How dangerous are the anti-Israel conservatives?

Unlike most Republicans and their voters, Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens and friends are defending antisemites in the wake of Oct. 7. Do they have Trump’s ear?

By Jonothan S.Tobin   (November 16, 2023 / JNS)

On the main stage of American politics, the lines of debate about Israel and the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 have been clear. Almost all Republicans and most Democratic officeholders support the Jewish state in its necessary war of self-defense against Islamist terrorists who seek its destruction and the genocide of the Jewish people. Much of the Democrats’ left-wing base disagrees with progressives being the loudest voices raised against Israel. They also have supplied the ideological foundation and the activist passion behind the surge in antisemitism that has been on display on the streets of America’s cities and college campuses in the past six weeks.

The political left has become the primary engine of the spike in Jew-hatred, while most of the political right has become even more closely aligned with support for Israel during this crisis. It would be untrue, however, to claim that there are no exceptions to that rule. Though they don’t reflect the overwhelming majority of American conservatives, there is a small but highly influential group on the right that is not only unsympathetic to the Jewish state but providing intellectual cover to those openly engaged in antisemitic invective and demonization of Israel and its supporters.

Former Fox News star Tucker Carlson and Daily Wire personality Candace Owens are the two most prominent names on the right whose reactions to Oct. 7 have highlighted their opposition to the idea that America should be supporting Israel against Hamas and their Iranian sponsors.

Where right and left meet

That is manifested not only in a “both sides are wrong” attitude about the war against Hamas that puts them in the same camp as former President Barack Obama. They are also clearly implying that those who back Israel and believe that the fight against Islamist terror is one that America cannot shirk are guilty of dual loyalty and are manipulating American foreign policy against the nation’s best interests. Just as important, they believe that campus antisemites who support the mass murder of Jews are merely engaging in free speech and should be defended, rather than held accountable for their actions.

Carlson, Owens and their allies like Glenn Greenwald, Jason Whitlock and Douglas Macgregor don’t hold political office and lack the warm support that anti-Israel progressives can count on from the mainstream media and pop-culture outlets that make members of the congressional “Squad” so dangerous. And unlike left-wing Israel-haters who reflect the views of a considerable portion of the Democratic base, these right-wing opponents of Israel and the Jews are very much in the minority among Republicans on such issues.

But it would be foolish to dismiss them as insignificant. They have key media perches and huge followings on social media. More importantly, they appear to have the ear of former President Donald Trump, who considers Carlson a friend and has even recently been seen socializing with him in public. Like Trump’s willingness to publicly dine with vicious antisemite Kanye West last year, his close association with these figures is troubling.

Trump is currently leading the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination over his nearest competitor by a staggering 44.2% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls and is also leading in head-to-head matchups with President Joe Biden. So, although Democrats seem determined to jail him on one flimsy pretext or another, he must be considered to have at least an even chance of returning to the White House in 2025. That’s why the question of Carlson’s influence and that of other neo-isolationist populist right-wing pundits over him matters. Though the former president consistently ignored Carlson’s advice when it came to his historic support for Israel, as well as his tough attitude towards Iran when he was president, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether it might be different in a putative second Trump administration.

The intricate dance that Carlson and Owens are performing on Israel after Oct. 7 is a function of a political landscape in which—their “America first” protestations notwithstanding—they are largely isolated on the right on Middle East issues.

Though they are a minority among Democrats in Congress, progressives have turned on Israel. Polls already showed that most Democrats now favor the Palestinians over the Israelis, while Republicans and Independents stand behind the Jewish state. But rather than the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 resulting in a swing towards more support for Israel, the partisan divide on the issue remains in place.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll taken since Oct. 7 and published this week showed that while the overwhelming majority of Americans back Israel by a 61% to 30% margin, that outcome is driven primarily by the 79% of Republicans and 67% of Independents who support the Jewish state. Democrats are split 45% to 45% on the issue.

This shift in which the two parties have largely swapped identities with respect to their attitudes towards Israel over the course of the last 60 years is almost entirely due to the influence of toxic intersectional and critical race theory myths about Jews and Israel being white oppressors. That has created not just opposition to the war on Hamas but fueled the recent surge of antisemitism.

The return of the paleo-cons

That isn’t what motivates Carlson and company.

Carlson was an instant hit once he became a Fox star in 2016 as a leading conservative voice on issues like immigration and eventually opposition to draconian government COVID-19 policies. He became even bigger during the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020, when he was the leading media tribune of resistance against the inte