NEW YORK (JTA) — Just last week, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was playing the anti-Semitism card against Donald Trump. But in a startling turnaround, on the eve of her own party’s convention, it’s the South Florida congresswoman who is out as chair of the Democratic National Committee — over a Jewish-related controversy of her own.
At issue is a May 5 email leaked Friday by WikiLeaks in which Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer, suggested that the party should “get someone to ask” about “his” religious beliefs, meaning Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was waging a surprisingly strong challenge against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“It might [make] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief,” the message says, presumably referring to Kentucky and West Virginia. “Does he believe in a God? He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
The email was sent to several top DNC officials — CEO Amy Dacey, communications director Luis Miranda and deputy communications director Mark Paustenbach. Marshall followed up two minutes later with this short message: “It’s these [sic] Jesus thing.”
Dacey’s response: “AMEN.”
For months, Sanders and his backers have wanted Wasserman Schultz to go, claiming that instead of playing referee, Wasserman Schultz and her team were using the powers of the DNC to help Clinton.
The emails not only backed up the claims, raising the specter of angry Sanders voters refusing to get behind Clinton, they also undercut ongoing Democratic efforts to paint Trump, the Republican nominee, as the candidate running a campaign aimed at dividing America along racial and religious lines.
For most of the GOP primary, this line of attack was focused on Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims, as well as his support among white nationalists. But in recent weeks — after the Trump campaign lifted an image from an alt-right feed with a six-point star and a pile of cash — Democrats, including Wasserman Schultz, have stepped up their focus on the issue of anti-Semitism.
Last week, during the Republican convention, Wasserman Schultz used a briefing with reporters to claim that the gathering had brought to the fore an “anti-Semitic environment that Donald Trump embraces” and that the “anti-Semitism that is threaded throughout the Republican Party of late goes straight to the feet of Donald Trump.” After being pressed by JTA, Wasserman Schultz later backtracked, clarifying that she wasn’t pointing a finger at the Republican Party or her GOP colleagues in Congress, but rather Trump and his campaign officials.
Still, tough words.
Well, suddenly it was Wasserman Schultz’s outfit under scrutiny — not a renegade campaign but the Democratic Party itself. And this wasn’t a few inexperienced low-level staffers conspiring to schedule debates on the weekend to limit Sanders’ exposure. It was a circle of top officials kicking around the idea of playing the (Jewish) atheist card against Sanders. (Sanders has, in fact, denied being an atheist — not sure it makes a difference, unless ignorant plus offensive is better/worse than just plain old offensive.)
It is worth noting that whatever role Wasserman Schultz played in boosting the Clinton campaign from her DNC post, she was not on the email chain about Sanders’ religion. Nor is there any evidence that she knew about the emails or that anyone at the DNC acted on them.
As for those actually involved in the email: Marshall, the DNC official who wrote the email, issued an apology on Facebook this weekend, prior to Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.
“I deeply regret that my insensitive, emotional emails would cause embarrassment to the DNC, the Chairwoman, and all of the staffers who worked hard to make the primary a fair and open process,” he wrote. “The comments expressed do not reflect my beliefs, nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees. I apologize to those I offended.”
Dacey, the DNC’s CEO who answered with an all-caps amen, has yet to comment.
Still unclear: whether the Marshall and Dacey emails will cost them their jobs, or just Wasserman Schultz’s.