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National Rifle Association

Ted Nugent’s Anti-Semitic Tirade Puts Pro-Israel Republican Candidates in a Bind

Will any 2016 contenders join the growing chorus of gun enthusiasts calling for Nugent's removal from the NRA’s board?

A growing chorus of gun enthusiasts and civil rights organizations are telling the National Rifle Association to oust Ted Nugent, after the outspoken board member posted overtly anti-Semitic messages on social media.

On Monday, Nugent referred to a dozen distinguished American Jews on his Facebook page as “punks” who “hate freedom,” labeling them as the forces “really behind gun control.” The group included Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Nugent’s post was accompanied by a graphic depicting a headshot of each of the 12 overlaid with an Israeli flag. The photos were also stamped with an explicitly anti-Semitic label. (The meme, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has been a mainstay on neo-Nazi websites.) Michael Bloomberg was called the “Jew York City Mayor” and a “9/11 Israeli agent,” while the late Senator Frank Lautenberg was said to have given “Russian Jew immigrants your tax money.”

Later on Monday, in response to his critics, Nugent posted a picture of Jews in the process of getting rounded up by Nazis. “Soulless sheep to slaughter,” he wrote.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, blasted Nugent for the posts, calling them “nothing short of conspiratorial anti-Semitism” in remarks to the the Huffington Post.

Gun owners and Second Amendment advocates have been quick to join the outcry. Bob Owens, editor of Bearing Arms, wrote online that Nugent owes “a sincere apology” and if “he can’t find that sincerity in his heart, then he has no business being on the board of an inclusive organization such as the National Rifle Association.” Robert Farago, of The Truth About Guns, said the organization should “distance itself from Mr. Nugent.”

On Wednesday, an NRA spokeswoman told the Washington Post that “individual board members do not speak” for the organization. The group, however, has so far abstained from taking any action against the 67-year-old musician, who has reinvented himself in later years as a Second Amendment activist and conservative firebrand.

While the NRA avoided criticizing Nugent for his comments, Gun Owners of America (GOA), an organization that stands far to the NRA’s right, had no such compunction. “We’re very disappointed to see what Ted has done,” Larry Pratt, GOA’s executive director, tells The Trace. “We don’t know what he was thinking. Gun Owners of America very strongly disagrees with his point of view.”

Alan Gottlieb, a leading gun rights activist and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), says, “as a man of the Jewish faith,” he finds Nugent’s remarks “appalling” and a setback to the “cause.” Gottleib stopped short of calling for Nugent’s removal from the NRA’s board — “I don’t get involved in their internal policies,” he says — but added, “It’s something they should be speaking up on.”

One prominent group yet to weigh in on the controversy is this year’s Republican presidential candidates. Typical of party leaders, all position themselves as allies of the NRA and of Israel, an ordinarily unremarkable combination made problematic by Nugent’s anti-Semitic bender.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is most closely aligned with the NRA board member, championing on his website Nugent’s endorsement for his campaign. (Nugent called Cruz his “presidential favorite.”) Cruz has also described himself as unwavering in his loyalty to Israel: In 2014, at a Middle East Christian conference, Cruz said, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” Potentially compounding the awkward position Nugent’s actions have put Cruz in is the generous political donations Cruz has received from casino magnate and multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is one of the country’s most outspoken, militant defenders of Israel.

Another Republican contender, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, is in a similar spot: He’s gone to pains to boost his NRA grade from a B+ to an A, and to hold himself up as an ardent supporter of Israel. In a December speech given to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he said, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her.”

Ditto Jeb Bush (NRA rating: A+) who told the Jewish Insider last month that his brother was the “strongest friend to Israel in modern history,” and that he would pursue the same policy.

The leading Republican contender, Donald Trump, has embraced gun rights with the zeal of a religious convert (“Donald Trump is as close to Ted Nugent as you’re going to get in politics,” Nugent has said) and Israeli security with the canniness of a born politician.

After meeting with Adelson at the end of last year, he tried to assuage any concerns over his foreign policy priorities. Said Trump, “Sheldon knows that no one will be more loyal to Israel than Donald Trump.”

For top Republicans, it may be politically untenable to ask the NRA to take action against Nugent, unless someone like Adelson can force their hand. Just as China is stuck with North Korea, whose dangerous provocations continually cause it embarrassment on the world stage, so too is the Republican Party stuck with the fringe elements of the NRA. The relationship’s benefits for politicians — the reliable delivery of loyal pro-gun voters to the polls — have historically far outweighed its costs. But as Nugent’s anti-Semitic remarks show, it can also leave those politicians in a double bind.

“This is an NRA problem,” says SAF’s Gottlieb. “All of us outside of the [organization] should condemn what Ted Nugent said.” 

[Photo: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]