December 10, 2018
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We must stand up to small-minded, anti-Semitic bigotry

A screenshot of a Jan. 30 Twitter post in which Paul Nehlen, who is running to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin's Republican primary, identified "Twitter users who have attacked me" for his America first views, specifying that 74 are Jews. Nehlen has faced a backlash for the post.

It’s time to take a stand against bigots who enter the public square.

Paul Nehlen, a candidate for Congress, is a bigot.

Even the notorious Breitbart website that gives a boost to other “white nationalists,” no longer supports him. It was Breitbart, under Steve Bannon’s leadership, that helped make Nehlen a public figure, providing positive coverage of his 2016 bid to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in the Wisconsin 1st Congressional District’s Republican primary.

At about the same time Bannon left Breitbart to run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, candidate Trump praised Nehlen, saying he was running “a very good campaign” against Ryan.

Most of the people of southern Wisconsin knew better; Nehlen lost to Ryan by nearly 70 percentage points.

On Tuesday, Nehlen, once again running against Ryan, published a list of his critics:

“Of those 81 people, 74 are Jews, while only 7 are non-Jews,” Nehlen wrote. He posted phone numbers, emails, Twitter handles, inviting his anti-Semite friends and backers to harass them.

Apparently, he’s found that his brand of bitterness sells. In the first three quarters of 2017, Nehlen’s campaign raised nearly $128,000, some of which went to his wife, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. He hawked campaign merchandise along with his repulsive web and Twitter posts.

“This is not political discourse. This is hatefulness,” said Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “What I’d like to see is the person who holds the seat he is running for speak out: Is this acceptable political discourse?”

Ryan has declined to answer.

Nehlen’s enemies list of “Jews” has deep historical resonance, given the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe before and during World War II. It’s cruel, of course, and pushes buttons for his fellow bigots — telling them it’s OK to set apart Jewish people for no other reason than that they are Jewish.

“He didn’t say who was from Wisconsin, who had a college degree, who liked to eat ice cream,” Kahn said. “That language of America First, there is language … that was used in the run-up to the genocide of the Jews.”

Anti-Semitism, like other forms of bigotry, is rising in Wisconsin and nationwide. While the council’s annual audit of anti-Jewish incidents for 2017 won’t be completed for a week or two, Kahn said there is no doubt that the numbers rose. In 2016, she said, the number of attacks against Jewish people were three times what they had been five years ago.

The council is responding with informational outreach, especially to schoolchildren; there has been a troubling increase in reported incidents among middle schoolers, she said.

“Usually, our goal is education,” Kahn said. “We’re not interested in embarrassing, chastising or censoring anyone. It’s usually about how we can affect change. But there are exceptions. … I think this needs to be called out. This is a time when it needs to be called out.”

Nehlen has a right under the First Amendment to say nearly any hateful thought that pops into his head.

The rest of us have the right to stand up, speak out loudly against him, turn our backs in disgust at his message and show our support for our neighbors of goodwill, whatever their faith, nationality or color.

The last thing we should do is say nothing, stand for nothing, act as if this isn’t happening.

Too many people chose that route in the last century.

David D. Haynes is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist.

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