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Texas GOP: Forget the semantics. We’re talking about antisemitism here. | Opinion

You know the saying, “While Rome burns, Nero fiddles.” The implication is that in times of crisis or emergency, it’s good not to be caught up with trivial things.

In the case of the Republican Party of Texas, it’s not a good idea to argue over the semantics of antisemitism or Holocaust deniers after a prominent party strategist met with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Israel is defending itself from terrorism. And it’s reprehensible not to take a stand against Nazi sympathizers, period.

In a 32-29 vote at their second quarter meeting Saturday evening, members of the Texas GOP’s executive committee removed a clause from a pro-Israel resolution that would have banned members from associating with Nazi sympathizers and Holocaust deniers. Those voting for the change cited a free speech “slippery slope” and opening the door to Marxism and “leftist” tactics.

This vote came just a couple months after Jonathan Stickland, a prominent conservative activist and former Texas House member from Tarrant County, was caught hosting Fuentes at the offices of his political consulting group for several hours. Stickland was the president of Defend Texas Liberty, the conservative PAC that West Texas billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks fund, at the time. When this happened, a portion of the Republican Party of Texas’ executive committee had said the party should be bold — cut ties with Defend Texas Liberty until Stickland was no longer heading up the group.

Now, with a chance to give a full-throated condemnation of people supporting Nazism, something that wasn’t all that far-fetched given the isolated but visible groups floating around, the same group suggested language in their pro-Israel statement that would have drawn a hard line between associating with groups “known to espouse or tolerate antisemitism, pro-Nazi sympathies or Holocaust denial.”

But the executive committee balked. No one agreed on the language. “It could put you on a slippery slope,” feared committee member Dan Tully.

“I don’t see any antisemitic, pro-Nazi or Holocaust denial movement on the right that has any significant traction whatsoever,” party chairman Matt Rinaldi said.

Oh, good. Then it should be no problem to address it formally, in writing, and make a pact henceforth publicly to liberals, to Texans and to our Jewish friends and allies, that antisemitism, xenophobia, bigotry, Islamophobia and Nazism aren’t welcome. While there’s certainly a line between free speech and a person espousing Nazism, it’s a pretty clear one. Free-speech rights don’t make bad ideas good ones, and political parties don’t have to defend bad ideas to be robust protectors of speech rights.

The base is worried that a strong condemnation would mimic what the left has been doing — canceling good people with odd, strange, or even bad ideas, expressed on social media or elsewhere. But if there isn’t a hard line between a job-canceling tweet and open meetings with Nazi-sympathizer and misogynist Nick Fuentes, where is there one? It’s a classic over correction and it’d be comical if this wasn’t such an important moment in history.

There’s a lot wrong with the party’s refusal to put forth an outright ban, including the party’s definition of leftist tactics and even their Dec. 4 press release announcing the resolution, conveniently published just after the Texas Tribune’s unflattering reporting on the Saturday meeting. But those aren’t the worst things.

The worst thing is that the Republican Party of Texas got caught up in the semantics of a clause in a resolution that “denounces antisemitism and violence against Israel” but failed to condemn Nazi sympathizers like the kind that spotted traipsing around Torchy’s Tacos in Fort Worth recently because party leaders were afraid they might infringe on someone’s free speech rights. And simply because they just didn’t think it necessary. Both are wrong.

Jessica Gregorio posted on TikTok a video Sunday of a group of people dressed in Nazi clothing at a Torchy’s Tacos in Fort Worth.
Jessica Gregorio posted on TikTok a video Sunday of a group of people dressed in Nazi clothing at a Torchy’s Tacos in Fort Worth.

Political parties — and other kinds of organizations — are wont to participate in global politics by offering statements or passing along resolutions, and this is already hollow enough, frankly. But in this case, it’s certainly made worse by the fact that the GOP’s resolution is half-hearted at best and sadly out of step with the meaning of current world events, to say the least.

Of course they support Israel: Do they condemn the ideas that incited the war? Antisemitism lives underground until it erupts into outright assaults on Israeli and Jewish people elsewhere. Condoning associations with people who keep these noxious ideas alive makes the support for Israel seem like lip service.

Texas boasts its share of fringe party members on the left of course, but Rinaldi’s wrong that they don’t exist on the right. Right-wing extremists dot the U.S, but in Texas, they often thrive. Their presence has dominated the discourse of what’s wrong with the party, particularly since President Donald Trump refused to admit he lost the election, spurring them into action Jan. 6 2021.

After Hamas ravaged innocent Israelis in the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, the existing fringe factions have had no problem espousing their antisemitic, pro-Nazi beliefs in public. Hedging a condemnation is not only cowardly but a refusal to acknowledge this particular moment in history.

Free speech is a fundamental aspect of American life and conservative values, and many times in the course of history that has been at stake, sometimes simultaneous to other political crises. Now is not that time. Failing to address any growing factions of Nazi sympathizers right now during the Israel-Hamas war is like a doctor addressing a bleeding gunshot wound with a prescription for allergy medication: Both might be problems, but one is more vital and fatal.

It’s not a slippery slope to condemn Nazism or Nazi sympathizers. Slippery slope to what? No one is suggesting that engaging with bad ideas, trying to persuade people away from them and discussing issues in the public square should stop. But we’re pretty confident that’s not what went on for hours when Fuentes was at Stickland’s place.

It’s not even that particularly brave to condemn it; that’s what makes this so awful. Look how many people, including solid conservatives, have condemned just this. If it feels like it takes some courage, as clearly it does for the people running the Republican Party of Texas, perhaps that’s all the more reason why they need to do so.

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