It’s possible that American Jewry is reaching the point at which its seemingly limitless patience reveals itself to be a finite resource. While the Jews of Berkeley were sitting-in and marching in protest of campus anti-Semitism, the rabbis of Maryland were taking the unusual step of rebuking a senator who has made anti-Israel rhetoric a centerpiece of his political agenda.

Chris Van Hollen is serving his first term as Maryland senator after representing parts of Montgomery County for seven terms in the House. Maryland is among the ten largest Jewish populations by state, and Montgomery County—very much including areas represented by Van Hollen during his House career—has more than 100,000 Jewish residents, accounting for 10 percent of the county’s entire population.

A Jewish community of that size right next to Washington, D.C. should loom large in the political sphere, especially for its congressional representative. But Van Hollen is working hard to erase it from his constituency. A particular low point came in February, when Van Hollen stood on the Senate floor and accused Israel of intentionally starving Palestinian children. This was not only a lie but a lie in the mold of the classic blood libels. Van Hollen went on to call this invented tale of Jewish perfidy “a textbook war crime” and Israeli leaders “war criminals.” Just yesterday, Van Hollen tried to use these unfounded allegations to raise the specter of an aid cut-off to Israel during wartime.

Van Hollen’s regular demagoguery was enough to provoke a letter from more than 70 Maryland rabbis from across the major Jewish denominations informing him that his vicious grandstanding is one thing they all can agree on: “We have differing opinions about some of the rhetoric and actions taken by the current Israeli government, but today we write with a unified voice to urge you to change your rhetoric and actions that we believe mischaracterize the current war and undermine America’s support for the Jewish state.”

The rabbis do not pull punches. “Following the worst pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust, we here at home have faced the worst wave of antisemitism in our lifetimes,” they write. “Yet to our dismay, rather than standing with us, your efforts in the Senate have only stoked deeper divisions and further isolated Israel and our Jewish community.”

The rabbis, who say they are “aghast” at Van Hollen’s rhetoric, also use the letter to correct the senator’s claims about Israel withholding food, though I doubt a lack of information is behind Van Hollen’s smear.

Getting that many rabbis to agree on anything is an accomplishment, but the Montgomery County Jewish community’s very existence is a testament to its tenacity. Land covenants that forbade Jewish ownership were common in the 20th century, though they didn’t stop an influx of Jewish federal workers who came to the D.C. area as the century wore on. Eventually the covenants expired or were made to be dead letters, and Jewish organizational life followed its members from the District to the suburbs, ensuring Jews had social lives and leisure activities despite exclusion from some of the social clubs.

It’s easy to see, then, why the thriving community would protest its erasure by Van Hollen.

Unfortunately, it’s not just Van Hollen, although his oleaginous used-politics salesmanship leads the way. Van Hollen’s replacement in the House has been a disappointment as well. A month into the Israel-Hamas war, Jamie Raskin became one of three Jewish Democrats at that early date to call for a ceasefire, breaking from President Biden’s support for Israel and getting way out in front of Bernie Sanders. Raskin vigorously opposed censuring Rashida Tlaib for her amplification and defense of genocidal calls to destroy the Jewish state. In January, he joined Squadnik Ayanna Pressley to give credence to another unfounded accusation: that Israel was planning the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

In general, Raskin’s unseriousness about the threat of anti-Semitism has been appalling. After GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik broke open the issue of campus anti-Semitism by forcefully questioning top university presidents at a hearing that has since led to the resignations of two college presidents, Raskin treated the whole thing as a joke. Stefanik, he said, didn’t object when Donald Trump had dinner with Kanye West, “and yet somehow she gets on her high horse and lectures a Jewish college president from MIT.”

While Raskin and Van Hollen laugh it up at the expense of their Jewish constituents, they—especially Van Hollen—fan the flames of anti-Zionist sentiment and show resentment and disrespect for the Jewish community. The rabbis’ letter to Van Hollen is an encouraging sign that they are not taking this disrespect lightly.

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