Gadfly Ann Coulter’s veneer of conservative cool came crashing down during the final minutes of CNN’s marathon debate.
Apparently offended by multiple expressions of solidarity with the state of Israel, she delicately tweeted “How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”
The reaction has been swift and—apart from the hard-right racists tweeting their approval with the hashtag #IStandWithAnn—uniformly outraged.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Coulter said the controversy was all based on a misunderstanding. She didn’t mean to say that Jews were hoarding influence in this country. Not at all. “I’m accusing Republicans of thinking the Jews have so much power. They’re the ones who are comedically acting out this play where Jews control everything,” Coulter said.
This isn’t the first tangle of its kind. Those of us old enough to remember landlines still recall how another Republican pol put “fuck” and “Jew” together: Secretary of State James Baker, circa 1989. In fact, maybe Coulter’s words count as a kind of progress. Where Baker said, infamously, “Fuck the Jews—they don’t vote for us anyway,” Coulter is complaining that Republicans care too much about the fucking Jews.
But of course, beneath the superficial evolution is the same unforgivably anti-Semitic trope that runs like a poison thread from Henry Ford to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the Hebrew-haters “standing with Ann” on Twitter: that “the Jews” have disproportionate power and influence in world affairs.
And if Coulter’s point was to criticize Republican candidates pandering to Israel, I asked, isn’t it still problematic to say that a group of politicians think Jews have too much power?
“Well,” she interjected, “this episode is not going a long way to disprove that.”
“My point was this whole culture of virtue-signaling where debates are about nothing. Look, Republicans all agree 100 percent that we are pro-Israel, pro-Life, pro-gun. So why do we spend so much time on these issues? It’s just pandering, so who are they pandering to?”
I asked whether Coulter could understand how some Jews might still be offended by its language, reminiscent as it is of the centuries-old canard that the Jews control Washington/Hollywood/World Banking/whatever.
“No,” she said, “I don’t think it was my language. I think it was ripped out of context and lied about... Anyone following any of the debate in America knew exactly what I was talking about… My tweet was about Republicans and the pandering. It wasn’t about Israel, it wasn’t about Jews. It’s what Republicans are thinking in their little pea brains. I could say the same thing about evangelicals. Who are you pandering to? A lot of it is to Sheldon Adelson and the evangelicals... This kind of suck-uppery is humiliating.”
What about evangelicals, though? Weren’t the real objects of the Republican pandering—as Coulter herself wondered in a follow-up tweet—evangelical primary voters with extreme ideas about Israel and the End Times?
“I don’t think the Republicans understand evangelicals. We don’t need to be coddled to constantly—we’re not Democrats. There is no doubt that the Republican Party is the party of Israel and of Life. So why keep sucking up on Israel?”
In fact, the one issue on which Coulter wanted to bring up Israel was Coulter’s hobby horse: immigration. “I’d like to move Israel to the northern border of Mexico,” she said, “and see what happens then. These Republicans say fences don’t work—I’d like to see some of them explain Netanyahu’s policy on the fence.”
Indeed, one meme circulating in the #IStandwithAnn twitterverse is an excerpt from the book praising Israel’s restrictive immigration policy (to non-Jews) because “changing Israel’s ethnicity would change the idea of Israel” and arguing that “changing America’s ethnicity changes the idea of America, too.”
In an unusual syllogism, Coulter also argued that more immigration to the United States and the consequent “browning of America” will be bad for Israel.
“If we continue to dump more Mexican immigrants on the country, we’ll get to the point that we’ll never have another Republican president,” she said. “The Republicans are whistling past the graveyard. If we don’t change our policies on immigration, you’re going to be looking at Iran Deal after Iran Deal after Iran Deal. I can count on Americans to protect Israel. I don’t count on foreigners to care about Israel, and that’s who’s coming in to vote.”
Worse, Coulter added, those “foreigners” are hostile to Jews.
“Hispanics were ranked by ADL as the most anti-Semitic group,” she said. “They think way too much time is spent talking about Israel.” After our interview, Coulter pointed to this study by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding showing that 46 percent of Hispanic Americans believed “the U.S. government is too supportive of the Israeli government.”
Coulter dismissed the jingoism and racism on the #IStandWithAnn (including complaints of Jewish control over the Federal Reserve and warnings of “white genocide”) as “liberal BS.”
“I’m always suspicious of someone pretending to agree with me while being racist,” she said. “Like you saw with the guy carrying racist signs at a Tea Party rally, and it turns out he’s a liberal.”
Another reading? Like Coulter’s candidate of choice, Donald Trump, the pundit has managed to turn over yet another rock in the far-right garden, revealing all kinds of ugliness underneath, including unreconstructed anti-Semitism and racism. You can only dog-whistle so much before your audience starts to act rabid.
Which maybe is the lasting legacy of this 15 minutes of controversy. Coulter says that to be pro-Israel is to be anti-immigration, and that she and Trump, by being anti-immigration, are the only truly pro-Israel folks in the room. But even if asking how many fucking Jews there are isn’t, itself, anti-Semitic, it sure stirred up a lot of Republicans who are.
“The point,” as Coulter put it, “is what Republicans are thinking. What are they thinking?”