Ilhan Omar, Israel, anti-semitism, politics, and BDS

Newly elected Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar caused a furor when saying some politicians support Israel because of money from the Jewish lobby. That was simply incorrect (it’s politics, not money), and Omar was decently forthright in acknowledging her error. Then she re-inserted her foot by talking about “dual loyalties” (Israeli versus American).

Omar, a former Somali refugee, is one of only two Muslims in Congress. That should invest her with a special responsibility to demonstrate good citizenship in refutation of Islamophobia. I wish she hadn’t spoken so carelessly. But it’s phenomenally hypocritical for Republicans in their glass house to throw stones at Democrats, while their own Congressman Steve King defends “white supremacy” — and Trump spoke of “very fine people on both sides” when torch-bearing Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”*  Et cetera.

Omar may not have realized what a hoary old anti-semitic trope “dual loyalty” is. The Nazis used it, painting Jews as less good Germans. (My Jewish grandfather took a bullet for Germany in WWI, but that didn’t help him later.) Many U.S. Jews are indeed “supporters of Israel.” Some even give money to Israel. That doesn’t make them less loyal Americans. Indeed, the U.S. government itself is a supporter of Israel; first to recognize Israel’s statehood in 1948, and since then giving it many billions in aid.

But now Israel has become a flash-point in left-right political polarization. While American “support for Israel” used to be concentrated among U.S. Jews who were mostly Democrats, in recent decades the Republican religious right has latched onto Israel as central to some sort of end-times return-of-Jesus fantasy. And on the other side, the left has fetishized the plight of Palestinians, with Israel thus cast as an arch-villain, engendering the “BDS” movement — to subject Israel to boycott, sanctions, and divestment.

My own ancestry is Jewish, but I’ve been very critical of Israel. Here’s an example: https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/israel-triumph-and-tragedy-past-and-future/. And four years ago I penned an imagined Israeli election speech (https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/i-have-a-dream-israeli-election-speech/) with a very different approach for the Palestinian issue. I must say, re-reading it now, it seems really eloquent. And really sad because its vision is farther than ever from possibility.

But the Israeli/Palestinian situation is not a good guy/bad guy story. It takes two to tango here, and Palestinians are victims not only of Israel but of Palestinians; their own leaders serving them as badly, and myopically, as Israel has done.

Anti-semitism is the idea that Jews have certain undesirable racial characteristics. One can certainly criticize Israel’s policy toward Palestinians without being anti-semitic. But it’s a fine line. Britain’s Labour Party, for example, has taken a hard left turn, with the obligatory Israel-bashing, metastasizing into what is blatant anti-semitism. Meantime these lefties, posturing as champions of downtrodden people, are suckers for regimes (like Venezuela’s) that trod people down, if they wrap themselves in anti-American, anti-imperialist, or anti-capitalist rhetoric.

There’s actually something downright crazy about singling out Israel as uniquely odious — when it is, after all, a basically democratic nation with rule of law, freedom of speech and press and religion, etc. (and a U.S. friend). That election speech I wrote could in fact have been given in Israel; Jamal Kashoggi was chopped in pieces. Does Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians remotely compare with the pervasive human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Congo, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Bahrain, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Turkey, Myanmar, or Iran, not to mention Russia and China? Where are the BDS movements for all these countries?

*I invite commenters to disgrace themselves by trying to excuse or defend this.

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One Response to “Ilhan Omar, Israel, anti-semitism, politics, and BDS”

  1. Lee Says:

    I can speak ill of some presidents of the USA, some lobbying groups here, etc. while still loving the USA. Likewise those who speak ill of some militaristic policies of the Likud Party of Israel or speak ill of lobbying groups that support those policies are not anti-Semites; they are just sane.

    And yes there are factions within Palestine that are bad. They too should be shunned, boycotted, etc. But in both Israel and Palestine there are many people who want this insanity to end, so that they can get on with the pursuit of happiness. It is my hope that Omar et al. can build support for these people.

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