Last week, Yechezkel Moskowitz and Nachman Mostofsky—directors of the Orthodox pro-Trump Chovevei Zion group—led Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on a tour of Orthodox Jewish sites in Brooklyn and the Five Towns (an Orthodox area of Long Island) including a yeshiva, a matzo bakery, and a kosher pizza parlor. Greene—known for spreading racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the now-infamous suggestion that the 2018 California wildfires might have been ignited by a space laser funded by the Rothschild family, a symbol of global Jewish power for the past two centuries—was thrilled at the opportunity to join the two men. “We wanted to show her authentic Judaism,” said Mostofsky, “and we felt before Passover would be a great time.”
The pair are well-known in Jewish circles for their passionate commitment to the radical right. They turned the annual banquet of Young Israel—a “modern Orthodox” synagogue movement—into a MAGA rally in 2019, for example. More recently Mostofsky and his brother Aaron participated in the Jan. 6 rally in Washington. Aaron, famously dressed in absurd costume, entered the Capitol and was later arrested.
Ami Magazine, one of the more popular periodicals circulating in Orthodox society, simultaneously ran a fawning interview with Greene led by its White House correspondent Jake Turx. (Following magazine policy against publishing images of women or girls, a picture of a mask with the word censored appeared in place of her image, evoking her famous mask and rather ironically highlighting the magazine’s own censorship policy.) Turx asked Greene leading questions designed to give her the opportunity to defend herself. “What’s it like to be the best known, and also the most targeted member of Congress these days?” he asked to open the conversation. Regarding her Rothschild space laser theory, he asked leadingly, “I saw your original statement [and] you never used those words.” Later he tweeted the claim that the Rothschilds—by virtue of having intermarried—were barely Jewish anyway and thus attributing supernatural powers to them could not possibly be anti-Semitic. Greene played along, insisting that she had not known the Rothschilds were Jewish when she blamed them for directing a space laser to start the wildfires.
Greene, the first avowed supporter of the anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy elected to Congress, has also suggested the Sandy Hook massacre never took place, called for violence against her colleagues, endorsed sedition leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and spread persistent and repeated anti-Semitic and Islamophobic lies. One video she posted, for example, warned that, “an unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists, and Zionist supremacists has schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation, with the deliberate aim of breeding us out of existence in our own homelands.”
There is no escaping the anti-Semitic and deeply racist nature of this video. The fear of “white replacement” led by Jews goes back to Hitler and beyond. Among other consequences, it allegedly motivated Robert Bowers to massacre Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In short, her infamous space laser post barely scratches the surface of her history of racist and anti-Semitic hatemongering.
And yet this pair of Orthodox activists—and the magazine promoting them—insisted that she was an ally. “Knowing the congresswoman for a bit now, she has been nothing but a friend and ally for our community,” said Mostofsky in an interview last week. The tour, they insisted, was designed to educate her about Jews and Judaism. Their conservative colleagues at the “Coalition for Jewish Values” joined them in praise of Greene, as well as Rep. Mary Miller, who quoted Hitler approvingly at her Jan. 6 insurrection speech.
Why are these Orthodox Jews attempting to rehabilitate Marjorie Taylor Greene?
The main answer is the Orthodox community’s dramatic swing toward Donald Trump and the American right in sharp contrast to non-Orthodox Jews. Whereas the latter voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2020, the Orthodox voted for Trump in numbers ranging from about 50 percent of the “modern” Orthodox to 90 percent or more of the “ultra” Orthodox, particularly in New York neighborhoods like Borough Park, New Square, and Monsey. As Mostofsky explained, “From government interference, education, religious freedom, we share what is commonly called Judeo-Christian values.” Chovevei Zion was clear about the nature of these values in a video they produced for last year’s CPAC conference. In their view, the values that Judaism bequeathed to the West include nationalism, unfettered capitalism, and property rights. They share the Christian right’s strict opposition to abortion and support for gun rights, and even joined mass protests against COVID-19 restrictions, which the ultra-Orthodox were widely covered flouting. They also share a long animosity toward the left, including (and sometimes especially) the left-wing and liberal Jewish majority.
But the impulse to defend figures like Greene also has far deeper roots in Europe. There is a long history of Orthodox political organizations—from Imperial Germany to Galicia to czarist Russia to Interwar Poland (and now to Trump and his ilk)—allying with conservative, authoritarian, and even fascist leaders against “the left,” throwing most Jews under the bus in the process. In late 19th-century Germany, for example, precisely when political anti-Semitism emerged as a serious threat, the German Orthodox became a fundamentally conservative political force. They eventually threw their weight behind the Catholic Zentrum party (the Christian conservatives of that time) even as it openly embraced anti-Semitism and pushed anti-Semitic candidates. Meanwhile, the Orthodox press there branded the social democrats “traitors to the country” and wrote that the Jewish socialists were not Jews.
In late 19th-century Austrian Galicia (today Western Ukraine), the Orthodox Machsike Hadas (“Upholders of the Faith”) allied itself with Polish conservative elites against liberals, social democrats, and the Ukrainian nationalists. A generation later, Orthodox Jewish leaders in Russia attempted to reach a rapprochement with the czar at the height of his anti-Semitic repression, expressing shared animosity toward leftist Jews in the hopes of winning political concessions. The Polish branch of the Orthodox party Agudath Israel (“the Aguda”) backed the conservative, business-friendly Piłsudski regime after his overthrow of Poland’s democratically elected government in 1926. Even in Nazi Germany, the Aguda joined the Free Association for the Interests of Orthodox Jewry to write Hitler himself in October 1933, declaring their loyalty to his regime and their shared hatred of Marxist materialism and communist atheism, including a denunciation of leftist Jews.
Moskowitz and Mostofsky claim to want to “educate” Marjorie Taylor Greene, but actually they just want her to understand that they are on her side. They agree with her racism, her support for violent insurrection, and her conspiracy theories about minorities, none of which warranted any comment. They are the good Jews, they want to tell her. Hence their emphasis on giving her a tour of “authentic” Judaism, and hence Turx’s insistence that the Rothschilds had left the fold by virtue of their intermarriages.
This is certainly not a universal position among Orthodox Jews, most of whom maintain the view that modern Jews exist in a hierarchy of authenticity, with the “deviance” of non-Orthodox behavior excused as stemming from ignorance rather than heresy. Nevertheless, there is a long history of Orthodox Jewish organizations and leaders taking a far more antagonistic view toward non-Orthodox Jews, especially on the left. This antagonism toward progressive Jews is now reasserting itself due to Orthodoxy becoming redefined by ethnonationalism.
There is a straight line from the Aguda writing Hitler in October 1933 that they shared his nationalist mission and his hatred of “Marxist materialism,” emphasizing that it had nothing to do with the “true, historical Judaism,” to Mostofsky calling Greene an ally and friend of “authentic” Jews who shared the same goals as her. In a sense, today’s outreach is far worse. The German Aguda threw other Jews under the bus in a desperate attempt to save themselves under conditions of unprecedented persecution.
What’s the excuse, now?
Correction, March 22, 2021: This article has been updated to clarify that only Aaron Mostofsky entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.