Anti-Semitism is disturbingly on the rise in America. In fact, most religion-based hate crimes in America are against Jews. Congressman Lee Zeldin has fought anti-Semitism on the front lines in Congress — and he sits on the same committee as freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Read the transcript, posted below, or listen to the interview on the podcast:
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Daniel Davis: I’m joined now by Congressman Lee Zeldin. He represents the First District of New York, and he sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and on the Financial Services Committee. He’s also one of two Jewish Republican members of Congress. And he’s chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, which has over 100 members.
Congressman, I really appreciate your time today.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Davis: So, we’re recording this on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And it really is a fitting time to reflect on, and respond to, the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, something that you’ve spoken a lot about lately.
I want to ask you first, just because you’re on the Foreign Affairs Committee and you’ve dealt kind of close up with this: Some of the remarks from one member of your committee have come again and again and have been condemned by various people.
What do you make of Congress’ response and what is the message that Congress needs to send to the country amid these comments and the anti-Semitic climate?
Zeldin: The response has been woefully unacceptable, inadequate, where you have that member—[Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota—putting out a statement and celebrating the resolution that comes out in response to her anti-Semitism where she is claiming a win.
And she’s focusing more on Islamophobia than she is on anti-Semitism. We’re missing the ball. Where if she was a Republican, [the resolution] would’ve named names. But because she’s a Democrat, it doesn’t.
That double standard’s a problem. Where if she was a Republican, she’d be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but because she’s a Democrat, she won’t.
That double standard’s a problem. That resolution should have been forcefully and unequivocally condemning anti-Semitism. And instead, it got watered down into this “All hate matters” resolution.
She’s supportive of [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel]. She has pushed that anti-Semitism. That’s been an issue.
… Just this week, she’s talking about blaming United States foreign policy for what [Nicolas] Maduro is doing to his people in Venezuela. Are you kidding me?
Al-Shabab attacks innocent people in Kenya, and you’re going to blame American foreign policy for that?
She’s here in the United States of America. She was born and grew up in Somalia. And she is on record condemning United States service members and their work—selflessly, in many cases, giving their life to help deliver humanitarian aid and help stabilize a foreign government, where people were horrifically in conditions that many died, families were destroyed, communities fell apart.
So, this is one thing about Republicans. … I mean, it’s one thing when you have Democrats blame Republicans and vice versa. That happens a lot in this town. It happens all throughout our country.
But this new tactic of blame everything on America, and you’re a member of Congress, and you’re on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, you’re overseeing U.S. foreign policy. …
I was the first member to come out against her appointment to House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Many others are joining the call, and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is being led by the radical left, as opposed to leading it.
And the problem is going to get worse, not better. So, we need to identify and crush the threats. … That’s what needs to be confronted. So, how’s the congressional response? It’s been weak. It’s been inadequate. It’s embarrassing. It’s been shameful. We need to do more.
Davis: Hate crimes in New York against Jews [are] way higher than a lot of people would know or expect based on the media reports.
Last year, about half of hate crimes in New York City were against Jews. And I think that would come as a surprise to some. Why do you think there hasn’t been more of an effort to expose that trend?
Zeldin: The increase on college campuses, the property desecration in local communities, the targeting of grade school kids, it’s horrifying.
… I’m Jewish. I’m one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress. [When] I was [in] kindergarten through 12th-grade, college, law school, four years on active duty … I never once experienced anti-Semitism.
If you ask me, “Tell me one story of growing up where you experienced anti-Semitism,” I would have nothing for you. If you said, “Tell me one story of you know some other Jewish kid growing up experiencing anti-Semitism that you know about,” I actually don’t have a single story for you.
Now, you could ask basically any Jewish student, “Give me a story,” and they’re going to say, “How much time do you have?” The big decision is choosing which story to tell you about. And it needs to be exposed more.
There’s been some progress; there’s been some education. Four years ago, if you asked a member of Congress what your position is on [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement], you’re much more likely to get the response of, “What’s that?”
Now members know what [it] is. Many members, by the way, now know what it is, and tolerate it, accept it. Some support it. Their base is more aware of it.
So, there’s more of an education that’s gone out. There’s been more of an awareness, but the problem’s risen.
… And in the case last weekend, just before last weekend … the New York Times international edition [published an editorial cartoon widely criticized as anti-Semitic]. You want to be the moral compass for the world saying what exactly the rule should be on morals, ethics, and values, and you’re going to put that cartoon out yourself?
The editor who was in charge of it should have been fired. An apology should include all Jews around the world. It should include the Prime Minister of Israel. He’s Jewish. You went after him directly.
So, the answer is that while there’s been more of an education, some of the people who have been educated have actually ended up fostering more of a tolerance and an acceptance, a promotion of [anti-Semitism].
And then, for others, they just still haven’t gotten out of the dugout yet to join the effort.
Davis: Last question for you, Congressman. You mentioned BDS—the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement—that’s gained a foothold on college campuses and a lot of foreign countries.
There have been some suggesting that the federal government needs to make sure that it’s taking steps not to fund any college or any institution that is giving quarter to, or at least endorsing, BDS.
Would you agree with those proposals, or is there any kind of federal policy from your position in Congress that you think needs to be passed into law to push back on it?
Zeldin: As a leader in the House or Senate—a speaker of the House, a Senate majority leader—will set the bill numbers for the first 10 or so bills.
S1, this year, is about combating the BDS movement. That’s the priority placed on this issue, which passed with over three-quarters of United States senators—bipartisan vote, Republicans and Democrats—joining together and passing a bill that does a few things, one of which helps empower states and local governments to fight back against the BDS movement.
It is important for the House, the Senate, to make a statement, to take a position, to come together, to unite for a force for good. A resolution can be helpful when that resolution is a strong, powerful statement.
But it’s important for us, not just to make a statement, but also to pass legislation with teeth.
I would call on Speaker Pelosi again, right now. Bring S1 to a vote [in the House]. It will pass the House chamber with strong bipartisan vote. It’ll go to the president. It’ll be signed into law, and states and local governments will have more power to combat the BDS movement.
… [We need to deal] with what’s happening on college campuses. And then, Saudi Arabia has more influence on college campuses and have their professors, and their textbooks, and their curriculum, as Qatar has more influence in the higher education system, with their professors, and their textbooks, and their curriculum.
We need to look at all different factors, where Students for Justice in Palestine is getting all of their funding from, and have the backs of those innocent Jewish students who are being targeted to a blatant anti-Semitism, being denied opportunity, in some case, getting lower grades because a professor, faculty, administration.
… I mean, the federal government needs to do a lot more. The state, local governments need to do a lot more to help. But if we’re trying to put this to scale—this is, you could say it’s almost entirely a responsibility of the collective whole, including folks outside of government, who are going to step up and do more, who are motivated to want to do something about it.
Davis: Well, I appreciate your voice and Congress on this. Congressman Zeldin, thanks for your time here in the studio.
Zeldin: Happy to. Thanks for having me.
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