According to the Washington Post, Stewart, a gubernatorial candidate, was speaking at a Northern Virginia synagogue in Fairfax County Sunday night when he blamed progressives in the United States for an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents across the country.
“Today most of the anti-Semitic bigotry is not coming from the right. It’s coming from the left. We have to face it,” Stewart said, while the audience at Temple Rodef Shalom reacted with surprise.
He didn’t stop there, going on to list several accusations of anti-Semitism and sexism lobbed at Democrats. “What about Keith Ellison from Minnesota?” he asked, reviving a smear campaign against Ellison, who is the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress and the first African American elected from Minnesota to the U.S. House, and thus a frequent target of Islamophobia and racism.
“What about Trump?” members of the audience yelled back.
Stewart’s comments come at a time of mounting concern for Virginia’s Jewish community. Hate crimes have been on the rise since the election of President Donald Trump, leaving minorities feeling incredibly precarious. In February, a Virginia Jewish couple’s home was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. Two months later, a college student was arrested in Fairfax County after painting swastikas on the walls of a Jewish community center during Passover and plastering a community college with anti-Semitic flyers. Earlier this month, the Jewish mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia condemned white nationalist protests in the town, and was then targeted with a storm of anti-Semitic tweets. “I smell Jew,” read one.
Events like these have unsettled the community, but at Sunday’s event, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), Stewart seemed unwilling to acknowledge the role that his party has played in the vitriol, choosing instead to deflect blame on to Democrats.
A former co-chair of the Trump presidential campaign in Virginia, Stewart has drawn controversy for his remarks before now. In April, he defended the Confederate flag and Virginia’s slave-owning “heritage” while voicing opposition to any removal of statues honoring Confederate figures.
“It’s the state of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. That is our heritage. It is what makes us Virginia,” he said. He claimed the Confederate flag was unrelated to racism or slavery. “I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag,” Stewart said. “That flag is not about racism, folks, it’s not about hatred, it’s not about slavery. It’s about our heritage. It’s time that we stop running away from our heritage.”
He returned to the topic in late April. “Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don’t matter,” he tweeted. (Respondents were quick to note that Stewart is originally from Minnesota.)
Defending white nationalism has been a core component of Stewart’s campaign. He has aligned himself with the alt-right, labeling his primary opponent, Ed Gillespie, a “cuckservative,” a term denoting conservatives who, per the Washington Post, “seem to have made peace with elements alien to traditional white Americanism.” (Editor’s note: ThinkProgress does not use the term alt-right, used to describe modern white nationalism and white supremacy.)
But despite targeting Gillespie, Stewart is trailing in the race, and his remarks on Sunday don’t seem to have helped. Guila Franklin Siegel, the associate director of the JCRC, expressed misgivings about Stewart to the Post following his remarks.
“I thought it was disappointing he didn’t take the opportunity to speak about what he could do within his own sphere of influence to combat anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry and intolerance, instead of looking at what other people are doing in other parts of the political spectrum,” Siegel said.
Author: E.A. Crunden