July 30, 2019
The polarized 2016 presidential election stirred a resurgence of antisemitism not seen in recent years. Jewish journalists were targeted by trolls. Anti-Jewish tropes flooded Twitter. Antisemitic incidents—including threats of violence, cemetery vandalisms, assaults, and harassment--spiked.
AJC examined what the 2020 presidential candidates have said or done to address antisemitism to determine the degree to which they have made it a priority on their platforms or campaigns.
“We look to candidates for elective office – in particular, those who seek the highest office in the land – to demonstrate their awareness of the danger of antisemitism in its various manifestations, and their commitment to combating this pernicious threat not only to the Jewish people but to society at large,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer.
The below list includes all Democratic candidates who qualified for the second round of debates, as well as President Donald Trump and his Republican challenger. Thirteen of the Democratic candidates sent video greetings to AJC Global Forum 2019, all of which noted the rise of the extreme right and hate crimes and referenced the two deadly synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway this past year. In addition to screening those, we combed the candidates’ Twitter accounts and websites and reviewed key votes.
*AJC is a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor endorses candidates for elected office. The views and opinions expressed in the videos below reflect the views of the candidates and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of AJC.
In his video for AJC Global Forum delegates, Michael Bennet acknowledged the rise of antisemitism in Europe and the echoes of it in American political discourse. He said the victims of the two deadly attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway should not die in vain.
“As we mourn the victims of these terrible acts, we recommit to fighting hate in all its forms. We have an obligation to our children to leave them a future where hatred is not accepted.
Bennet was one of only two presidential candidates in the Senate Democratic Caucus who voted in favor of the anti-BDS legislation that would provide legal cover to states that penalize businesses boycotting Israel, which some believe is antisemitic for its demonizing of the Jewish state.
In addition, Bennet hailed the anti-BDS provisions that were included in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act signed by Obama:
“These are important provisions designed to counter efforts to economically discriminate against Israel,” Bennet said. “International BDS activities are deeply concerning, and the U.S. government must stand against these unjustified efforts to delegitimize Israel.”
In his video for AJC Global Forum attendees, former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden reiterated that it was the hate on display during the deadly neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and what he regarded as President Trump’s inadequate response that inspired him to launch his campaign for presidency.
“We see all too clearly how the poison of antisemitism continues to affect our society.” Biden said. “We’ve mourned too many incidents and innocent life that was lost in Pittsburgh and Poway and elsewhere.
“We are in a battle for the soul of our nation and we need leadership that recognizes the seriousness of this rather than assign moral equivalence between those who promote hate and those who oppose it,” he said. “We have to stand up. We have to speak out against antisemitism… Silence is complicity.”
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) peppered his video to AJC Global Forum with Hebrew and thanked AJC for its efforts to combat antisemitism by quoting Hillel the Elder: "If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?"
He also was one of the 36 senators who signed a bipartisan letter from Senators urging European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini to condemn the EU’s decision to label products made by Israeli companies in the West Bank. Critics of the labeling policy accuse the EU of applying an antisemitic double standard to Israel while ignoring hundreds of other territorial disputes around the world.
Booker recently faced a backlash for saying, in response to a question, that he rarely rules out meeting with anyone, but did not see the need to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a notorious antisemite. Blasted for not nixing the idea completely, Booker spent the next week backpedaling.
“I will not sit down with Louis Farrakhan, period,” he clarified on CNN’s State of the Union. “And I reject anybody who preaches that kind of bigotry and hate towards other Americans.”
In the Senate, he has co-sponsored the Disarm Hate Act, which would prevent anyone convicted of a hate crime from obtaining a firearm.
The sitting Montana governor opposes the anti-Israel BDS movement, which is antisemitic in its delegitimization of Israel and demonization of the Jewish state. He signed on to AJC’s Governors United Against BDS initiative in 2017.
After white supremacists targeted several Jewish families in the town of Whitefish with antisemitic calls and emails in 2016, Bullock issued an open letter urging Montanans to "act like our kids are watching and learning from the actions we take and the language we use."
In his video for AJC, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana acknowledged that antisemitism is on the rise around the country and around the world. “We’ve seen it in despicable violent attacks right here in the United States, from Pittsburgh to San Diego. We see it in rising white nationalism, violent and demonstrating across our country. It’s time to make sure we’re unified across the political spectrum in establishing that hate has no home here,” he said.
The South Bend mayor nevertheless got into hot water when he used the term Pharisee, an oft-used term in Christian parlance for hypocrites, to describe Mike Pence’s willingness to set aside his Christian values to serve under President Trump. Buttigieg was receptive when advocates, including AJC, explained that Jewish scholars consider the term offensive, since Pharisees included the creators of Rabbinic Judaism, the precursor of modern-day Judaism.
Buttigieg also caused offense when, during a visit to Las Vegas, he referenced that city’s renown Republican Jewish mega-philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, and said voices in democracy should be based on what you have to say, not “the number of zeros in your bank balance,” which some said was an antisemitic dog whistle. He has apologized for both incidents.
Listen to Buttigieg’s interview about views on Israel on AJC Passport podcast.
Former housing secretary Julian Castro has acknowledged the rise of antisemitism in recent years, but says that doesn’t preclude criticism of Israel’s policies or U.S. policies toward Israel – as long as it’s done in a constructive way.
When Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar apologized for her offensive remarks about Jews hypnotizing the world and having a dual allegiance to the U.S. and Israel, Castro expressed relief.
“I was glad that she apologized,” he told CNN. “I don't believe that she's in her heart an antisemite. But I do believe that those comments gave life to some old tropes.”
Bill de Blasio
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently boasted that he leads the “largest urban Jewish community on earth.” Unfortunately, that means he has seen plenty of antisemitism up close, whether it’s a synagogue defaced with swastikas or a mother whose son was attacked for wearing a kippah.
De Blasio has recently faced harsh criticism for focusing on the far right as the only source of antisemitism in the city. Some allege he has failed to acknowledge antisemitism coming from the far left and from extremist ideologies propagated in the name of Islam.
At the same time, the mayor has condemned those who accuse Israel’s supporters in the U.S. of having a foreign allegiance to Israel. “Let me be really clear, suggesting that support for Israel is beholden to a foreign power is absolutely unacceptable—and it’s illogical, too,” he said.
In his AJC Global Forum video, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney rejected the anti-Israel BDS movement and acknowledged that the rise of antisemitism should be called out on both the far left and the far right.
"We can’t enable it. We can’t brush it aside. We have to fight it head on with determination," he said. "Because this is bigger than partisan politics. Antisemitism is hateful. It’s ugly and it’s deadly."
Noting the mass shootings in Poway and Pittsburgh as evidence of what can happen when hate is allowed to fester, he said the U.S. must strive to remain a nation where people of all faiths are welcome and valued.
"Antisemitism is anti-American," he said.
During her initial military deployment to the Middle East, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) spent her first two-week break visiting Chernobyl and Auschwitz.
“It was an experience that I will never, ever forget and the world must never forget,” she told AJC Global Forum delegates in her video.
“As a Hindu in America I know what it’s like to be a target of religious bigotry,” she said.
“Hate crimes and rhetoric against anyone because of the way they choose to worship must be condemned.”
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been trying to raise awareness about antisemitism in the U.S. and on college campuses since 2015, when she and AJC hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on the topic.
“Some of the conversations on American campuses about Middle East politics have turned to actions that are blatantly anti-Semitic,” Gillibrand said. “For antisemitism and such hateful behavior to go away, we all have a responsibility to raise our voices and call it out wherever it exists, whenever we see it. The only way we are going to win the war of ideas is with better, stronger ideas.”
Gillibrand also led the charge on the bipartisan letter from Senators condemning the E.U.’s labeling policy.
“As Senator I have always taken my responsibility very seriously to make sure that I fight against antisemitism and to make sure the United States is a safe place for the Jewish community to live and thrive,” she said in her video to AJC Global Forum.
The California senator with constituents in Poway and a former prosecutor who has focused her career on fighting hate crimes, especially at religious institutions, Senator Kamala Harris has spoken forcefully about the need to address antisemitism, even in her announcement to run.
“We need to speak the truth that antisemitism is real in this country,” said Harris, who has a Jewish husband and adult Jewish stepchildren. She continued in her AJC Global Forum video.
“No one should have to worry about their children’s safety when they drop them off at the JCC.”
She has distinguished between criticism of Israel’s policy or political leaders and antisemitism. “We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country,” she said.
As governor of Colorado between 2011 and 2019, John Hickenlooper joined the AJC Governors United Against BDS campaign – a strong denouncement of the effort to delegitimize the Jewish right to self-determination and economically undermine the Jewish state.
He reiterated his objections to the BDS movement in his video for AJC Global Forum.
“I find it unbelievable that 70 years after the Holocaust, antisemitism is still an insidious force to be reckoned with,” he said. “It needs to be confronted at every single step. The almost 9 million citizens of Israel deserve the right to live their lives in peace and stability and not fear for their existence or their children or grandchildren.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told AJC Global Forum attendees that it is important for all leaders to recognize rising antisemitism and speak up.
“I intend to speak out every chance I get against antisemitism,” he said in his video. “Our heart is with your organization and our hands of action need to be as well.”
Earlier this year, Inslee signed a state law encouraging schools to implement Holocaust education – an effort to curb the rise of antisemitic hate crimes across the state.
Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator, was one of only two presidential candidates in the Senate Democratic Caucus who voted in favor of a bill that would provide defense assistance to Israel and protect states with anti-BDS laws. BDS leadership seeks the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
In her video message to AJC Global Forum, she focused on the shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, saying “I don’t have to tell you that acts of hatred and antisemitism have increased in our nation…We have to stand up and speak up. We can not only stand up to the spread of hatred but teach tolerance and acceptance.”
When her Minnesota colleague apologized for her antisemitic tweets in February, Klobuchar issued a two-sentence statement: “Antisemitic language should have no place in Congress or our country. Apologizing was the right thing to do.”
With the exception of a tweet on Holocaust Remembrance Day, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke hasn’t said a lot publicly about antisemitism. Shortly after the start of the Israel Gaza conflict in 2014, he co-sponsored a resolution condemning “all forms of antisemitism and rejecting attempts to justify anti-Jewish hatred or violent attacks as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere.”
He also has invoked World War II history a time or two to make points about modern-day racism and immigration policy. He compares the Central American asylum seekers to the time in 1939 when nearly 900 German Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis sought asylum in the U.S. but were turned away. More than 250 of them including children would be murdered in the Holocaust. He also has compared Trump’s recent rally in North Carolina where supporters chanted “Send her back” to an impromptu Nuremberg rally, an annual Nazi propaganda event.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) opened his AJC Global Forum video by decrying antisemitism in general terms, saying “We’re seeing it periodically pop up in communities all over the United States. That kind of intolerance is unacceptable.”
As a member of the Bipartisan Taskforce on Antisemitism, Ryan signed a letter in March 2017 asking Trump to prioritize the appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hasn’t always advertised his Jewish heritage. But it was his opening salvo to AJC Global Forum. In his video greeting, Sanders described how his father emigrated from Poland, but his relatives who stayed behind were murdered by Nazis.
“Antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me,” he said. “It is very personal. It destroyed a good part of my family… I know that many Jewish Americans and Jews all over the world in one way or another have been impacted by antisemitism and that is why I so strongly believe that Jews who have been victims of discrimination for centuries must help lead the effort in fighting back against hatred and racism wherever and whenever we see it. On this, there can be no disagreement.”
He has said lawmakers who criticize Israel should choose their words carefully.
"We must not… equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” he said in a statement in March.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton and a Star of David superimposed on a background of $100 bills. He was slow to disavow an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
As president, he has become a vocal champion for Israel and has gone after members of Congress who aren’t, calling them antisemitic. He also has assembled an administration that doggedly fights antisemitism. In the State Department, he appointed a U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Elan Carr. In the Department of Justice, he appointed William Barr as Attorney General who recently convened an unprecedented summit on antisemitism. And in the Department of Education, he has tapped officials eager to combat antisemitism on college campuses.
Last month, the White House tweeted that, “Antisemitism has no place in our country or anywhere in our world. The Trump Administration is working every day to oppose and eradicate antisemitic hate crimes and ideology.”
In her video, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren told AJC Global Forum attendees that antisemitism has “no place in a democracy.”
“We see a rising tide in antisemitism, white nationalism, and other forms of hatred and bigotry all across our nation and around the world,” she said. “Whether in Pittsburgh, Poway, Paris or Jerusalem, an attack on our Jewish sisters and brothers is an attack on all of us and we must confront this evil together. There is no compromise here. We cannot be silent.”
After the Pittsburgh shooting, Warren joined AJC’s #ShowUpforShabbat campaign and addressed a service at Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts.
Warren has said there must be room in the U.S. for an “open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy.”
“Branding criticism of Israel as automatically antisemitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians,” Warren said in a statement denouncing threats against her congressional colleagues.
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, the only Republican attempting to take on President Trump in the 2020 election, spent five years on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Museum, under President George W. Bush.
As the 2016 Libertarian nominee for vice president, he compared Trump’s pledge to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants to Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass."
He now says the President would prefer a country without immigrants and more aligned with the neo-Nazi, antisemitic group Aryan Nation.
Marianne Williamson has said if she had received a better Jewish education growing up, she might have become a rabbi. Instead, she became a New Age author and motivational speaker who occasionally brings up her Jewish heritage. Williamson has compared Trump’s immigration raids to the practices of Nazi Germany.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a Jew,” Williamson told a crowd at Southern New Hampshire University. “And we are raised to say ‘never again.’ It’s happening again. There are some people who would say to me, ‘Now Ms. Williamson, I think this Jewish analogy, you’ve really gone too far there. This is not the same situation at all.’ But ladies and gentlemen, some of those people will be deported to places so dangerous that it actually is no different.”
As one of the first Asian-American candidates for President, Andrew Yang didn’t expect or welcome the sudden flood of support from white nationalists, including an unofficial endorsement from the renown white supremacist Richard Spencer. Spencer and his movement have cherrypicked Yang’s statements to sound like solutions to halt the decline of the white race.
“I denounce and disavow hatred, bigotry, racism, white nationalism, antisemitism and the alt-right in all its many forms. Full stop,” Yang said in a statement. “For anyone with this agenda, we do not want your support. We do not want your votes. You are not welcome in this campaign.”
When he went public in March about not supporting circumcision for his children, he faced some accusations of antisemitism, which forced him to clarify that he simply believed the choice was up to parents.