Pamela Karlan of Stanford University testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. (JTA/Getty Images)
Pamela Karlan of Stanford University testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. (JTA/Getty Images)

Three of the impeachment witness lawyers were Jewish, and it matters

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee launched impeachment hearings just hours after the Intelligence Committee, chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., concluded its own impeachment inquiry.

The 300-page Intelligence Committee report concludes that President Donald Trump “placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States” in asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, calling it “the act of a president who viewed himself as unaccountable and determined to use his vast official powers to secure his reelection.”

It is now the Judiciary Committee’s task to decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment. And while the officials who appeared before Schiff’s committee were fact witnesses who described the events surrounding the Ukraine scandal, Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., brought three witnesses — all constitutional scholars — that he hoped would outline a theory of impeachment.

All three witnesses are Jewish: Noah Feldman of Harvard, Pamela Karlan of Stanford and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina. So are Schiff and Nadler, and so was the Democrats’ counsel who directed the first 45 minutes of questioning, Norm Eisen.

Why does this matter?

Well, predictably, it mattered to anti-Semites.

Ann Coulter, the right-wing agitator, tweeted, “Too little ethnic diversity among the professors for me to take them seriously.” Considering her past flirtations with anti-Semitism, one could conclude that she wasn’t faulting the professors just for being white.

TruNews, the YouTube channel run by an anti-Semitic Florida pastor who has coined the term “Jew coup” to describe the impeachment process, took to Twitter to accuse  “Jewish socialist Jerry Nadler” and his “three Jewish witnesses” of “escalating the Jew coup.” TruNews also helpfully informed us that Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University scholar and witnesses called by the Republicans who testified that the evidence for impeachment simply does not add up, is a Roman Catholic.

Twitter removed the tweet. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt screenshotted it for posterity, calling on social media platforms to take action against blatantly anti-Semitic posts.

Why not ignore the blatant anti-Semitism?

Because the fringes no longer have pariah status: TruNews has been accredited for White House news conferences. Trump has taken questions from them (about his plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace, of all things) and his son, Donald Jr., gave TruNews an impromptu interview earlier this year at a Michigan rally. (Trump Jr.’s spokeswoman told The Washington Post that he was not aware at the time of TruNews’ outlook.)

Those views have crept into the mainstream discourse.

While the hearings were underway, Breitbart News, the Trump-boosting news site, posted a story, “Norm Eisen, Democrat Impeachment Counsel, Linked to George Soros.” Breitbart reported that Soros’ Open Society Foundation had helped fund an ethics watchdog Eisen founded, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to the tune of $1.35 million in 2017. (This is not a secret: It’s on the Open Society website.)

But the Breitbart story failed to explain the relevance. Eisen is not pretending to be nonpartisan or unaffiliated from a liberal outlook; there is no suggestion that Soros’ money is reaching the committee itself.

Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire philanthropist, is incessantly attached to conspiracies. Fiona Hill, a former senior National Security Council staffer, noted last month how the baseless Soros conspiracy theories beset the Ukraine scandal and called them anti-Semitic.

Republicans on the panel attempted to depict the three scholars on the Democratic side as effete elitists, another classic trope.

“Democrats still don’t get it,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter. “They are pushing ahead with impeachment based on opinions from liberal law professors from coastal universities.”

McCarthy, from California, attended a “coastal university” (Cal State, Bakersfield), and Turley, the GOP’s scholar, teaches at one, George Washington — but never mind.

This creates Jewish fear.

I got texts from leading Jewish Democrats during Wednesday’s hearings wondering, with not inconsiderable trepidation, whether the scholars were indeed Jewish.

The trepidation is a shame because considerations of how being Jewish shapes one’s outlook should be free of anxieties about what anti-Semites will make of it. And there are meaningful Jewish stories behind the decisions of these witnesses to become constitutional scholars:

“I grew up in Alabama, and I grew up Jewish in Alabama in the 1960s,” Gerhardt told C-Span last year, “and that was a time of great turbulence, and the time the civil rights movement was sort of unfolding, and it was all unfolding in front of me, and I paid attention to it, and that  — those events that arose in the ’60s and early ’70s really shaped my interest in civil rights, but also my interest in law.”

Karlan, delivering closing remarks in 2006 at the annual meeting of the liberal American Constitution Society, called herself one of the “snarky, bisexual, Jewish women who want the freedom to say what we think, read what we want and love who we do,” calling on listeners to “seize back the high ground on patriotism and on love of our country” from the rich, pampered, prodigal, sanctimonious, incurious, white, straight sons of the powerful.”

Feldman, who in 2015 launched Harvard’s Julis-Rabinowitz Program in Jewish and Israeli Law, also helped draft the Iraqi constitution; he is gripped by how and whether religious and civil law can coexist.

“Jewish law and Israeli law are distinct and different,” Feldman was quoted as saying by Tablet at the time of the launch of the Harvard program, “yet they also interact and make claims on each other.”


In other news

Georgia on my mind: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a conservative narrowly elected a year ago with a boost from Trump, this week named businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill the Senate seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, who is ill. The twist is that Trump wanted Kemp to name Doug Collins, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee who led the charge Wednesday against the impeachment — and now Trump and Kemp are on the outs. Trump is losing his luster in the South (gubernatorial candidates he backed were defeated in Kentucky and Louisiana and won narrowly in Mississippi) and women in Atlanta’s suburbs, emboldened since Trump’s election, are the hinge on whether Georgia turns blue next year. Kemp does not want to further alienate them.

A lot of those women are Jewish. I spoke to two who head up a “salon” of 1,500 Jewish women aimed at flipping the state for Democrats, and also to Atlanta-area Jews who are grappling with how to rebuild a moribund alliance with African-Americans as a means to topple Republicans. Two Jewish candidates feature in two separate Senate races next year, and I met with both.

Two states and ‘only’ two states: Earlier this year, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif,  introduced a resolution backed by J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, that would recommit Congress to a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea was to keep the outcome alive while both the Trump and Netanyahu governments had retreated from it. The resolution likely comes to a vote before this week ends, and it has had a rocky road.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the majority leader, endeavored to sign on Republicans to the resolution. They agreed, if the word “only” was removed from the phrase “only the outcome of a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.” J Street forcefully objected and the Republicans balked. The resolution will pass with “only,” but a look at the sponsor list features only Democrats — it won’t accrue many, if any, Republicans.

Bipartisanship is becoming harder: AIPAC has been asking its members for weeks to get senators to sponsor legislation that would extend sanctions to entities dealing with already sanctioned Palestinian groups. So far, it has 20 sponsors for the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2019, but until this week there was just one Democrat, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who initiated the bill with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. I’ve heard another two Democrats have just signed on.

Clemmons making Clemmonade: Alan Clemmons is the Republican South Carolina state legislator you may never have heard of who is shaking up U.S. Israel policy. His 2015 bill penalizing Israel boycotters has become a template for other state bills doing the same thing. He led the push in 2016 for the GOP to remove the two-state outcome commitment from its platform. Clemmons now chairs ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that circulates templates for state legislation — the model Clemmons pursued after passing his 2015 bill targeting the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. That puts him in a position of enormous influence in the conservative world. ALEC had its annual get-together this week in Scottsdale, Arizona. “ALEC is a wellspring of learning of, by and for legislators,” he said in a release.

Worth a look

Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice Jay Sekulow hosts the GMA Honors Celebration and Hall of Fame Induction at the Allen Arena at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee on April 29, 2014. (JTA/Rick Diamond/Getty Images for GMA)
Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice Jay Sekulow hosts the GMA Honors Celebration and Hall of Fame Induction at the Allen Arena at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee on April 29, 2014. (JTA/Rick Diamond/Getty Images for GMA)

Elizabeth Williamson at The New York Times profiles Jay Sekulow, the un-Giuliani: the Trump lawyer not currently mired in scandal and his own legal difficulties. He is also the general counsel for Jews for Jesus. Politico reported this week that Sekulow’s son, Jordan, also a lawyer on Trump’s team, gleefully anticipated damaging the scholars that House Democrats invited to impeachment. “I can’t wait to find out what crazy stuff the law professors have written,” Jordan said on his dad’s radio show. “I bet anti-Israel, borderline anti-Semitic. Maybe anti-American?” That was before we learned all three were Jewish.

Tweet so sweet

Seforim Chatter, an account dedicated to Jewish exegetical texts, uncovers a book on how to properly consume Hanukkah doughnuts.

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief. Connect with him on Twitter at @kampeas or suggest a story to him by emailing thetell@jta.orgSign up here to receive The Tell in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief

JTA

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