Though they’re far from the death and destruction that’s ripped through Gaza in the month since Hamas attacked Israel, Jewish members of Congress are waging their own battle: confronting antisemitic threats.
Some have felt rising tension. Others have beefed up their personal security, rearranged schedules and canceled public events because of threats of violence — and even the menace of death — against themselves and their families, fueled in part by the spread of hatred and disinformation on social media.
“It’s like electronic fentanyl,” Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz told The Messenger.
The Messenger interviewed more than a dozen Jewish lawmakers about how the polarizing war has affected them professionally and personally. Several said they’ve experienced an uptick in hate speech since the Middle East descended into bloody chaos on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists massacred Israeli civilians in the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
‘Assault, Kidnap or Murder’
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., received one of the most explicit threats that’s come to light recently. A 43-year-old Las Vegas man was arrested two weeks ago and charged with intimidating a federal official after leaving numerous voicemails with Rosen’s office threatening to “assault, kidnap or murder” the senator, according to the U.S. attorney for Nevada.
“All of us senators, elected representatives, people call our offices all the time and they say unpleasant things,” Rosen told The Messenger. “But he crossed the line and I trust the Department of Justice and I’m grateful for the law enforcement that apprehended him.”
Rosen said the gravity of the situation really hit home once her daughter called to share how terrified she was.
“I realize what I’m feeling and what she’s feeling — that Jewish people are feeling all over the world about their friends, about their family; that they’re fearful; they’re in danger from antisemitism and from threats, from showing their Judaism,” Rosen said.
Rep. Brad Sherman blurted out, “Oh yeah” before The Messenger had even finished asking if he’d been personally threatened in the past month.
“This is the first time in at least 10 years that I’ve had to discuss anything with the Capitol Police,” the California Democrat said, though he declined to get into specifics, not wanting to upset his family.
‘Like a Mental Illness’
The Department of Justice has been monitoring the rise in anti-Jewish incidents nationwide, with FBI Director Christopher Wray warning recently that antisemitism has reached “historic levels” in the United States. He told Congress that “for a group that represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they account for something like 60% of all religious-based hate crimes.”
Antisemitic incidents have spiked by nearly 400% since the Oct. 7 attacks that sparked the war, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League.
When asked whether the latest episode in which Capitol Police became involved was an isolated incident or par for the course in his decades-long political career, Sherman bit his lip for a moment.
“There’s always something,” he said of his experience as a Jewish lawmaker.
Moskowitz said he and his family have received death threats since the Gaza war unfolded. The congressman slammed those who he perceives to be spreading antisemitism under the banner of progressive politics.
“We’re seeing people going to protests, holding signs: ‘Kill the Jews, gas the Jews, cleanse the Jews,’ and they’re doing it under the guise of progressive policy like a ceasefire,” Moskowitz said.
“People are seeing this stuff on TikTok,” he added, and then “they go out into the streets and like a magnet, they just have to claw at these things. It’s like a mental illness.”
‘Threats All the Time’
Ohio’s Max Miller suggested that as one of only two Jewish House Republicans, he may have it worse: “I get threats all the time.”
The freshman lawmaker said in an interview that threats against him have increased “significantly” since Oct. 7. “And, yeah, I don’t necessarily feel safe all the time,” he said. ”But I’m not gonna let that stop me from doing my job,”
First-term Rep. Greg Landsman canceled a town hall with his constituents that had been scheduled for Nov. 4 in Lebanon, Ohio, because of security concerns.
The Ohio Democrat made the decision after he said he was advised by the House Sergeant at Arms, who oversees security for House members, as well as local police in his district. “Due to problematic online discourse and very serious national threats against Jews, it’s imperative we take necessary steps to keep people safe,” he said.
Tensions overflowed last week onto the floor of the House of Representatives, where Republicans led efforts to censure progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Muslim Palestinian American, for invoking controversial rhetoric interpreted by supporters of Israel to be violently antisemitic. Moskowitz and Landsman, along with 20 other Democrats, joined all but four Republicans in voting to censure Tlaib.
Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin saw his political profile rise during the course of the volatile Trump administration, drawing public scrutiny through the back-to-back impeachments of embattled former President Donald Trump and the deadly Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol.
Over the summer, a man who was found with guns and explosives near the home of former President Barack Obama also threatened Raskin. The Maryland Democrat told The Messenger that his Jewish colleagues are probably now feeling similar levels of danger.
“We’ve been in a state of vigilance about security since the impeachment and the Jan. 6 hearings, so I think it’s pretty much a steady state for me,” Raskin said. “They might be at a level now equivalent to what I’ve been dealing with the last two years.”
Reinforcing Home Security
Democratic Rep. Susan Wild said while she hasn’t experienced specific antisemitic incidents, she’s sensed more “tension” in recent weeks and felt compelled to ask the U.S. Capitol Police to work with local authorities in Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district as she prepared to host a Halloween-related gathering in her front yard.
“I feel a little stressed in some places in my district,” she told The Messenger. “But I certainly wouldn’t call them threats.”
The U.S. Capitol Police declined to comment about the particulars of protecting Jewish members of Congress or what types of threats they are facing. “For safety reasons, the USCP does not discuss potential security measures for Members or any potential investigations,” a police spokesperson told The Messenger.
Wild said her adult children have been so concerned for her safety that they’ve upped their “constant badgering” to upgrade her home security.
“I finally relented and contacted a local security company,” she said.
Just because Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hasn’t had to deal with any glaring threats lately doesn’t mean Americans can ignore the seething anger building all around them, in his opinion.
“We cannot allow this country to be divided up by bigotry and hatred,” Sanders told The Messenger, urging everyone to help quash antisemitism, Islamophobia “and other forms of racism.”
‘Goes With the Turf’
Sen. Richard Bluementhal, D-Conn., echoed his colleague’s sentiments, saying, “I think people should be speaking out and standing up against anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Black extremism from hate groups or individuals.”
Retiring Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin said he hadn’t fielded any personal threats, but warned “words have consequences.” Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., declined to discuss any threats sent his way, but urged distraught Americans everywhere to “reaffirm our mutual commitments to tolerance, and respect, and civility as the nation grapples with difficult, tragic and terrible events abroad.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said neither she nor her staff have encountered any new threats over the past month. But that’s more of a reprieve than a relief.
“Oh, I’ve had to deal with it for many, many years,” the Florida Democrat said of the hate that’s been spewed at her during her 20 years in Congress. “I just have not, thankfully, had to deal with that in this particular instance.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden said he’s gotten “a tremendous amount” of attacks accusing him of having dual citizenship with Israel simply because he’s Jewish.
“Of course I’m not a dual citizen. I’m a very proud American,” said Wyden, whose parents fled the Nazis in the 1930s.
“We have the reports coming in of various matters,” the Oregon Democrat added. “But I’ve had 1,065 town hall meetings, and what we’ve always tried to do is take reasonable precautions — and that goes with the turf.”