Gingrich Says Occupy Protest Is Anti-Semitic

But a few fringe protesters don't prove him right

As if it weren’t bad enough that one of the Republican presidential hopefuls, Herman Cain, has based his economic platform on the video game Sim City, we now hear from Chris Cillizza at The Fix that Newt Gingrich is staging a comeback:

Over the past six weeks, a funny thing has happened in national polling in the Republican presidential race: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, thrown on the political scrap heap as recently as this summer, is back in the mix—in a major way.

In a new New York Times/CBS News national poll, Gingrich was alone in third place at 10 percent, trailing only businessman Herman Cain (25 percent) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (21 percent). Among self-identified tea party supporters, Gingrich received 15 percent—roughly double the eight percent he got in mid September.

The reason, according to Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, is Gingrich’s obvious intellect, which is on display during debates. Gingrich is unquestionably the smartest and deepest thinker of the candidates, so that makes sense. But I think Cillizza makes a good point too:

As many expected he would, Gingrich has emerged as a kind of star in these [debates]—using his droll sense of humor, willingness to throw red meat to the conservative base and disdain for the mainstream media to regularly emerge as a winner in the after-action analyses of the debates.

That red meat for the conservative base is key, and Occupy Wall Street proves to be a perfect target. So what Gingrich has done is play the Occupy card along with one other card politicians can’t afford to ignore: charges of anti-Semitism.

On CBS’s The Early Show a couple days ago, he said that one thing that differentiated Occupy protests from Tea Party gatherings was “a frightening level of anti-Semitism.” That’s a ridiculous claim. According to The Jewish Week, this “frightening level” …

… refer[s] to a small number of anti-Semitic signs and comments that have appeared at the protests, including a handmade placard claiming that “Zionists control Wall Street” and one man’s hateful tirade, captured on video, against an elderly Jewish visitor to Zuccotti Park, site of the New York protest.

So a few idiots in 1,798 cities? That’s a frightening level? I’ll tell you why he’s characterizing it that way: He believes such rhetoric will appeal to Jewish voters, who (still) overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The conservatives never love the Jewish people (and Israel) as much as they do during campaign time. If they could grow side curls overnight, they would.

Charges of anti-Semitism should not be made as part of a political strategy. They should be made factually or not made at all. If anything, I think Gingrich’s cynical ploy should alienate Jewish voters who are smart enough to know better.

Here’s what the Anti-Defamation League—whose mission it is to monitor anti-Semitism worldwide—has said about the Occupy movement:

As the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) demonstrations expand from New York to other cities around the country and overseas, several videos and images showing individuals holding anti-Semitic signs or voicing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories at the OWS rallies are circulating online.

While there is no evidence that these incidents are widespread, history reveals how economic downturns can embolden anti-Semites to spread malicious conspiracy theories about Jews and money. The financial crisis over the past few years has shown how turmoil in the markets can be exploited by anti-Semites to promote stereotypes about Jews.

As the focus of the demonstrations continues to develop and evolve, ensuring that the movement does not get hijacked by extremists or anti-Semitic elements is critical. Public rallies like OWS often draw a wide range of people with various personal or organizational agendas, including those seeking to exploit public rallies for their own purposes. The American Nazi Party, for example, expressed their support for OWS rallies in several cities via Twitter.

Thus far, however, anti-Semitism has not gained traction more broadly with the protestors, nor is it representative of the larger movement at this time.

I will continue to check in with the ADL on this issue. Maybe Gingrich should too.