Ilhan Omar ~ Anti-Semitic
Ilhan Omar didn’t say anything anti-semitic. She said things that could be offensive, if one stretched their meaning beyond her intention. She apologized to those she offended, and clarified that her criticism was of Israel and its lobbyists, not Jewish people.
If you actually listen to her speeches and read her tweets, you’ll notice she doesn’t say a thing about Jewish people. The argument made against her is that she used anti-semitic tropes, that she implied that Jews use money to buy political influence, and that Jewish people have dual loyalties, that they can be American but have greater allegiance to Israel. While such tropes have been employed by others in the past, I don’t think that’s at all what Omar was saying. It takes some stretching, and a desire to believe that her intent was anti-semitic, to believe that.
The issue of lobbyists and bribe money in politics is one that is dangerous, undemocratic, and obvious. Omar made the excellent point that calling out the influence of lobbyists for the NRA or the fossil fuel industry is more or less fair game, but to do so for Israel is a red line. Regardless of one’s opinions Israel, Netanyahu's extremely right-wing government, the occupation of Palestinian territory, and the actions of Israel’s military, it’s worth questioning why any foreign nation should be deemed entirely exempt from scrutiny. It can’t be for moral or legal reasons alone, because the Israeli government and military have done immoral and illegal things. If it’s anti-semitic to acknowledge the influence that the pro-Israel lobby buys in the US government, then AIPAC’s leadership is as anti-semitic as Omar.
It’s a good thing that Bernie Sanders was one among the few prominent political figures to defend Omar, and draw delineation between criticism of Israel’s policies and actions, and antisemitism.
Something often overlooked about Bernie Sanders, in such in depth analysis of him being an old white male socialist, is that he is also Jewish. If elected president, Sanders would be our country’s first Jewish president. Having a respected Jewish politician backing Omar and her statements is helpful.
Though on that note, we have to avoid falling into the “black friend defense.”
Bernie Sanders being Jewish does not mean that he speaks for all Jewish people, nor that his opinion should be taken as that of a Jewish majority in America. No more than the Trump administration repeatedly trotting out that one Black woman they know to pretend that Trump is not racist should be taken as a valid defense of his racism.
But it does help.
It helps more that Jewish Voice for Peace has expressed solidarity with Ilhan Omar, and that they, along with more than forty other Jewish groups worldwide have declared their opposition to equating antisemitism with criticism of Israel.
Israel is not the Jewish people. It is a theological state founded on and based in Jewish history, law, lore, and mythology. But that does not mean that it or its government is representative of the will or beliefs of all Jewish people. Many Jewish people around the world oppose the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the violent genocide of the Palestinian people being waged by the Israeli government and military. Many of them also balk at the presumption of a country calling itself the only democracy in the middle-east when it is a country in which eligibility for citizenship of its inhabitants, and thus their rights and treatment in the country, can be helped or hindered on the basis of whether they are of Hebrew, Arabic, or other lineage; a country in which political movements are suppressed on the basis of religion and heritage, taking such actions as banning Arab candidates from elections.
Many of the most vocal backers and defenders of Israel are not Jewish, nor is their support the product of friendship with or affection for Judaism and the Jewish people. A major portion of the pro-Israel lobby comprises Evangelical Christians. Rather than their vocal and financial support for Israel being based on altruistic humanitarian motives, anything to do with the welfare of the citizens of Israel or Jewish people worldwide, it is a position in keeping with their belief of the meaning of biblical passages. They believe that the Rapture, the return of Jesus Christ, the salvation of Christians, the essential end of the world, is imminent. Or they want it to be imminent. They believe that for the Rapture to happen, the Jews must occupy and rule Israel.
The thing is, in the Evangelical mind, that doesn’t mean anything positive for Jews. They only want them to be there for as long as it takes for Jesus to show up. Then, when the Christians are whisked up to heaven, the Israelis, Jews, all the rest of us, can go fuck ourselves. It can be hard to see why the Israeli government and its supporters are content to benefit from a movement that, if doesn’t wish them immediate ill, views them as pawns doomed to eventual damnation. Unless you use logic.
Leaders within the Israeli state accept the support of whackjob Evangelicals for the simple reason that it is beneficial now, and they don’t believe the Christian fairytale of what will happen later. Hard to fault them for that. If a fanatical jackass wanted to pay my rent because he believed that one day some magic man would show up at my door to let me know he’s taking said jackass and all his jackass friends up to his magic castle in the sky, I’d be down for that. I’d be suspicious as hell, sure, but go ahead; pay my rent, jackass.
Critics of Saudi Arabia or Iran are not labeled Islamophobic, despite both countries being ruled on the basis of theocratic dogma. Israel is the only country that has been able to skate by on the accusation of religiously/culturally motivated hatred as the cause of any and all criticism.
Incidentally, the word “anti-semitic” is inaccurately used when describing prejudice solely against Jewish people. Semitic describes those who speak, or are descended from those who spoke, semitic languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. That means that both Jews and Arabs fall under the semite umbrella. Prejudicial tropes against Jews and Arabs are both anti-semitic, by definition.
You can call that pedantic, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. You know, so you don’t seem both prejudiced and stupid.
Closing on the notes of prejudice and stupidity:
You’ll have heard about the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passing an anti-bigotry resolution this past week. Passing a resolution in the House is a near meaningless gesture. It’s not a law, it will not become a law; it’s a way of saying, Hey, we all agree on this statement suggesting a behavior of decent conduct that should be fucking obvious and go without saying to begin with. However, this resolution, which started solely as a resolution against anti-semitism, meant as a passive-aggressive rebuke against Omar, was amended to also encompass anti-bigoted language against Muslims and other groups. A positive outcome. Ilhan Omar happily supported the resolution, as did all Democrats. Republican representatives were less united. Twenty-three Republicans, all of them white, all but one of them male, casted their votes against the anti-bigotry resolution. Eager as right-wing hacks have been to castigate Ilhan Omar for perceived anti-semitism, they’re less enthusiastic when it comes to voicing universal opposition to bigoted language and actions. Curious.