Jon Ossoff won his Georgia Senate seat by a nose — or, rather, despite it.
His Republican opponent, David Perdue, ran online ads in 2020 that enlarged Ossoff’s nose and juxtaposed Ossoff’s image with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a fellow Jew, claiming “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia.” Ossoff, a descendant of pogrom survivors, rightly called the ads antisemitic.
Marc Rowan, the billionaire CEO of private equity giant Apollo Global Management, supported the campaign to defeat Ossoff. That’s the same Marc Rowan who is now attacking the University of Pennsylvania for allowing the Palestine Writes Literary Festival to occur on campus and failing to condemn its speakers — poets, mainly — as antisemites. As the advisory Board Chair of UPenn’s Wharton business school, Rowan published an opinion essay asking alumni to “close their checkbooks until [UPenn’s] President Magill and Chairman Bok resign.” Though the op-ed’s impetus was the horrific October 7 Hamas attack, the festival actually peacefully preceded it in September. Poets, to Rowan, are apparently more dangerous than politicians.
Nor is Rowan alone. Hedge fund billionaire Cliff Asness of AQR Capital Management is also calling for a UPenn management purge while simultaneously donating to the same Senate Leadership Fund as Rowan. That political action committee spent $92 million on Ossoff attack ads, some featuring Ossoff, Schumer and Bernie Sanders in shadowy cabal-like poses with the tag line “The radical left bought Ossoff because if he wins, they control everything.” The only ways this antisemitic dog whistle could be clearer would be with the word “globalist” or footage of George Soros tying a virtuous gentile to the railroad tracks. According to the PAC’s homepage, its “one goal” is “to build a Republican Senate majority that will defend America from Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats’ destructive far-left agenda.”
Right-wing Jews like Rowan and Asness do more harm to the Jewish people than literature festivals ever could. But right-wingers characterize lefties like me as “self-hating Jews” because we support the Palestinians’ right to exist in their own state and are against the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza as a response to the Hamas attack. Yet while Rowan and Asness are fomenting antisemitism by donating millions to a party full of white nationalists, including the $500,000 Rowan gave to Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
These differences between right-wing and left-wing Jews are not unique; they exist in America as a whole. In simplest terms, to the right, America is a place and, to the left, it’s an idea. America to Republicans is its land, borders and property rights, or, in Wall Street terms Rowan and Asness would recognize, shareholder rights. White nationalists want to keep outsiders off their land and property, be it the government in the form of taxation or foreigners with different skin colors. Individual property rights take precedence over global human rights.
America to left-wing Democrats is the idea of democracy and equality found in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. For Jews especially, it’s also the idea of America being a sanctuary to refugees seeking that equality. The Statue of Liberty holds a tablet marking the Declaration of Independence, and its “give me your tired, your poor” inscription was written by Emma Lazarus, who was both a radical left-wing poet and an advocate for Jewish refugees.
Jews were among the first refugees in recorded history. After the Romans destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., we left Israel and thus became great by creating a humane religion that could be practiced anywhere. That religion was about ideas and people, loving God and thy neighbor, not a nationalist fatherland. A minyan of ten Jews in any spot makes a congregation. This is why speeches by nationalists like Britain’s Teresa May — who in 2016 said “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere” — are arguably antisemitic, alluding to Hitler’s belief that Jews are a “rootless” people “who feel at home everywhere.”
For centuries, Jews in Europe legally couldn’t own land, so being a nationalist tribally attached to your parcel was functionally impossible. But Israel’s statehood brought forth right-wing Jewish nationalism, and it’s as toxic and narrow-minded in the ultraconservative Likud Party there as white Christian nationalism is in the GOP in America.
The right-wing conflation of Israel with Judaism — and that if you’re critical of Israel’s nationalist policies, you’re antisemitic — contradicts liberal diaspora philosophy. That philosophy is democratic in its tolerance of dissenting viewpoints, with its Talmudic tradition of rabbinical debate over scriptural interpretation. Hence the saying “two Jews, three opinions.”
Trump embodies the nationalists’ property-based ethos. Right-wing Jews see him as “good for the Jews” because in 2017 he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even though the land title of the holy city has long been disputed between members of the three Abrahamic religions. Palestinians also call it their capital.
Also in 2017, Trump said there were “very fine people” at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, where torch-carrying white nationalists shouted “Jews shall not replace us,” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan about the German fatherland. Trump had a friendly dinner last year with Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist leader, and received Klansman David Duke’s endorsement.
Trump’s anti-globalist rhetoric endangers diaspora Jews. There is a direct line from anti-globalist rhetoric to the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were murdered. The white nationalist killer specifically mentioned the congregants’ membership in the 142-year old Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization to help refugees, as his motive. Notably, Emma Lazarus was also a HIAS volunteer.
Such nationalist rhetoric has only become worse in recent days. Trump has promised to “root out” the “vermin” on the left and said that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He plans to round up migrants and put them in camps. Hitler also called the Jews vermin and said they were poisoning the blood of the Aryan race.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Palestinians “Amalek,” a reference to the biblical enemy of the Israelites that must be annihilated. Some Likud party members have called to “erase Gaza” or even nuke it, despite the fact that almost half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are children.
Meanwhile, wealthy university donors like Rowan and Asness have called student protestors across the country antisemitic for criticizing Israel. But Judaism to many diaspora Jews isn’t the Israeli state. It’s a compassionate state of mind towards everyone, including the Palestinians who have become refugees because of Israel’s invasion.
Lewis Braham is the author of “The House That Bogle Built,” a book about the history of Vanguard funds, and has written about investment funds for numerous financial publications.