In one of the most ironic stories of the year so far, members of the Republican National Committee (RNC), including chairman Reince Priebus, are visiting Israel this week on a trip that is funded by the American Family Association (AFA), a hate group that has promoted anti-Jewish views. Last week, Bryan Fisher, an AFA radio host and spokesman, reportedly said that people of the Jewish faith should not enjoy freedom of religion in America because only Christians should have that right. While the AFA tried to say it had fired Fisher from his position as spokesman, they retained him as a radio host. But that is just the start of this problematic story.
Bryan Fisher has been around a long time, long enough to have a years long history of bigoted statements to his name. Many of those statements have been directed against Jewish people. For all that time, the AFA did not fire him, did not denounce what he was saying or take any action against him. For years, the AFA has been tacitly promoting anti-Jewish views by its association with Fisher. It was only after his most recent outburst, so badly timed before their Israel trip with the RNC, that the AFA took any action. Once they had been caught, they actually had to do something.
Left-wing pundit and MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow dedicated an entire segment of her show to explaining the story, including how the AFA tried to seem like it cared when it actually did not. The AFA issued a statement regarding Bryan Fisher, noting that it had fired him as spokesman. It did not mention that he was still employed as a radio host, retaining his platform for issuing more bigoted statements. The RNC also issued a statement after Fisher’s firing, stating that it appreciated how the group had “cut ties” with him when it really had not done so. Overall, both the AFA and the RNC are trying to avoid any awkwardness by pretending to not be affiliated with a man they are still actually affiliated with.
To put this in perspective, Fisher is not just anti-Jewish. In the past he has theorized that Nazism was a gay movement. He has called for Jews and other faiths to convert to Christianity in order to immigrate to the United States and that the First Amendment does not apply to non-Christian faiths. That is the level of bigotry and antisemitism in which Fisher has engaged and will continue to engage on his AFA funded radio show. In addition, the trip to Israel is completely funded by the AFA, which has not cut ties with Fisher and still funds his work.
But this goes far beyond just affiliation. The AFA published its own guide to Judaism, which includes advice on how to convert Jews to Christianity. The guide told readers that Jews and Christians worship different gods, which would make Jewish people idolaters according to the AFA. It also noted that there is no peace in Israel and Palestine because the Jews do not recognize Christ as the messiah. The guide described Judaism as a “failure.” It is plain to see why this kind of teaching would be offensive to Jews living in Israel, facing the fact of war every day.
This is such a serious matter that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) actually asked the RNC not to go on this trip. They said it would be inappropriate for the trip to go as planned. Maddow and the ADL are not the only ones who take issue with the RNC’s affiliation with this group. Politico conducted interviews with evangelical and right-wing leaders on the matter, who agreed that this was an inappropriate event. They saw it as a problem that thr RNC would accept an all expenses paid trip from the noted hate group and expressed a desire for the RNC to work with less extreme religious groups.
Jewish news sources have followed the story, including Haaretz, whose own Debra Nussbaum Cohen was interviewed by Rachel Maddow on this story. The RNC should not assume that this is a purely American-centric story and that the Israelis are not aware of it. In fact, Jews all over the world are aware of this story due to reporting from Jewish and Israeli sources. It is not like this kind of thing is uninteresting to them. In fact, the RNC visiting Israel on the dime of an anti-Jewish hate group is probably one of the things they would find very interesting indeed. And now it is too late for the RNC to cancel.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury