Riding the wave of condemnation of anti-Semitism, the Democratic Party has started a chain reaction of unintended consequences. The winner is the Republican Party, delighted that the Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot, and the loser is Israel, whose untouchable status in the U.S. Congress has been seriously dented by the arrival of a couple of Muslim congresswomen. The persona non grata of the situation is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who has called attention to the Palestinian tragedy in territories occupied by Israel. In particular, she said: “nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.” While she is correct in denouncing the fact that Congress and the Trump administration have ignored the Palestinian pleas, she went on to attack “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This statement was immediately interpreted as an accusation leveled at supporters of Israel and denounced as anti-Semitic. Doubting the allegiance to America of Jews and Catholics is a myth that was retired long ago. And yet, the critics of the Muslim representative openly accused her of having propagated an anti-Semitic and anti-American probe. No matter how many people interpreted Omar’s remarks as addressed to the unquestioning support of Israel in U.S. politics, Israel’s supporters in Congress launched a full-scale attack by way of resolutions that zeroed in on their Michigan colleague.
It is fair to note that while Omar apologized, admitting that her word choices had been unfortunate, the onslaught continued and Republican leaders rode the wave of the resolutions to drive a wedge between the Jewish community and the Democrats. Realistically, the Democratic congresswoman has been hung out to dry by Democrats and exploited by Republicans. Unfortunately, very little is made of her passionate defense when she says: “I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel.” To put the situation in its historical perspective, almost nobody in the United States questions the strong allegiance to the Jewish state, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance. In 2016, the U.S. signed an agreement with Israel that covers 10 years and pledges $38 billion of military aid. In fact, Israel gets even more. Not many are aware that the per capita income of Israel ($30,000) is higher than that of France, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Outside the halls of Congress, Omar’s fustigation elicited reactions by many Democrats, progressive Jewish groups and other political spokespersons who objected to anti-Semitism resolutions that ignored other deeply offensive issues such as racism, Islamophobia, sexism, xenophobia and hate of all kinds. Rabbi Alissa Wise of the Jewish Voice of Peace raised the issue in courageous words when she wrote about the need “to speak up for Palestine and the growing masses who demand justice, equality and dignity for all in Palestine/Israel and here in the U.S.” These voices are simply stating that charges of anti-Semitism should not be used to silence debate on Israeli policies, especially at a time when Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu midwifed an arrangement that could bring Otzma Yehudit, the successor of the racist Meir Kahane, into the Knesset. This is the violent party that advocates the cleansing of the Arab population in Palestine.
In the end, the leaders of the movement in Congress that strove to punish Rep. Omar started something that surely they did not want: the opening of a discussion of Israel’s policies and the U.S.-Israel relationship. The resolution that Congress passed denounced all forms of hate and intolerance against any religious, ethnic or religious community. The outcome of the Omar controversy has exposed the fault lines in that relationship and has legitimized a broader debate about what is happening in Israel and Palestine. It was about time.