Senator’s speech on ‘cosmopolitan elites’: Anti-Semitic dog whistle or poli-sci speak?


(JTA) — Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., gave a speech condemning “cosmopolitan elites” and their plan to weaken America through their international network and their control of big business.

Hawley made the remarks Tuesday at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., a gathering of nationalist thinkers organized by Yoram Hazony, an American-Israeli professor.

Aside from referring to Jesus as a “Jewish rabbi,” he didn’t mention the Jews by name in the speech. But critics of the speech found parallels to the use of the term “rootless cosmopolitan,” an anti-Semitic smear popularized by Joseph Stalin in the mid-20th century. Nazis also used “cosmopolitan” as an anti-Semitic term.

Said Hawley, “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. This class lives in the United States, but they identify as ‘citizens of the world.’ They run businesses or oversee universities here, but their primary loyalty is to the global community.”

Critics said the languages echoes charges that Jews form an elite class and are only loyal to each other, rather than being true citizens of the countries they live in.

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

Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jewish editor in chief of the Atlantic, tweeted wryly that “Rootlessness is also a cause for concern.”

Hawley denies that the speech is problematic. In response to a tweet criticizing the speech, he wrote that “The liberal language police have lost their minds.”

In another tweet he writes that he’s using the term “cosmopolitan” as it was used by Martha Nussbaum, whom he quoted in the speech: “the cosmopolitan [is] the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world,” not to a “specifically American identity.”

Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, declined to comment specifically on Hawley’s speech.

But she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “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, who organized the conference, also defended the term. He listed a number of academic books that use the term in their titles to discuss globalization or multiculturalism, and are not anti-Semitic.

“Sorry but ‘cosmopolitan’ is a normal term in political theory, history and other academic disciplines,” he tweeted. “It means ‘citizen of the world’ and has no anti-Jewish valence. @HawleyMO used it correctly in his National Conservatism speech.”

The Anti-Defamation League called on Hawley to be more careful with his language in the future.

“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 statement said. “We hope the Senator will be more careful with his words in the future.”

Hawley’s main message was that America needs to refocus on nationalism rather than economic and cultural systems that prioritize globalization and multinational corporations, and that lead to the erosion of national cultures. It’s an idea that’s been echoed by President Donald Trump (who uses the term “globalists”) as well as his current and former advisors Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who is Jewish.

Hawley said his main goal is to “renew the way of life on which our republic depends, to renew the great American middle who make our republic possible, to renew our common venture in freedom.”

Hawley cites four academics he says support cosmopolitanism. Three of them are Jewish: MIT Professor Leo Marx, Richard Sennett of the London School of Economics, and Nussbaum. The fourth is the late University of Chicago Professor Lloyd Rudolph.

Hawley adds that cosmopolitans dislike the shared institutions of American society, like the church.

“The cosmopolitan elite look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together: things like place and national feeling and religious faith,” he said. “They regard our inherited traditions as oppressive and our shared institutions — like family and neighborhood and church — as backwards.”

Later in the speech, Hawley said that the U.S. government should not “promote Christianity or any religion.” But he also said  the government should not “hinder or diminish religious expression.”

And he said that America’s history as a nation “began 2,000 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.” He appears to be talking about Jesus.

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