By Ian Haworth, Contributor
As a British Jew who is politically conservative and lives and works in the Left-leaning California Bay Area, I have become accustomed to my position as the political “odd-one-out”. If anything, it’s something I embrace, and I relish the opportunity to learn about opposing viewpoints, analyze my own political perspective alongside those who disagree, and then debate with those who might change their minds.
When I saw that Jackie Speier, the Democratic U.S. Representative from California’s 14th Congressional District, was due to speak at a local Jewish community center “town hall” event, I was excited to attend. After becoming deeply concerned by the rampant spread of anti-semitism within the ranks of both British and American Left-wing politics, I hoped to question and understand Rep. Speier’s opinion regarding anti-semitism, and the role the Democrats are playing in its legitimization.
On arrival, I waited in line to check-in, and almost enjoyed the familiar Bay Area sound of one group who called for respectful political discourse, and then moved on to laugh when one group member boasted that he forced gym-goers to turn off Fox News. This was hardly shocking to me, since it happens all the time, and after all, that wasn’t the reason I was there. I waited to talk about anti-semitism.
As we took our seats, I talked with several fellow audience members. They were also Jewish, and despite disagreeing with me politically, they shared my concern regarding anti-semitism within the Democratic party. We were then asked to write and submit any questions we had. After Rep. Speier opened by commenting that Trump’s hateful language has directly incited violence, I wrote and submitted my question. I asked for Rep. Speier’s opinion regarding the “All Lives Matter” style “condemnation of hate” offered in the face of the blatant and repetitive anti-semitic rhetoric of Rep. Ilhan Omar, and whether this refusal to specifically condemn anti-semitism is consistent with her perfectly reasonable criticism of other examples of hateful language. I waited to talk about anti-semitism.
As the town hall progressed, Rep. Speier touched on all of the common political topics. Roe vs. Wade, immigration, climate change, and healthcare. All the answers were well presented, but entirely predictable, with most answers given with the promise of eventual change, or ending with blaming Trump for every problem faced. I waited to talk about anti-semitism.
One general question regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict was asked. Rep. Speier’s response was to blame three of Trump’s decisions regarding Israel for the ongoing political and military conflict: moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the cutting of aid to some Palestinian organizations, and the declaration of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. While I disagree with her conclusion that Trump is to blame for the continued Israel/Palestine conflict, I shrugged it off as oversimplified rhetoric. I waited to talk about anti-semitism.
More questions were asked, with Rep. Speier sticking rigidly to the party line. She vocally criticized the electoral college, condemned the impact that “voter suppression” and “Russian hacking” is having on our electoral processes, and lauded New Zealand’s immediate enactment of strict gun control in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist shootings. After noting that some attempts to increase voting rates in San Mateo County had not been as successful as she hoped, Rep. Speier even joked that we should follow Australia’s lead and impose fines upon those who choose not to vote. I waited to talk about anti-semitism.
After some additional questions from the crowd were taken, with my raised hand unfortunately missed or ignored, the town hall came to an abrupt close. Rep. Speier ended the event with an apparent call for civil dialogue, joking that she has a close family member who is a Trump supporter. After the gasps from the audience subsided, she quipped that if she can talk with her Trump-supporting family member, we can talk to those in our community with whom we disagree.
Rep. Speier had made it through one and a half hours with a Jewish community without making one comment on the topic of anti-semitism, or being asked a single challenging question which addressed the issue. Whether intentionally omitted by the moderators of the event, or by virtue of the attendees’ areas of concern, the topic of anti-semitism which has, does, or could affect every single Jewish person in that room (including myself) was ignored.
I left the community center frustrated and terrified. We all agree that hateful rhetoric is unacceptable, and that it can lead to violence. But even now, as anti-semitism spreads across the world, and violence against Jews is a reality of many communities, I was still waiting to talk about anti-semitism, and not even my fellow Jews were interested.
Everyone left the town hall with smiles on their faces, and I felt alone for the first time in my life. Not because I was a conservative in a sea of those who are on the Left. Not because I am a British immigrant, living thousands of miles from my friends and family. I felt truly alone because I am a Jewish person who was surrounded by other Jewish people who refused to acknowledge the existence of anti-semitism in their own political ranks.
History has shown us that we can’t wait forever to condemn and fight anti-semitism. I pray that the Jewish Democrats I met today don’t wait too long.