EDITORIAL: House resolution cannot end debate
We must condemn anti-Semitism while fostering democratic discourse
Anti-Semitism continues to bloom in the fertile soil of bigotry and hate as the long and ugly history of Jews in Diaspora winds into the hate of contemporary times. There cannot be a denial of the Jewish people’s oppressed and persecuted history, just as there cannot be a dismissal of the continued attacks and demonization of the Jewish people. America was not immune to Nazism, this nation is not invulnerable to intolerance and there needs to be discourse on the widespread hate, xenophobia and racism from the representative leadership of this nation to the people.
Controversy around Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) language on Israel had reached its boiling point last week, culminating in condemnation from members of both parties and an eventual Anti-Hate House Resolution.
This past February, Omar tweeted “all about the Benjamins” in response to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s tweet criticizing the attack on free speech rights by “GOP Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)” who peddled anti-Semitic epithets in claiming that three Jews — George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg — attempted to “BUY” the 2018 election and threatened punishment for Omar over her criticisms of Israel.
The insinuation that the United States’ alignment with Israel is based on the influence of organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is situated among the propagated anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish financiers buy off American politicians. With condemnation coming from Democratic leadership and Republicans across the aisle, Omar “unequivocally” apologized.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she said, while also reaffirming her critique of “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.”
The apology settled the matter until her panel with fellow first-year Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) last Wednesday in which Omar discussed how their being Muslim both enables their ability to empathize with intolerance but also constrains their ability to discuss foreign affairs, as commentators will give them a label that ends the conversation and debate.
“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said, which was the spark that ignited the most recent condemnation and House Resolution.
Her language was problematically reflective of similar, surface-level language of the hateful and anti-Semitic, but Omar herself does not traffic bigotry for political gain. Her history is not of hate towards Jews, but rather a critique of foreign governments that she considers infringe on human dignity. And, since entering office, Omar has been put under a microscope and made the subject of openly bigoted assaults, from a poster linking Omar to the 9/11 attacks that was put up in the West Virginia capital building to Fox News host Jeanine Pirro's Islamophobic accusation that her religion sets her in disloyal opposition to the Constitution and to the United States.
It would be categorically incorrect to imply that Omar’s criticism of Israel stems solely from her Muslim faith or in anti-Semitic beliefs. If one is to call her an anti-Semite for her critique of Israel, one must also label her as Islamophobic for her criticism of Saudi Arabia.
But, Omar’s use of the anti-Semitic tropes do stifle the much-needed Democratic discussion of interest group influence on policy, the need for Israeli security and the existent Palestinian experience. The charge of anti-Semitism is at times used to immunize the government of Israel from criticism, but discourse cannot begin through Omar’s language.
The Jewish people are not monolithic in their beliefs. The sensitive topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the splintering consideration of Israeli security, occupation, nationalism and Palestinian oppression forces open conversation underground, only to be discussed in whispers even among American Jews.
The American Jewish identity is complex. With justice and compassion at the center of what it means to be Jewish by the scriptural teachings of Amos, Hesea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and Habakkuk, there is no simplifying lens to find a solution. But there must be a rejection of the paralyzing framework that posits two extremes in opposition of one another.
One can still love the state of Israel and critique the government of indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One can still love the Jewish people and acknowledge that a Palestinian baby is of equal being as a Jewish baby. The killing of innocent Palestinians is just as tragic and just as much of a crime against humanity as the killing of innocent Jews. We must be defined by a moral consistency that knows no bounds within the confines of humanity.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.