Government & Politics

Hawley critique of ‘cosmopolitan elite’ earns rebuke from Missouri Jewish leaders

The Anti-Defamation League in Missouri is calling on U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley to apologize for a speech he delivered this week slamming the “cosmopolitan elite” who “look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together—things like place and national feeling and religious faith.”

Hawley, during a keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference on Tuesday, said the “cosmopolitan agenda” drives politics on both the left and right.

“The left champions multiculturalism and degrades our common identity,” he said. “The right celebrates hyper-globalization and promises that the market will make everything right in the end, eventually … perhaps.”

He decried the “cosmopolitan consensus,” “cosmopolitan elite,” “cosmopolitan class,” and “cosmopolitan economy,” and argued that the “cosmopolitan agenda” has broken America’s national solidarity.

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in St. Louis, said Hawley may not have intended to offend anyone with his speech. But terms like “cosmopolitan” and “globalist” have a sinister history as anti-Semitic dog whistles, and she said Hawley should apologize.

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 said. “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.”

Gavriela Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau-American Jewish Committee, said 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.”

“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 said.

She later added: “We’ve reached out to his office to offer our support in explaining how certain language is received by the Jewish community, and we look forward to engaging with him and strengthening his understanding of our community.”

On Twitter, Hawley dismissed accusations that his speech was in any way anti-Semitic, saying “the liberal language police have lost their minds.”

He drew from University of Chicago professor and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who defined “cosmopolitan” as “the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world,” not to a “specifically American identity.”

“And the cosmopolitan agenda of hyper-globalization and disrespect for the American middle has been bad for workers, bad for families, bad for America,” he said on Twitter Thursday evening. “We must replace it with a better agenda focused on the great middle of our society and what binds us together as Americans.”

Hawley’s senate office provided a list of his actions since taking office “to combat anti-Semitism.” The list includes his opposition to the BDS movement and numerous public statements and votes in support of Israel.

Hawley is also a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution, along with a long list of Republican and Democratic senators, condemning anti-Semitism.

The Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted out its support for Hawley on Friday afternoon, calling him “an amazing advocate for Jews all around the world, especially the United States.”

“It’s an outrage that anyone would attack you for being anti-Semitic,” the group tweeted. “Not only are you a mensch, but you are an inspiring Zionist!”

Yoram Hazony, a conservative Israeli author and philosopher, quickly jumped to Hawley’s defense, arguing that “cosmopolitan” is a “normal term in political theory, history and other academic disciplines. It means ‘citizen of the world’ and has no anti-Jewish valence.”

Rabbi Doug Alpert of Congregation Kol Ami in Kansas City, said he can’t say for sure whether Hawley’s speech was intentionally an anti-Semitic dog whistle.

“But it’s certainly been used that way in the past,” he said, “and regardless, the speech still represented a very divisive ideology.”

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.