Salem radio host Charlie Kirk’s commentary on the outbreak of war in Israel has created an opening for other conservative pundits to attack him in the midst of a scandal over spending at his nonprofit, Turning Point USA. His comments on multiple aspects of the conflict have been tinged with antisemitism and Islamophobia as a broader internal fight over Israel and antisemitism rages within the right.
Kirk appeared on the PBD Podcast on October 12, a show that is part of the Valuetainment network. (Another show in this network has hosted notorious neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes, who refused to say that Hitler was a “bad guy.”) During his appearance, Kirk suggested that the Israeli government may have issued a “stand-down order” or otherwise deliberately chose not to intervene against Hamas militants in a timely fashion before the horrific attacks of October 7.
There are valid questions about the Israeli government’s intelligence failure leading up to the attack and the timeline of the response to the crisis but Kirk pushed it to the conspiratorial extreme, suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a “stand-down order” allowing Israeli citizens to die to create a pretext to launch an assault on Gaza.
This suggestion prompted swift condemnation from conservative media figures including The Federalist’s Ben Domenech and radio host Erick Erickson, who accused Kirk of antisemitism.
The accusations leveled against Kirk by Domenech and Erickson are themselves rooted in antisemitism, however, eliding differences between Jews and the state of Israel and treating criticism of the Israeli government as identical to discrimination and persecution of Jews per se.
Both Domenech and Erickson also referenced Turning Point USA’s massive fundraising apparatus, with the latter leveling accusations that the whole organization is nothing but “an anti-Semitic grifting operation.” The timing of this right-wing media spat coincides with an October 10 report by The Associated Press breaking down Turning Point USA’s profligate spending that has turned Kirk into a millionaire. The report contained gripes from anonymous Republicans who expressed the organization is siphoning money away from seasoned campaign operatives to fund initiatives for an inexperienced organization with a track record of electoral failure.
Kirk responded to the claims of Domenech and Erickson on X, formerly Twitter, stating: “I unequivocally stand with Israel and its right to defend itself.” (The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens praised Kirk for his post.) He also responded on his October 16 show, spending more than five minutes defending himself — as well as Israel’s looming invasion of Gaza.
“I support the invasion of Gaza,” Kirk said. “Which is hilarious, because the one person who’s probably going to be defending Israel in the next couple of weeks — me — is the person you go after? When things get really hard and the U.N. is going to say Israel is committing war crimes, I’m going to be on campus defending Israel. … But I’m the antisemite?”
Kirk mocked Domenech, claiming he was calling for “regime change at TPUSA,” and hit back at Erickson’s quip that Kirk is leading “an anti-Semitic grifting operation” as “intellectually sloppy and lazy and it does such harm to our movement.”
“I predicted this last week,” he added, the same week that The Associated Press published its report. “Honestly, bring it on.”
At the same time Kirk has spun conspiracy theories about the Israeli response, he has also pushed nakedly antisemitic rhetoric attacking Jewish donors to universities and blaming them for “funding the suicide of the Jewish people.”
After Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, students at Harvard signed a letter saying they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The language was similar to an op-ed from the editorial board of Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper which wrote that “the disaster” was “the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The backlash to the Harvard student letter has been tremendous. Business leaders called for the letter’s drafters to be named so they could be blacklisted from future hiring, and a truck was spotted on campus displaying the names and photos of those purported to be behind the statement.
Kirk responded to the letter several times, frequently equating the interests and identities of all Jews with the government of Israel, a common antisemitic trope. He has also repeatedly called on Jewish donors to American universities to “stop subsidizing your own demise,” singling out several individuals by name and writing, “Liberal Jews also donated massively to BLM.”
On October 11, Kirk took to his radio show to lecture American Jews about how they should respond to the crisis.
“A lot of Jews give these colleges money, and you guys better stop, OK?” Kirk said. “A lot of secular Jews fund NYU and fund Harvard. You guys are funding the suicide of the Jewish people.”
His guest, Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik, then suggested a link between Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and Hamas’ recent attack on Israel.
“We’ve been trying to tell you guys for years that BLM is a terrorist organization,” Raichik told Kirk. “And I think you’ve pointed out that Hamas and BLM actually have very similar type of narratives, you know, that victim narrative, the resistance narrative."
Kirk’s comments perpetuate the idea that the Jewish people will meet their “demise” unless the far-right Israeli government is sheltered from any criticism of its actions and denigrates “secular Jews” who don’t align with a certain set of conservative politics.
This is par for the course for Kirk — a Christian nationalist with a record of relying on antisemitic tropes in his public comments and the founder of Turning Point USA, an organization with racist and white nationalist ties where a top staffer once said the organization only banned an antisemitic YouTuber from an event because of “the optics.” In 2019, TPUSA cut ties with its brand ambassador after she was photographed with Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. In 2022, a TPUSA chapter invited two acolytes of Fuentes’ to be featured event speakers. And Kirk himself frequently praises right-wing governments in Israel even as he smears “liberal Jews” in the United States, illustrating how antisemitic Zionism permeates conservative discourse.