Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, and Ben Shapiro: Understanding the Dispute

Popular conservative host Tucker Carlson interviewed conservative commentator Candace Owens on Wednesday about her dispute with Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro, which burst into the open when a video of him criticizing her was made public.

Shapiro called Owens’s commentary on the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas “disgraceful,” without specifying. Owens has generally been skeptical of the war and of U.S. involvement, and has been accused of equivocating between Israel and Hamas.

In one post on X / Twitter, for example, Owens described a massive pro-Palestinian protest in London, which included extreme anti-Israel chants and antisemitic rhetoric, as if it were motivated by rejection of a media narrative, not hatred of Israel and Jews.

Owens apparently responded to Shapiro’s criticism by posting a message on X / Twitter that quoted the New Testament and said: “You cannot serve both God and money.” Shapiro said that if she felt she were facing that choice, she should quit the Daily Wire.

In the interview with Owens, Carlson invoked the example of Galileo, who was persecuted by the Church for his views. He also slammed GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley — who is also a foreign policy hawk — for suggesting restrictions on free speech.

Carlson went further, and accused those who are criticizing Owens, as well as liberal pro-Israel donors now threatening to pull funding from Ivy League institutions over antisemitism, of having been indifferent to, or supportive of, “white genocide.”

Owens has visited Israel before, notably in 2018 — ironically, in the wake of another dispute with Shapiro over Kanye West. The two made up and Owens joined the Daily Wire, though Shapiro would later face pressure to criticize her other provocative views.

Specifically, Owens defended “nationalism” by claiming that it had been wrongly associated with Adolf Hitler, whom she called a “globalist” because of his broader ambitions. That remark was labeled by critics as antisemitic. She remained at the Daily Wire.

More recently, Owens has argued that “America First” foreign policies require the U.S. to stay out of foreign wars. That view has gained traction with growing skepticism among conservatives of U.S. support for Ukraine in its stalemate in the war with Russia.

While conservatives have typically supported Israel, some in the “America First” movement have extended their skepticism about the war in Ukraine to the war against Hamas, saying the U.S. should not become involved in a war that could expand rapidly.

To many supporters of Israel, that position fails to account for the close alliance between the U.S. and Israel, and suggests an indifference to Jewish suffering, after the atrocities committed by Hamas, that is, at best, tolerant of violent antisemitism.

This dispute takes “America First” back to its roots in the Second World War, when some conservatives opposed U.S. involvement — even to save the Jews of Europe. Some — not all — were pro-Hitler. The debate ended when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Tucker Carlson, who converted to the isolationist cause after the Iraq War, has often faced criticism that he is skeptical of U.S. support for Israel. Though he is skeptical of all U.S. foreign entanglements generally, some critics have accused him of prejudice.

These are difficult issues to untangle, made worse by the way in which interest groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, (ADL) which shifted to the left under the leadership of former Obama administration official Jonathan Greenblatt, have weighed in.

For years, Greenblatt and the ADL have accused Carlson of racism, and have tried to destroy his career, over views on subjects like immigration that have nothing to do with race. The ADL has also tried to silence conservative voices on social media.

Some conservatives, like this author, defended Carlson, and warned that the ADL was risking a backlash — both by falsely labeling people as bigots, and by promoting left-wing causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, that included antisemitic groups.

This author noted recently, for example, that while the ADL had spoken out admirably against antisemitism on campuses in the wake of the October 7 attack, it had contributed to the problem by backing identity politics that had now turned against Jews.

Conservative radio host Mark Levin made a similar comment Wednesday in the first hour of his show, noting that the media had poisoned debate by falsely accusing Donald Trump and conservative commentators of antisemitism, when the opposite was true.

Where Carlson and Owens could be said to be going wrong in their anti-war arguments is in confusing the “pro-Israel” idea with those on the left who have promoted Democratic policies on race and immigration, and ignoring the pro-Israel conservative right.

They do not mention Jews specifically in the interview, but others have. Elon Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter), drew criticism Wednesday when he agreed with someone else’s post that accused Jewish people of pushing “hatred against whites.”

It is not clear what Musk meant — though Musk, like Carlson, has been unfairly targeted by the ADL, which is a Jewish group.

Likewise, commentator Jason Whitlock defended Ownens by attacking “Jewish elites” and accusing Shapiro of dual loyalty.

There is nothing disloyal about Americans wanting to support and defend Israel against Hamas terror, both out of love of Israel, and out of concern that a victory for a radical Islamic terror group like Hamas would make America and the world less safe.

There are plenty of Americans who support Israel and who oppose identity politics. These include conservatives who have long held those positions, but also an increasing number of liberals, including Jews, who feel betrayed by the “progressive left.”

There are also “America First” conservatives who have argued — like this author — that supporting Israel is in America’s interest, both because we must defend allies (within limits), and because defending Israel also helps us defend religious liberty in America.

All of the nuance of these positions is lost because of the growing habit, on the left and the right, of accusing opponents of bigotry — which Tucker and Owens oppose, but indulge here by conflating “pro-Israel” donors with those who tolerate “white genocide.”

The essence of this debate is easily lost in the details and personalities. The risk is that disputes about identity politics and foreign policy are distracting from the far greater threat of antisemitism on the left, which the right cannot oppose when it equivocates.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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