Representative Ilhan Omar is Not Anti-Semitic (So Says this Jew)Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Politics Features Ilhan Omar
First off, Representative Omar is a Semite. Secondly, even if the people claiming that Omar is being anti-Semitic in the anti-Jewish sense are right (which again, they’re not), equating AIPAC with “all Jews” is being FAR more anti-Semitic than what these folks claim Omar is asserting.
If you’re lucky enough to not have your brain poisoned by Twitter, you’re probably a little confused as to what I’m talking about. It all began with a tweet that admittedly was far too vague, and for a certain kind of person who looks at Omar’s hijab and thinks of anti-Semitism (again, she’s a Semite, just like me), or simply someone who isn’t plugged in to the day-to-day political madness, this looks like it could be another George Soros-type “Jews control the world” conspiracy.
It’s all about the Benjamins baby https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
GOP House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who published anti-Semitic memes after George Soros received a pipe bomb in the mail, decided that he was done being an anti-Semite who ginned up support from the anti-Semites in the GOP, and was now an anti-Semite who virtue signals towards the Very Serious People in our nation’s capital to gain their support. Luckily for him, this kind of anti-Semitism is tolerated in our nation’s capital, and he has bent the Democratic Party to his will.
Omar quickly corrected her sole error of vagueness, and specifically identified who she was talking about when she insinuated that a political leader was taking money to advance an agenda.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
AIPAC is the Israel lobby in Washington D.C., and there is a difference between Israel and Jews. This basic nuance is completely lost on much of major media, many of whom echoed McCarthy’s false charges of anti-Semitism, favoring the vagueness of Representative Omar’s first tweet over the specificity of her second one. As a Jew, this kind of stuff is so much more hurtful than the traditional stereotype that Omar is falsely accused of perpetuating:
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 11, 2019
AIPAC does not represent most Jews. Eighty five percent of Israelis supported Trump moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, while just 46% of American Jews did. This hurtful conflation of two very different things reduces people like me to caricatures of whatever AIPAC wants, as if all Jews are united on the topic of Israel. We’re not—far from it. We are very divided and it is frankly, exhausting. I didn’t even want to write this column even though I knew I had to. Jews in Israel are different from Jews in America the same way anyone in Israel is different from anyone in America.
I can’t believe I even need to type those words, but the constant stream of bad-faith attacks on Omar from major power brokers in both the political and media establishment demonstrates an extremely narrow—D.C.-centric—view of the world. I’d bet half the people in our nation’s capital arguing that Omar committed some unforgivable sin haven’t been west of Philadelphia or south of D.C. since the 20th century.
Here is a major reporter credulously asking whether the Representative is suggesting that an organization explicitly dedicated to lobbying congress spends money on lobbying congress. F***ing duh, dude.
are you suggesting AIPAC is paying members of Congress?
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 11, 2019
There are deep divisions on Israel and the myriad interests surrounding its present iteration, and characterizing Jewish opinion on this topic as any sort of monolith is quite literally the opposite of journalism. There are massive divides among Jews on the topic of what a Jewish state should look like and what it presently does look like, and plenty of D.C. non-Jews simply do not understand that whatsoever because they have been poisoned by AIPAC’s influence.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is the opinion editor at Forward and she is Jewish. She falls on the other side of the Jewish divide, and she disagrees with my assertion that criticizing AIPAC does not constitute anti-Semitism, but she’s not who I’m talking about here when I speak of D.C. brain poisoning.
Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 11, 2019
Either Chelsea Clinton has never had an opportunity to live outside the D.C. bubble and she inserts mindless campaign-speak like “as an American” into every day discourse, or she’s implying that Omar is either not American or less American for her AIPAC critique. It’s highly likely that it’s the former, but it is far easier to make a bad faith interpretation of Chelsea Clinton’s remarks than Ilhan Omar’s remarks. Either way, Chelsea is representing the D.C. mindset that AIPAC = Jews.
It doesn’t. Chelsea went on to try to show her Very Serious bona fides by responding to more bad faith attacks, before people drew her attention to the fact that she took a literal white supremacist YouTube conspiracy theorist at face value, and she deleted her tweets. Chelsea Clinton’s adventure on Twitter last night proved how easily this pro-AIPAC D.C. mindset can be manipulated.
Back to the disagreement among Jews: Ungar-Sargon went on to falsely characterize what AIPAC does, making a basic mistake that can be repudiated using words from AIPAC’s own web site.
Uh, AIPAC is pretty transparent about its support for S.1. There are 4 items listed on their legislative agenda, S1 is on their TWICEhttps://t.co/D24t284XLa
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) February 11, 2019
Per the AIPAC link shared by Yousef Munayyer, a Jew more sympathetic to my side of the argument:
The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S.1) combines four bipartisan initiatives aimed at supporting regional stability and strengthening Israeli and U.S. security. The legislation clarifies that U.S. states have the right to enact specific measures to counter boycotts of Israel. . Please urge your senators to support S.1 and urge all members of Congress to oppose boycotts of Israel and to protect American companies from such efforts.
Forward‘s opinion editor then moved the goalposts from “believing the passage of S1 was the work of AIPAC is tantamount to believing in fraud” to “I’m not saying they don’t really want it passed. I’m saying they are not the reason it was.”
This is how disingenuous the conversation around AIPAC has become. It is a lobbying outfit for the state of Israel. Full stop. It exists to lobby politicians, yet Ungar-Sargon asserts that even though it literally puts “urg[ing] your senators to support S.1” on its “legislative agenda,” AIPAC’s lobbying was not why S.1 was passed.
Frankly, my opinion from the other side of the Jewish divide is that this is yet another instance of religious fundamentalism getting in the way of the necessary pragmatism of modernity. Having an honest conversation about AIPAC’s influence in D.C. means having an honest conversation about what the present state of Israel really stands for, and that is directly informed by the level of religiosity in every Jew’s day-to-day life. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any Jew that Ungar-Sargon is more religious than I am—although Munayyer is also more religious than I am too, so this is not a hard and fast rule—because again, Jews are not a monolith, and depicting us as such in any iteration is incredibly offensive.
I support the state of Israel even though I do not support this state of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure who has turned Israel into an outright kleptocracy, as even his own police force (which is far from a force for liberalization in Israel) recommended he be indicted. You simply cannot divorce this iteration of Israel from America’s colonialist interests, as it has served as our forward operating base for our endless Middle East misadventures since Israel’s creation in 1948*.
*Here is a full list of all the countries in/around the Middle East where America has fought wars since 1948: Lebanon, Libya, Lebanon, Libya, Libya, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya
Jews’ holy text promised us a land of milk and honey in Israel, but it did not foresee New York City, and so the notion of needing a safe haven on the Mediterranean is lost on younger Jews. The central reason why Israel is such a touchy subject for Jews is because of our incredibly depressing history. Whether it was the Egyptian Pharaohs, Haman in the Persian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, the Granada Massacre, the Crusades (Christians who both persecuted Jews in Europe and ventured to foreign lands to attack Muslims), the Second Crusade, the Shepherd’s Crusade, England banishing Jews, being blamed for the Bubonic Plague (900 Jews were burnt alive in Strasbourg), the Papal States, the Mawza Exile, the Allahdad Incident, the Holocaust or the largest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history in Pittsburgh last year, there has never been a time in recorded history where a significant chunk/majority of the world did not want to wipe us off the planet.
Israel is our ancestor’s promise to protect the future. Israel is everything to Jews. It is not a utopia, but simply a safe haven which has never existed for us. We are history’s refugees, and while Israel is still central to our lives, the United States of America is one of the greatest things to ever happen to us. Anti-Semitism is far from eradicated, but compared to the sprawling anti-Semitism across Europe, America is a paradise (this is why the charges of anti-Semitism towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are far more reasonable than this nonsense being pushed in Representative Ilhan Omar’s direction).
This emotional connection to the state of Israel is what AIPAC exploits for the current state of Israel’s benefit, and it works. Instead of representing their constituents and pushing back against this noise with a nuanced view of a religion divided over an incredibly complex topic, the Democratic Party folded like a lawn chair in a hurricane, and bent to this AIPAC/GOP attack, condemning Omar for comments that this Jew (and many, many, many, many, many others) staunchly asserts are not anti-Semitic. It’s impossible to ignore the contrast of this quick capitulation to bad-faith GOP and major media attacks with the House Democrats’ efforts to bottle up a censure vote against outright white supremacist Steve King. The final voice vote to censure Steve King was so defanged that Steve King voted for it.
In fact, with this statement the Democratic Party is actively aiding a very clear GOP-led anti-Semitic attack on the first two Muslim women in congress (the GOP is also targeting Rashida “impeach the MFer” Tlaib for her pro-Palestinian stances). There is no topic that makes me more disillusioned with the Democratic Party than Israel. They simply do not represent liberal Jews. Instead, they bend to a lobbying organization that gave Trump a standing ovation the last time he spoke at their conference because AIPAC is simply that powerful in our nation’s capital.
Because Omar has more sense than most Democratic politicians and because she finds herself in an impossible and unfair situation, she did the only thing she could do and apologized in a statement where she still stood her ground on the substantive assertion she was making that so many bad-faith actors in this saga have seemingly chosen to ignore.
Listening and learning, but standing strong pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
The current state of Israel stands against so much of what the theoretical state of Israel promised. Jews have been persecuted nonstop throughout human history, and now that we have our own state, we are using its power to persecute another Semitic people—effectively our ancestral brothers and sisters. Jews will continue to squabble over this topic just as we have for centuries, and what non-Jews need to keep in mind is that there is far from a consensus on the topic of Israel among all American Jews. Equating AIPAC’s priorities with the priorities of all Jews is trafficking in the same kind of cartoonish conspiracy theorizing these D.C. brainwormed folks are Very Seriously trying to condemn.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.