On Tuesday this week, freshman Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) made an appearance at the National Conservatism Conference to deliver the keynote address. His remarks predictably targeted progressive lawmakers and the principles of liberalism in the United States — specifically, he focused his ire on the traditional enclaves of the country’s “elite,” the largest cities that tend to skew more Democratic and forward-thinking.
Except Hawley didn’t use the term “city-dweller,” or “urban” or even “coastal elites” to describe the subject of his enmity. He used, repeatedly and often, the word “cosmopolitan.”
On its face, the word is inoffensive and unremarkable. But in the wrong context — indeed, in the context in which Hawley used it on Tuesday — the word has deeply anti-Semitic subtext.
In his prepared remarks, Hawley at various points decried the “cosmopolitan consensus,” the “cosmopolitan elite,” the “cosmopolitan class,” and the “cosmopolitan economy,” and more broadly took exception to the “cosmopolitan agenda” that is supposedly at the root of the country’s yawning political divide.
Gavriela Geller, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau-American Jewish Committee, explained the troubling origins of Hawley’s rhetoric to the Kansas City Star.
“[References to a] shadowy elite class destroying the country from within, loyal only to ‘the global community,’ sound to many in the Jewish community eerily reminiscent of speeches from Germany in the 1930s,” she told the paper.
“Amidst a disturbing resurgence in white nationalism in this country, which less than one year ago led to the deadliest act of anti-Semitism ever seen on American soil, we encourage Sen. Hawley to consider how his words could be perceived by those who seek to define America as a white and Christian nation,” Geller added.
The state’s chapter of the Anti-Defamation League in St. Louis also took strong exception to Hawley’s remarks, and called on their senator to issue an apology for his anti-Semitic dog whistling.
Hawley’s speech, “raised real concern for members of the Jewish community who are and should be acutely sensitive with increased incidents of antisemitism in the US and beyond,” Aroesty told The Star. “We have asked the Senator for an apology for even unintended harm caused by the speech. For the Senator and all who have a public platform that comes with power, context matters. Words matter.”
Hawley has refused to apologize for his comments, doubling down by pivoting to to yet another conservative rhetorical gimmick: painting his critics as overly sensitive politically correctocrats.
The liberal language police have lost their minds https://t.co/OpEI9vp0BT
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 19, 2019
Hawley further defended his use of the word “cosmopolitan” by citing the scholarly work of Martha Nussbaum, who he quoted directly in his speech. But Nussbaum was not particularly sympathetic to Hawley’s comments.
“Cosmopolitanism, as I argue, is a ‘noble but flawed ideal.’ But quite apart from that, I do think that the label has often been attached to Jews in order to imply that they are not loyal citizens of the nation they are in, and that this was and is profoundly wrong,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Friday when reached for comment about Hawley’s remarks. She declined to comment about his speech specifically.