I am Jewish and the notion that Representative Ilhan Omar is anti-Semitic seems ridiculous to me. Yes, she has trafficked in language that Western anti-Semites have used against us Jews, but her policies (the stuff that actually affects us) do not reflect that kind of hatred and she did not grow up in the West. She spent the first fourteen years of her life in Somalia and Kenya before fleeing as a refugee to the United States. Are you aware of all the problematic words and phrases in East African cultures? No? Then why should Omar know every turn of phrase that anti-Semites born in America like Henry Ford used?
Democratic Minority Whip James Clyburn correctly pointed out how “it’s more personal with her” in the wake of the latest mess where Democrats tried to condemn her, but wound up backtracking to a pointless, generic, boilerplate condemnation of hate (that 24 Republicans then refused to vote for). Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel basically boils down to this tweet addressing her usage of the word “hypnotized” (another Western anti-Semitic trope that she may be completely unaware of—bottom line, the criticism of Omar to make is political, not moral—as she should be aware of these words and phrases by now given how quickly the press and our politicians are to interpret comments in bad faith from a woman wearing a hijab).
The word apartheid is one of the biggest flashpoints in all of Judaism. Those like me who are critical of the state assert that it is, definitionally, an apartheid state (more on that in a second), while those more in line with AIPAC (the lobbyist organization for Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party) recoil in horror at labeling a country we all love with a term so intrinsically hateful. But I’m sorry, folks—Omar is right—Israel is an apartheid state. Soon-to-be-indicted Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, basically said so over the weekend on his Facebook page:
“First of all, an important correction: Israel is not a country of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish nation — and its alone. As you wrote, there is no problem with Arab citizens — they have equal rights like everybody and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.”
You know how we can tell that the second sentence about Arab citizens having equal rights is BS (other than the law he touts contradicting it)? Netanyahu immediately went on to repeat his campaign slogan:
“It’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or a weak left-wing government led by Yair Lapid and [Benny] Gantz, with the support of the Arab parties.”
So per Netanyahu, Arab citizens have equal rights, but if he loses, then Arab parties will have power in the government and that is an unacceptable nightmare. That doesn’t really square up with his assertion that “they have equal rights.” They don’t, like Netanyahu said—he passed a Nation-State law that among other things, mandated that the “state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.” In other words, expanding settlement into Palestinian territory is legally deemed as vital to the Jewish state, as is the designation of Hebrew as the country’s official language (a change from the previous 70 years where Hebrew and Arabic were the official languages), per the leader of the Jewish state.
defines apartheid as: “policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and nonwhite majority and sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites.” Apartheid simply means having a legally defined second class with fewer rights—a longstanding policy I would argue the United States of America has too—and in a post pushing back against criticism from a TV star, Israel’s president emphasized the “Nation-State” law he passed while asserting that “Israel is the Nation-State of Jews alone.” This is how we arrive at a point where Palestinians live in Israeli-legislated hellish conditions in Gaza while being unable to leave a 140 square mile area their entire lives. Problematic words aside, Ilhan Omar’s fundamental criticism of Israel’s apartheid governance is spot on, and Benjamin Netanyahu just proved her right.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.