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Arizona’s Republican candidates can’t shake charges of antisemitism

Arizona’s Republican candidates can’t shake charges of antisemitism

  • Republican candidates Kari Lake, Wendy Rogers, Paul Gosar and Mark Finchem have all been accused of antisemitism this campaign season.
    Gage Skidmore, PBS, Wikimedia CommonsRepublican candidates Kari Lake, Wendy Rogers, Paul Gosar and Mark Finchem have all been accused of antisemitism this campaign season.

When Tony Zinman, founder of Tucson Jews for Justice, first learned about Andrew Torba, he immediately started worrying what effect he would have in Arizona.

“I heard about Torba while following the governor’s race in Pennsylvania (Republican candidate Doug Mastriano was criticized for his relationship with Torba) and realized we’ll have the same problem with Republicans in Arizona.”

Torba, a self-identified Christian nationalist, began the social media site “Gab” as a way to establish a “parallel Christian society.”

Torba said that Jews are not welcome on the site, which is favored by the far-right because it permits speech that mainstream social media platforms have banned. Gab was used by the shooter who killed 11 Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

Zinman’s fears were realized when Torba announced his endorsement of several Arizona Republicans this summer.

State Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican representing the 11th district in Arizona and a candidate for secretary of state, touted the endorsement saying he was “honored” to have it.

And he’s not alone.

State Sen. Wendy Rogers also posted on social media that she was “honored” and added the hashtag #GabCaucus to her post for emphasis.

Torba, however, isn’t the only matter in question regarding charges of antisemitism sticking to several of the state’s top Republican candidates.

Republican associations with, and endorsement of, antisemites, along with the use of antisemitic tropes, led to a number of national secular outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Salon, etc., to report on the issue of antisemitism and Arizona’s Republican candidates. That is mirrored in Arizona’s local press.

The Arizona Republic, the state’s newspaper of record, ran seven op-eds on the issue of antisemitism and Republican candidates since August.

There are real-world consequences. According to a 2022 report from the Anti-Defamation League, the number of antisemitic incidents in Arizona more than doubled in 2021 compared to 2020. Forty-one of those incidents were some form of harassment, and 15 were acts of vandalism.

There have been so many accusations that the non-partisan Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC), which “scrupulously avoids getting involved in electoral politics,” released several public statements denouncing “hate and antisemitism” during this campaign season.

“Antisemitism is a cancer. Hate is a cancer. White supremacy is a cancer. Unfortunately, those cancers exist with some Arizona Republican officeholders and candidates. A few Republican leaders are adjacent to white supremacists. Others court their approval. Some endorse those antisemites,” JCRC said.

Problematic associations

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar has been controversial for years for his support of right-wing conspiracy theories and his ties to extremists.

In 2021, Gosar drew the ire of Jewish groups across the political spectrum when he joined fundraising forces with Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who questions the number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and believes that Israel has a malicious influence on U.S. policy.

Then the Arizona congressman spoke at Fuentes’ America First conference.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), posted on his Twitter feed an article in the conservative National Review headlined “Paul Gosar Hangs Out with Racists to Own the Libs.”

“This is reprehensible, @RepGosar,” the RJC said in a tweet. “Your association with Fuentes, and this event are absolutely inexcusable. You must immediately cancel this event, apologize, and denounce antisemite and Holocaust-denier, Nick Fuentes.”

Paul Rockower, executive director of JCRC, also condemned Gosar in a statement.

“The JCRC is disgusted by the full embrace of white nationalists by AZ Representative Paul Gosar.”

By March 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised Gosar for attending this year’s America First Political Action Conference in Orlando, saying, “There’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or antisemitism.”

The RJC said the lawmaker’s participation was “appalling and outrageous.”

Fuentes, who also founded the “groyper army,” a radical fringe group, said the Supreme Court could only overturn Roe v. Wade without Jews. “We need a government of Christians” and “Jewish people can be here, but they can’t make our laws.”

“If Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jewish woman, didn’t die last year, so that Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic woman, could be appointed to the bench, we would still have Roe v. Wade,” Fuentes said. “Now you tell me that this is a Judeo-Christian country… You tell me that it doesn’t matter that we have a lot of Jewish people in government.”

Extremism trackers like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center have long classified Fuentes as a hate group leader who advocates antisemitism and Holocaust denial, in addition to racist and nativist ideologies.

None of this deterred Gosar from associating with him.

Gosar also defended Torba and Gab, posting “They’ve been going after Andrew Torba for months now — some would say years — because the platform that he is building threatens the Liberal World Order and their control over what we’re allowed to say and see online. …I don’t listen to the media. I’m not leaving Gab.”

Gosar was another of the Arizona Republicans endorsed by Torba this summer.

Troubling endorsements

This summer, both Finchem and Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake endorsed Jarrin Jackson, an Oklahoma antisemite running for that state’s senate. Jackson said, “the Jews” are evidence that “evil exists.”

Lake called Jackson a “fighter” and a “patriot” who is attacked by “the Soros media.”

After his antisemitic statements were pointed out to the Republican candidate, the Lake campaign issued a statement to Axios Phoenix saying that she would rescind her endorsement “(i)f his reported comments are true.”

“I looked at Jarrin’s resume as (a) Combat Veteran in Afghanistan. It is impossible to dig into everything someone has said in their life,” Lake told the outlet.

After Lake rescinded her endorsement, the JCRC denounced it as “tepid” and “wholly insufficient.”

JCRC’s statement called out Lake for not being “bothered to speak, or even tweet, even the slightest denunciation of Jackson, let alone his racism, homophobia and antisemitism. For someone who wants to be the head of our state government, Lake seems remarkably afraid to show any leadership.”

Eric Ward, senior advisor for Western States Center — a pro-inclusive democracy organization — was glad to see Lake renounce antisemitism and rescind the endorsement.

“We hope more elected officials will do that and model a rejection of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry for the rest of the country,” he said. “But she has to go further and take leadership to push antisemitism outside of the Arizona GOP. That’s the real testimony if she understands the danger she endorsed.”

Finchem, on the other hand, stood by his endorsement of Jackson.

By the end of August, Adam Kwasman, former Arizona state representative and the last Jewish Republican elected official in the state legislature, had co-founded the coalition, “Jewish Voices for Kari Lake.”

Kwasman had reached out to Lake about his idea for the group before her endorsement of Jackson became controversy.

“She was thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” he said. “She wanted to ensure that the Jewish community was heard and it wasn’t just a platitude.”

Kwasman viewed the media around Lake’s Jackson endorsement as a distraction and said Lake is on the right side of what he views as Jewish issues: a good relationship between Israel and Arizona, school choice and fighting against Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS).

In July, Lake said she “absolutely denounces bigotry in all its forms, especially anti-semitism.” She also touted her support of good relations between Arizona and Israel and rejected Torba’s endorsement.

However, Lake’s campaign never explained why Lake endorsed a legislator with a lengthy history of making antisemitic statements in videos and on his social media.

Kwasman said he does not think Finchem is an antisemite, yet he made a clear distinction between the two candidates.

“Mark Finchem is not Kari Lake and Kari Lake is not Mark Finchem,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers’ antisemitism is so explicit, according to JCRC, that the organization washed its hands of making any requests of her.

When she endorsed Jackson, JCRC said in a statement, “We are not going to bother asking Rogers to rescind her endorsement or issue a denunciation because her antisemitism is well-documented — we know who she is, and what she stands for.”

Rogers joined Gosar in speaking at America First Political Action Conference last February and posted an antisemitic meme depicting herself, Torba and Fuentes behind a dead rhinoceros ornamented with the word “CPAC” — the main conservative conference — and a Star of David in the “A” of “CPAC.”

At Fuentes’ conference, Rogers called for politicians who implemented coronavirus prevention mandates to be hanged. She also threatened to “destroy the career” of any Republican who called her out for her statements.

On March 1, Rogers was censured by the Arizona legislature for her violent threats.

Still, Republicans removed language in the censure calling out her racism and antisemitism because those statements are protected by the First Amendment, according to Arizona Senate President and Republican Karen Fann.

Twitter and antisemitic tropes

On Sept. 14, Finchem created a stir on Twitter by calling Arizona Democratic politicians “liars and deceivers,” whose “loyalty is to George Soros and Mike Bloomberg.”

Using Soros and Bloomberg this way, “as a symbol for Jewish control, wealth and power,” has been critiqued by many Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, as an updated version of traditional antisemitic tropes.

Additionally, Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson is a leading proponent of the “great replacement theory,” an anti-immigration philosophy that united white supremacists across borders in their hatred of Jews and immigrants and inspired multiple mass murders, including of Jews.

Earlier this year, Carlson produced a special focused on condemning the Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, who features in many right-wing conspiracy theories, including great replacement. Carlson’s embrace of that theory caused the head of the ADL to call for his ouster last year.

Arizona’s Republicans have not been deterred from using the same language no matter how often the negative implications are pointed out.

The New York Times’ liberal writer, Michelle Goldberg, called it trolling in a recent editorial about the use of antisemitic language among conservatives.

“As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in “Anti-Semite and Jew,” first published in English in 1948, antisemites ‘know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.’”

Whether he sees himself as a troll, Sept. 14 wasn’t the first or last time Finchem used the Soros’ trope. He told Jewish News, however, that it's not about religion.

"I do not consider one's religion when examining political positions. I care about their political position exclusively," Finchem said, via email.

Finchem, who represents Oro Valley outside of Tucson, is the main focus of Zinman’s concern for the Jewish community.

“At this point, Finchem has crossed the line and can’t convince me he’s not an antisemite. He can say he’s not but he doubles down on Soros and Bloomberg — it’s plausible deniability but he knows who his crowd is,” Zinman said.

Indeed, JCRC and National Council of Jewish Women Arizona (NCJW AZ), were quick to tweet responses accusing Finchem of a reliance on “antisemitic tropes.”

Finchem’s response was to tweet, “Calling out Soros and Bloomberg and their political objectives is not anti-Semitic. This is a political discussion, not a religious one. I love the Jewish people.”

Adrian Fontes, Finchem’s Democratic opponent, also raised the issue. On Oct. 2, Fontes tweeted, “I have to ask you @RealMarkFinchem to please stop using anti-Semitic tropes. I condemn their use, yet you refuse to flatly deny you hate Jews.”

Finchem responded, “I love the Jewish people you Soros-funded moron.”

Fontes told Jewish News, “Mark Finchem has continually used antisemitic dog whistles to rile up the most bigoted members of his coalition.”

Finchem continued to use Soros’ name as a cudgel. On Oct. 3, Finchem tweeted, “Soros wants to run Arizona with the Fontes-Hobbs-Mayes-Kelly regime.”

Though he would not respond to the question of what “loving the Jewish people” means while still using antisemitic tropes, Finchem tweeted: “Wishing all of my Jewish friends in Arizona, America and around the world a meaningful #YomKippur and Gmar Chatima Tova. May we all be inscribed in the book of life” on Oct. 4.

Yet on the holiday itself, he tweeted, “nobody trusts the Soros press” @ Dillon Rosenblatt, a Jewish journalist whose newsletter Fourth Estate 48, outed Finchem, a harsh critic of mail-in ballots, as having voted early by mail in every election but two since 2004 — the 2007 Tucson city election and the August 2022 primary.

Abe Hamadeh, the Republican candidate for attorney general, also used Soros’ name in his tweets to represent something dark and powerful, out to destroy the innocent.

On June 27, Hamadeh tweeted, “George Soros is on the cusp of dominating Arizona. We won’t let that happen.”

JCRC tweeted in response, “Antisemitism is on the cusp of dominating Arizona, with the use of Soros as an antisemitic bogeyman. We won’t let that happen. Act appropriately, and stop using antisemitism to further your political campaign.”

Hamadeh apparently didn’t take note, as he tweeted on Aug, 5, “George Soros has destroyed our streets and turned our cities into Gotham.”

His past social media posts also surfaced during the campaign.

In 2008, he favored cutting U.S. funding to Israel and wrote of his opposition to Israel’s existence in several of his posts on the Ron Paul Forum.

“If you think Jews arent big in america (2%) how come 56% of them are CEO’S … Jews are influential and for the most part rich. its good were targetting Arabs now, next will target Jews,” Hamadeh wrote in July 2007.

Rogers also tweets regularly about George Soros and “globalists,” another term often seen as a dog whistle for Jews. Earlier this year, she called Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s Jewish president, a “globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”

She tweeted on Feb. 26, “I stand with the Christians worldwide not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face.”

Gosar’s usage of the George Soros’ trope has been called out repeatedly since 2017.

Lake also used the Soros’ name indiscriminately.

Before the August primary, she told Steve Bannon on his podcast that RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) were “in cahoots with the Soros types on the left.”

Bannon was the White House Chief Strategist for former President Donald Trump until he was fired after eight months.

She included Cindy McCain in this group, saying, “They’re globalists and they want — I think they want an end to America. They want a globalist agenda, a new world order, whatever you want to call it.”

Blake Masters, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, alluded in April to the antisemitic “great replacement theory” by accusing Democrats of attempting “to change the demographics of our country” by letting in immigrants.

And in 2006, he posted a conspiracy theory that Rothschild was one of the main forces behind the U.S.’ entry into World War I, drawing on the work of C. Edward Griffin, who stated that the notorious antisemitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” described the world as it is.

However, most of the criticism dogging Masters was unearthed by Jewish Insider, which scoured Masters’ online postings from nearly two decades ago to construct an image of an iconoclastic libertarian who more recently claimed to embrace Republican orthodoxies.

Among the online posts that drew scrutiny was one in which Masters included what he said was a “poignant quotation” from the Nazi official Herman Goering to argue against U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts. On the campaign trail, Masters emphasized that he had not praised Goering — but that did little to assuage the concerns of his critics, including from within Arizona’s Jewish community.

“The overlap between conspiracy theorists and antisemites is quite strong,” Tim Eckstein, JCRC’s chair, told Jewish Insider in June. “Masters is no exception. The Goering quote is, in and of itself, not antisemitic. It is that Masters cannot appreciate that other non-Nazis have said similar things, and there is something pernicious in quoting Goering, or any other prominent member of that murderous regime. For him, it is all one big game.”

Masters also received Torba’s endorsement but did not promote it.

Finchem was the only Republican candidate to respond to Jewish News’ requests for comment.

How should Jews respond?

Zinman is frustrated with the Jewish leadership in Arizona, who he said is not speaking up enough about Republican antisemitism.

“It’s me and the Phoenix JCRC and nobody else in leadership is speaking up,” he said. “In the Jewish community, we don’t want to offend people so we don’t speak out.”

Adam Metzendorf, who lost his candidacy in the Democratic primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House wrote about the issue of antisemitism in the Republican party for Arizona Mirror.

“I see people repeating antisemitic tropes and inciting crowds. These crowds don’t explicitly say the word Jew — instead they say “Soros”, “Bloomberg”, or “Globalist Agenda,” as if these words aren’t equally documented as being guises for antisemitism,” he wrote.

He called out Rachel Mitchell, Republican candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, for fear mongering about the “Soros machine,” Lake’s diatribes against “the globalist agenda” and Finchem’s tweets about “ George Soros and Mike Bloomberg.”

JCRC called out many Republicans for antisemitic statements, but said that “the Arizona GOP has many leaders of character. The Jewish community appreciates those who have spoken out against their colleagues who, regrettably, continue to associate with antisemites and white supremacists, and who pander to those with antisemitic beliefs.”

Still, Zinman said, it’s not enough.

“We’re not a big enough tent to have fascists and antisemites in our tent. The rabbis need to speak out and the community leaders need to speak out. I get a lot of 'I’m with you but I can’t go public.'”

This article incorporated reporting from Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and was first published by the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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