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Opinion: We need to talk about this Republican candidate’s antisemitism

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, speaks after winning the Republican primary for the governor’s race during a watch party event in Greensboro, N.C., March 5, 2024. “Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor of North Carolina, has for some reason not bothered to take down his old Facebook posts about the Jews,” writes New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. (Travis Dove/The New York Times)

Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor of North Carolina, has for some reason not bothered to take down his old Facebook posts about the Jews.

“There is a REASON the liberal media fills the airwaves with programs about the NAZI and the ‘6 million Jews’ they murdered,” Robinson, the state’s lieutenant governor, wrote in one 2017 post. (The reason was left unsaid, but the scare quotes spoke loudly.) He regularly argued on Facebook that focusing on the evils of Nazism obscured the greater danger: the one represented by the Democratic Party. “George Soros is alive. Adolf Hitler is dead,” he wrote in one post, and in another, “Who do you think has been pushing this Nazi boogeyman narrative all these years?”

In 2018, Robinson, who is Black, offered some thoughts about what he seemed to see as a Jewish plot behind the hit movie “Black Panther.” The title character, he wrote, was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic Marxist,” calling the movie “trash” that was “created to pull the shekels” from the pockets of Black people, whom he referred to using a Yiddish slur. He has refused to apologize for these statements, though he called them “poorly worded” and has denied that he’s antisemitic.

None of this appears to have hurt Robinson with the Republican electorate in North Carolina, where on Tuesday, he won nearly 65% of the vote in the gubernatorial primary. (In November, he will face the Democratic state attorney general, Josh Stein, who is Jewish.) Donald Trump enthusiastically endorsed Robinson, calling him “better than Martin Luther King.”

We’re in the middle of a wrenching national discussion about antisemitism on the left, and where it overlaps with anti-Zionism. But Robinson is a reminder that in electoral politics, there is far more tolerance for antisemitism in the Republican Party than the Democratic one.

I don’t want to downplay the problem of left-wing antisemitism or its closely related cousin, a jejune anti-imperialism that treats Hamas as heroes. Both phenomena have shocked me in the months since Oct. 7 and shouldn’t be rationalized as understandable reactions to Israeli savagery in the Gaza Strip.

In an Atlantic cover story, Franklin Foer recently reported on anti-Jewish bullying, vandalism and conspiracy-mongering in Northern California. “In the hatred that I witnessed in the Bay Area, and that has been evident on college campuses and in progressive activist circles nationwide, I’ve come to see left-wing antisemitism as characterized by many of the same violent delusions as the right-wing strain,” he wrote. The fact that this kind of antisemitism more often comes from random civilians than public officials or authority figures is unlikely to comfort most Jews, who’ve inherited a deep fear of the mob as well as the autocrat.

Still, we should be clear about which political faction is willing to give antisemites power. And even if you believe that Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib’s use of the anti-Zionist slogan “From the river to the sea” is obviously antisemitic — I don’t — it’s worth asking why it received so much more coverage than Robinson’s apparent Holocaust denial or, for that matter, the promotion of antisemitic websites and social media posts by Republican congressmen like Arizona’s Paul Gosar and Georgia’s Mike Collins.

According to NBC News’ Ben Goggin, this year, white nationalists had an unusually easy time penetrating the Conservative Political Action Conference, keynoted by Trump. “At the Young Republican mixer Friday evening, a group of Nazis who openly identified as national socialists mingled with mainstream conservative personalities, including some from Turning Point USA, and discussed ‘race science’ and antisemitic conspiracy theories,” Goggin wrote. If this caused a national uproar, I missed it.

There are several reasons that anti-Jewish attitudes on the right — including Robinson’s — often don’t get the attention they should. For one thing, they’re old news. Back in 2022, scholars Eitan Hersh and Laura Royden debunked the idea that antisemitism is a similar problem on both left- and right-wing ideological extremes, writing, “The data show the epicenter of antisemitic attitudes is young adults on the far right.” Antisemitism at Columbia University, located in a city with the largest Jewish population in the world, is surprising in a way that antisemitism among, say, Trump supporters no longer is.

And like Trump — who, let’s remember, had dinner with antisemitic rapper Ye and leading white nationalist Nick Fuentes in 2022 — Robinson has many other terrible qualities that can overshadow his history of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Chief among them is his misogyny. The lieutenant governor is in the news for a recently unearthed video from 2020 in which he said, “I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote.” (His somewhat incomprehensible argument was that in those halcyon days, Republicans led on issues including women’s suffrage.) “The only thing worse than a woman who doesn’t know her place is a man who doesn’t know his,” he wrote in 2017.

There’s also a tendency for some in the Jewish establishment to overlook antisemitism among supporters of Israel. That’s how we ended up with end-times preacher John Hagee, who has said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their rightful home in the holy land, speaking at a major November rally against antisemitism, and the Anti-Defamation League praising Elon Musk, despite Musk’s own antisemitic posts and the platform he’s given to virulent Jew-haters.

Finally, Republicans benefit, ironically, from a relative lack of internal tension over antisemitism. Part of what drove news about Tlaib’s words was the way Democrats agonized over them. They were condemned by the White House, and 22 House Democrats joined Republicans to censure her. Several Democrats seen as hostile to Israel are facing extraordinarily well-funded primary challenges, and it’s an open question how voters will respond.

There’s no similar fault line or drama on the right. Few are wondering if Republicans will finally be moved to denounce Robinson, because we almost certainly already know the answer.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.