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ADL criticizes Missouri senator for speech containing phrases historically used to 'demean Jews'

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Policy Conference in Washington, DC on June 27, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Anti-Defamation League has publicly criticized U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, for a speech he made last week that contained phrases which “have a history of being used to demean Jews and may resonate with extremists.”

The first-term senator gave the speech July 18 at the National Conservatism Conference, an event focused on nationalism organized by Yoram Hazony, an American-Israeli professor.

In the speech, Hawley said that the divisions in the United States are based not around support or opposition of President Donald Trump or “red America and blue America,” but rather “between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society.”

"For years the politics of both left and right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities," he said.

Hawley, who is Christian, also linked the founding of America to the birth of Christianity when he said the nation’s “unique history” began “2000 years ago, when the proud traditions of the self-governing city-states met the radical claims of a Jewish rabbi, who taught that the call of God comes to every person.” (The Jewish rabbi he was referring to appeared to be Jesus.)

He also stated that “an economy driven by money changing on Wall Street ultimately benefits those who have the money to start with, and that economy will not support a great nation.”

Karen Aroesty, regional director of ADL, told the Jewish Light that she learned about the speech via social media, where the “Twitter-storm had already decided that the use of the word ‘cosmopolitan’ or ‘cosmopolitan elites’ was anti-Semitism.”

Aroesty said she spoke with Hawley’s chief of staff and asked the senator “to consider apologizing for harm caused to the community — even if unintended. Do I think Josh Hawley is an anti-Semite? No.”

“While there’s nothing outwardly anti-Semitic in the Senator’s speech, we can understand why some are concerned about his use of the phrases ‘cosmopolitan elites’ and ‘money changing on Wall Street,’ which have a history of being used to demean Jews and may resonate with extremists,” the ADL said in a statement. “We hope the Senator will be more careful with his words in the future.”

The word cosmopolitan was “used against the Jews by Nazis and Bolsheviks alike,” Volker Ullrich the author of a biography, “Hitler: Ascent,” told the radio show “The World.” He said it became “code word for Jews who insisted on their Jewish identity.”

On Twitter, left-leaning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who is Jewish, wrote “If you’re Jewish and the use of ‘cosmopolitan’ doesn’t scare you, read some history.”

Hawley pushed back against the criticism, writing that the “liberal language police have lost their minds.”

In a later tweet he wrote that he was using the term “cosmopolitan” as it was used by Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, to describe people “whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world,” rather than a “specifically American identity.”

Nusbaum told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “Cosmopolitanism, as I argue, is a ‘noble but flawed ideal.’ But quite apart from that, I do think that the label has often been attached to Jews in order to imply that they are not loyal citizens of the nation they are in, and that this was and is profoundly wrong.”

Hazony, the conference organizer, defended Hawley on Twitter, writing that “cosmopolitan’ is a normal term in political theory, history and other academic disciplines. It means ‘citizen of the world’ and has no anti-Jewish valence. @HawleyMO used it correctly in his National Conservatism speech.”

Aroesty also pointed to the timing of the speech. It came in the same week that Trump tweeted that four minority congresswomen — all citizens, three born in the United States — should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

“Politicians in Congress have enormous power and public platforms on which to influence people and that’s why for us, the words matter, the context matters — it’s not just about intent,” Aroesty said. 

Gavriela Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau-American Jewish Committee, also told the Kansas City Star that references to a “shadowy elite class destroying the country from within, loyal only to ‘the global community,’ sound to many in the Jewish community eerily reminiscent of speeches from Germany in the 1930s.”

Information from the Kansas City Star and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was used in this report.