Rep. Steve Scalise was confronted by members of the Jewish-led activist group IfNotNow on Monday demanding the Louisiana Republican condemn what the demonstrators described as a pattern of racist and anti-Semitic comments from GOP leadership in recent years.
Ezra Oliff-Lieberman and fellow Louisiana-based IfNotNow activist Elias Newman confronted Scalise, who once referred to himself as "David Duke without the baggage," at an event in Mandeville. The congressman deflected questions about President Donald Trump's comments that Jews who do not support the state of Israel are "disloyal" and general anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant statements from a variety of party leaders.
"Donald Trump calls me a disloyal Jew and you say nothing," said Newman. "You stay silent. It's a trope that literally sent my grandfather to Auschwitz, Jews being called disloyal in Germany."
Scalise, in response, said that "the facts disagree" and pivoted to attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was relentlessly pilloried earlier this year for tweets questioning the political influence of AIPAC on lawmakers. Scalise also appeared to suggest that Newman should condemn anti-Semitism, a suggestion that was met with incredulity by online observers, including Never Action Action's Sophie Ellman-Golan, who called it one of the "wildest things" in the exchange.
Observers also noted that Scalise's use of Israel as a deflection from Republican anti-Semitism didn't work for the congressman.
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"Props to the questioners in this video," tweeted Live Science reporter Rafi Letzer. "When Scalise tries to pivot to Israel politics and the guy just says 'I'm not Israeli.' That tactic's never looked more pathetic or cowardly."
"His refusal to condemn antisemitism in the GOP and from the president is emblematic of his entire party's embrace of white nationalists—the same people who, all across the country, have been opening fire on Jews as we pray, attacking mosques, and setting fire to black churches in Louisiana," Oliff-Lieberman said of Scalise in an email to Common Dreams. "American Jews will not stay silent, and we will not let the party that incites violence against us claim to speak for us."
Newman told Common Dreams that Scalise's comments at the town hall were unacceptable and part of a broader prolem in how the Jewish community is treated by the GOP.
"Rep. Scalise attempted to claim that he condemns antisemitism 'on both sides,' but the fact of the matter is that only one side is inciting the mass murder of Jews and our neighbors," said Newman. "Only one side is spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories from the White House."
"Until he can acknowledge and condemn the role his party has played in the rising violence facing minority communities across the nation, until he apologizes for his own voting record on the rights our communities hold dear, Scalise can never credibly present himself as an ally of the Louisiana Jewish community," Newman added.