Those “authoritarian school board Nazis.” “Israel literally owned Congress.” Reckless words. Wacky parents raging at school officials? Pro-Arab students whipping a crowd into a frenzy? Comparable words were uttered by them, yet such words were echoed in the past week by the unfiltered voices of Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Column: The Reckless Words of Trump and Cruz

Those “authoritarian school board Nazis.”

“Israel literally owned Congress.”

Reckless words. Wacky parents raging at school officials? Pro-Arab students whipping a crowd into a frenzy? Comparable words were uttered by them, yet such words were echoed in the past week by the unfiltered voices of Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

With our former president and the junior senator from Texas talking this way, they lend an official imprint to attitudes that might provoke maniacs who could attack innocent people.

Amid the furor over mask mandates at public schools, Cruz joined the crazed masses who label health-conscious school officials as Nazis and brazenly place them in Adolf Hitler’s company.

Cruz adopted their views as his own when he stood up for the free speech of these sterling citizens. His most dangerous words have escaped the attention of the public, but then again these particular quotes were buried if not ignored altogether in media reports.

The obscure quotes below were spotted in the middle – not at the top, mind you – of a story posted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

“I was defending the right of citizens to denounce authoritarian policies. In other words, to OPPOSE Nazis (or petty tyrants), not to support them.”

JTA reports that Cruz was responding to attacks by liberals and Democrats for his defending Nazis references while denouncing a Department of Justice memo during a hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 27, the third anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre.

In a separate tweet targeting a liberal journalist, Cruz said, “The parent was doing the Nazi salute because he was calling the authoritarian school board Nazis – evil, bad & abusive.”

By his wording, Cruz appropriated their attitudes as his. Perhaps his semantics were inadvertent, perhaps he was trying to summarize. The end result: He represented their views as his own. Describing school board members as “authoritarian Nazis” pegs them as “Nazi” leaders, and who led the Nazis?

On Oct. 27, Cruz slammed a Department of Justice memo warning that it would investigate “harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” of school boards during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Attorney General Merrick Garland was questioned.

Cruz focused on the right of citizens to make Nazi salutes in protest at school board meetings, stating, “A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because he thought the policies were oppressive,” he shouted at Garland. “Is doing a Nazi salute at an elected official, is that protected by the First Amendment?”

Garland, who is Jewish, responded, “Yes, it is.” School boards have been subjected to multiple episodes of Nazi salutes in recent months amid protests against Covid-19 prevention measures. The National School Board Association recounted how police removed a man from a school board meeting in Birmingham, Mich., last August for making a Nazi salute and shouting “Heil Hitler,” JTA reports.

The NSBA originally dubbed this and similar incidents as “domestic terrorism,” but later issued a too-late apology as Republicans charged this was evidence that the Justice department’s scrutiny of violence at school board meetings is aimed at silencing parent criticism of coronavirus rules.

Cruz subjected Garland to guilt by association. Where in his memo, dated Oct. 4, did Garland employ the “domestic terrorism” term or list specific incidents? He did nothing of the sort, according to JTA.

Indeed, as a New York Times article states, “News accounts over the last year detailed physical threats, arrests, charges of disorderly conduct and threats made against board members, faculty and administrators stemming from arguments over culture war topics that have animated right as mask mandates, gender issues and curriculum that deals with racism.”

Garland’s memo directed the FBI and the 94 U.S. attorney’s offices to meet with local law enforcement agencies to consider how to address the threats and to open “dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.”

“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution,” Garland writes, “that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”

In another Washington 3,000 miles away, Donald Trump told a Seattle-based talk show host last Friday (Oct. 29) that Israel “literally owned Congress” in recent years, but not any longer.

My immediate interpretation is that Trump spoke with an affectionate flavor as well as approvingly. Unfortunately, many Americans will take it literally. Trump’s words will only confirm their belief that Israel is a demon state that has bribed the American government with blood money to persist with its oppression of the Palestinians.

The former president’s words: “The biggest change I’ve seen in Congress is Israel literally owned Congress – you understand that. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, and it was so powerful, it was so powerful and today it’s almost the opposite.”

It is well documented that pro-Israel lobbyists strenuously influenced members of Congress and the White House, and accusations were leveled that they even threatened the political futures of those who did not play along. In fact, Texas political leader Beto O’Rourke was pressured by pro-Israel activists over an early-career vote in Congress before they learned that he took the action for procedural reasons.

Supporters of Israel nonetheless have every right to seek support from our government, just as everyone else does.

Increasing numbers of Jews have expressed gratitude for The Donald’s support of Israel, but his wording is dangerous. Anti-Semites are likely to take it literally, and that may inspire them to harm Jews.

The Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 congregants were murdered, is one tragedy too many. We certainly must do all we can to prevent any others. Cruz and Trump’s words can lead to far more injury than broken bones.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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