POLITICS

GOP Wants To Politicize Anti-Semitism To Help Trump, Saudis. Jewish Groups Push Back.

In February, Republicans used a surprise vote on language condemning anti-Semitism to hinder legislation on U.S. intervention in Yemen.

WASHINGTON ― In February, House Republican leaders dramatically slowed a bipartisan effort to end a four-year U.S. intervention in Yemen by adding surprise language condemning anti-Semitism to the antiwar legislation. That kind of maneuver is cynical and counterproductive, two top Jewish groups have warned in recent days ― offering a lifeline to Democrats as they prepare to bring the bill up for another vote and hope this time they can get it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Trump has no intention of stopping U.S. intelligence and logistical support for the campaign that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have waged in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians and left millions of people on the brink of famine. The Republican gambit helped him by delaying a reckoning that would force him to issue only the second veto of his presidency, and they succeeded by decoupling the House legislation from its equivalent in the Senate.

But now that the Senate has passed the resolution to end support for the Yemen policy and the text it endorsed has been sent to the lower chamber, all its supporters need is a win in the House. So this is the GOP’s final chance, and the same procedure of tacking on anti-Semitism language that the party used two months ago ― peeling off Democratic votes at the last minute by offering what’s known as a motion to recommit ― will likely be Republicans’ play of choice, lawmakers and aides say.

There’s little evidence for the increasingly popular GOP claim that the Democratic Party is institutionally turning on Jews or against U.S. ally Israel. That’s not the point, though: Republicans are seeking not to test whether Democrats will agree to criticize anti-Semitism but to force them into a choice between doing that or pushing an end to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Now the remarks from the Jewish groups could provide cover for Democrats who vote no or abstain on the expected amendment, an aide to party leadership predicted.

On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League released a letter that it had sent to leaders in both chambers. “I urge you to work together to stop the growing partisan weaponization of anti-Semitism, and instead work together to combat this scourge,” the civil rights organization’s chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, wrote. In keeping with the group’s nonpartisan posture, he did not highlight the GOP. But an ADL spokesperson told HuffPost in a Monday email that the letter ”could apply to situations like this one, in which legislative language about anti-Semitism is being used to obstruct completely unrelated legislation, in this case involving war powers.” (The Yemen resolution invokes the War Powers Act to say decisions about U.S. military policy should rest with Congress.)

“The issue of combating anti-Semitism should be addressed on its own terms, not used as a prop to score political points or to block important unrelated Congressional business,” the spokesperson added. 

The issue of combating anti-Semitism should be addressed on its own terms, not used as a prop to score political points or to block important unrelated Congressional business. Anti-Defamation League spokesman

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the advocacy group J Street, called the prospective GOP approach an “outrageous stunt” in a Monday statement that urged Democrats to not let it succeed. ”[Republicans] see concern over anti-Semitism as just another political weapon to wield against their opponents.”

Democratic leaders are united in support of the Yemen bill. The fear among the party and outside activists is that if Republicans repeat their February move, they’ll still be able to win over enough Democrats, particularly those who recently won in purple districts, to tack on the amendment and force the process of getting the same language through both chambers to start all over again.

The bill’s backers sounded hopeful on Monday.

“I appreciate ADL’s leadership and hope that the Republicans will heed their advice and not politicize anti-Semitism in the Yemen vote,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the original sponsor of the antiwar legislation, told HuffPost.

The leadership aide described a “determined push” for the Yemen resolution.

Democrats have already repeatedly voted to denounce anti-Semitism over the past two months, the aide added. Stubborn facts like those and efforts like the striking push by the Jewish groups spell trouble for the GOP’s ongoing attempt to smear the party.

The Yemen vote is expected either this week or next, before Congress’ two-week recess. The White House reiterated Monday that Trump will veto the bill.

HuffPost approached several other prominent Jewish organizations involved in combating anti-Semitism to see if they agreed with the ADL and J Street assessment of the GOP’s maneuver.

In a Tuesday evening email, David Bernstein of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs wrote that both political parties are increasingly using concern over anti-Semitism as a way to embarrass each other.

“Supposedly supportive efforts, such as one-sided congressional resolutions and calls for ‘Jexit,’ only raise the temperature and make fighting anti-Semitism more complicated,” Bernstein said. He declined to say whether he saw the anticipated Republican effort as an instance of unhelpfully politicizing the struggle against anti-Semitism. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred to the Anti-Defamation League’s head as Jason Greenblatt. The chief executive is Jonathan Greenblatt.

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