Two members of the Jewish activist group IfNotNow confronted Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise at a town hall on Monday, asking him to denounce antisemitism in the Republican party.
In a video posted to Twitter, IfNotNow member Ezra Oliff-Lieberman pointed out connections between antisemitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric often espoused by the Republican party. In response, Rep. Scalise stated that “the facts disagree,” and claimed that he has fought antisemitism himself, by joining Republican efforts to condemn Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Oman for a series of tweets that Republicans claimed were antisemitic.
When asked by IfNotNow member Elias Newman to specifically condemn any antisemitism espoused by the Republican party, Scalise instead saying, “I’ve been vocal in calling it out in both parties.”
It’s an interesting tactic from the man who once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” according to the New York Times.
“Rep. Scalise once spoke at a convening hosted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a white supremacist group founded by David Duke,” Oliff-Lieberman said in a statement. “Now he serves in Republican Party leadership and is one of Trump’s closest allies.”
According to Scalise, he wasn’t aware of the group’s affiliation with neo-Nazi activists when he spoke at their gathering in 2002. “For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalice told the Times-Picayune when questioned about his appearance in 2014.
At the town hall meeting, Scalise took the opportunity to guide the conversation to the topic of Israel, saying, “What’s important is that we recognize Israel is a Jewish state.”
However, IfNotNow is a growing movement of young American Jewish activists who are opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. According to Newman, Scalise’s attempted topic switch was, in itself, and antisemitic tactic intended to associate Jewish people with Zionism.
“For too long we’ve allowed the GOP to use it as a shield in order to get away with their white nationalist rhetoric,” Newman told Newsweek.
“What I encountered today was what we’ve been seeing from the right for a long time now. When asked about their own party’s problem with antisemitism and white nationalism, they deflect to the left, and they deflect to being champions of Israel. And the fact is that these white nationalist shootings that are happening across the globe – they’re not citing Democrats and they’re not talking about Israel, they’re talking about the same kind of antisemitic rhetoric… anti-immigrant, anti-woman in the case of the most recent Yom Kippur shooting in Germany, rhetoric that is honestly coming out of the mouths of the GOP.”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_