By Courtney Cohn
Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff defeated former Sen. David Perdue in a close, highly-contested race in the Georgia Senate runoff election on Jan. 6, making history in his own right as the first Jewish senator in the state.
“He’s really proud of who he is. He really kind of encapsulates Jewish values in terms of being dedicated to human dignity in this pandemic, which shouldn’t be a controversial thing, and dedicated to protecting human life,” Jake Meisel, a senior government and politics major, said.
Meisel also said it is important for the Jewish community to see a fellow Jew in a position of power where they can push for positive change, and Ossoff could potentially serve as a role model for many people.
“I think Jon Ossoff is going to be a kind of a proud voice for Jews, and also for a lot of people who have been discriminated against in the last few years and in the country,” he said.
Despite the positivity and support for the Jewish community that Ossoff’s election provided, anti-Semitism is still a very prevalent force in this country, according to Elaine Berger, a freshman Jewish studies and business management major from Georgia. there were demonstrations of anti-Semitism at the Capitol building the day Ossoff was elected. Many white supremacists and domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol, spreading and spewing hate in many different forms.
“We make this judgment, but at the same time, more extreme hateful people being sworn into office at the same time,” Berger said. “So it’s definitely an interesting parallel that as we make progress we also take a step back in other areas.”
The recent Capitol riots on Jan. 6, where some of the right-wing domestic terrorists donned clothing with statements such as “Camp Auschwitz,” exemplified this dichotomy. This was also shown in a previously rally in D.C., when a member of the Proud Boys wore a shirt displaying “6MWE”, which stands for “six million wasn’t enough,” a reference to the Jews killed during the Holocaust.
“I think in general there’s a rise in extremism,” Meisel said. “I think we can all see it and that often goes hand to hand unfortunately with increasing anti-Semitism.”
In an NBC News article, Daryl Johnson, a senior Homeland Security intelligence analyst, explains that the Capitol riots were not the climax or final show of violence and chaos from right-wing extremists, and if anything, extremist movements and domestic terrorists are only picking up steam.
“This is ushering in a new phase of violence and hostility. This isn’t the final chapter of a movement that’s dying out. It’s not,” Johnson said in an interview with NBC News.
Along with extremism, some recent data shows that anti-Semitic incidents increased during the Trump administration, and have often been stoked by right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys. However, it should be recognized in both the Democratic and Republican parties, according to Berger.
“I think it’s important that we recognize there’s actually anti-Semitism on both sides,” she said. “You know, we do have the far right that we saw demonstrated at the Capitol, but we also have the far left that’s demonstrated more in anti-Zionist things.”
In certain situations, anti-Zionism is used as a means to disguise anti-Semitism, Berger said.
Noah Fine, a sophomore mathematics and computer science major, also agrees that anti-Semitism on the left may manifest in specific anti-Zionist rhetoric that goes past simply criticizing the Israeli government’s actions.
“You see the line in some of the anti-Israel rhetoric, like when you see claims being made about Israel’s right to make its own decisions, like right to autonomy, [and these are] claims being made that you would never levy against other countries,” Fine said.
Anti-Semitism may have played a role in Ossoff’s race specifically. In the summer leading up to the election, one of David Perdue’s campaign ads enlarged Ossoff’s nose in an image of him, highlighting the historically anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews having big noses. Perdue and his campaign insisted that this was an unintentional error, and while it is unclear what the truth is in this situation, many people claimed that this was no accident.
“Sitting U.S. Senator David Perdue’s digital attack ad distorted my face to enlarge and extend my nose. I’m Jewish. This is the oldest, most obvious, least original anti-Semitic trope in history. Senator, literally no one believes your excuses,” Ossoff said in a tweet last July.
While anti-Semitism has not diminished or disappeared with Ossoff’s victory, it may provide hope to some people to know that even with the division and anti-Semitism in our country, there can still be victories for the Jewish community.
“I really do think that growing up in Georgia, and having David Perdue as sort of a hallmark figure of the Georgian culture, basically, [and] seeing a young, not entirely qualified Jewish man overcome a well-established man with much more experience, is truly remarkable,” Berger said.