In the recent Alabama Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore, the homophobic, Islamophobic, theocratic candidate, easily defeated Sen. Luther Strange, who is sitting in the seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The special general election against Democratic challenger Doug Jones comes up in December. 

Shepherding the cause for Moore — a former judge and  Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice removed from office for conduct aligned with his religious beliefs but not with the law — is Steve Bannon, the former White House adviser to President Donald Trump. Bannon walked a tightrope in the primary by opposing Strange, Trump’s preferred candidate, while making clear he still supported Trump’s presidency.

As reported many times and once again this week, Bannon has a very potent partnership with Robert Mercer and daughter Rebekah Mercer. Both are investors in Breitbart, where Bannon once again plays a leadership role, and stalwarts of the anti-establishment far right. In addition, the billionaire Mercers were represented in Trump’s transition team and with Bannon plan to push hard-core rightist agendas and candidates across the nation.

Why is this worrisome for Jews?  It’s easy to claim as the most apparent reason the invective that Bannon and the Mercers have spread through their Breitbart outlet, whipping up fervor for a number of causes. The incendiary Breitbart, for instance, has become almost synonymous with fiery Islamophibia, Bannon being a notable force for painting Islamic extremism with an overly broad brush.

But wait, you say, Breitbart has had significant Jewish leadership and has been a staunch defender of Israel, so shouldn’t we be appreciative? Ought we be able to overlook its many excesses, and even if we disagree with its views, simply dismiss them as the yellow journalism practiced since the days of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst?

To which I say, no, not even a tad, and there are three highly palpable reasons why.

First is the most pure and simple. Bashing fanatics of any religion, most notably those who propagate hate and violence against those who are not true believers, certainly makes sense. But extending the diatribes far beyond radical Islamists and ascribing malevolence to all Muslims and the religion itself breeds its own hate, one that gets applied to the mainstream and innocent. Rejecting this vitriolic prejudice is simply the morally right thing to do.

Which gets to Point 2. Once that hate is widely disseminated, it can and does serve as an amplifier to those already inclined to create justifications for their own prejudices and life frustrations. So while a dose of antipathy toward terror is a fine thing, the Bannon messaging extends so broadly as to engender hate toward Muslims living peaceably and constructively in any number of American communities, including our own.

Once that venomous genie is out of the bottle, its audiences make their own reality on the ground, with no such assurances as Bannon has given in support of Israel. What begins as finding Islam anathema can readily see its way toward those inclined to anti-Semitism and will be jumped upon by leaders of organizations that are equal opportunity haters. 

Which brings me to Point 3. Normalization of hate has been oft discussed in the past couple of years. But the overt support of a candidate who not only can be accused of supporting hate, as Trump has been, but actually is proud of it, as Moore appears to be, takes the battle to another level altogether. A level that should concern all Jews, of any political stripe.

Moore’s beliefs are not mainstream in any way and are coupled with dangerous actions. He’s said he doesn’t believe a Muslim should be able to serve in Congress, referring to Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. He has said “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” threatening to turn back the clock by decades on LGBT rights.

Moreover, Moore has exhibited his brand of theocratic behavior in ways that have caused his own state to remove him from office – twice.  The first time, a federal judge ordered Moore to remove a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument from the front of the court and, after he refused, an ethics panel removed him from his seat.

The second time, Moore ordered state clerks not to issue same-sex marriage licenses, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage. He was suspended for the remainder of his term.

Moore is the morphing of hate into a prospective federal legislator who is by his own acknowledgment ready to place his religious beliefs above the rule of law. Given a choice between enforcing law or ignoring it in favor of his own convictions, he has chosen the latter.

And that ought terrify Jews no matter their worldviews. For while Jews might not be his targets today, as we know all too well from history, we could readily become his enemies tomorrow if we don’t align with his theocratic beliefs and actions.

This is not a matter of right or left. Keep whatever opinions, positions and disdains you have, no matter your place on the political spectrum. But Bannon’s and the Mercers’ active backing of a candidate who eschews the U.S. Constitution in favor of a religious order is a place too far in our shared democracy. It can come to no good end, and as we’ve seen too many times, it doesn’t end well for Jews.