As an Israeli American, I agree with Ilhan Omar much more than the US politicians weaponising antisemitism

Omar is challenging decades-long unconditional American support for Israel while many American legislators are demanding loyalty oaths that enable Israel to continue doing as it pleases – with total impunity

Mairav Zonszein
Wednesday 06 March 2019 18:41 GMT
Donald Trump says Ilhan Omar should resign over Israel comments: 'Anti-semitism has no place in Congress'

While freshman Minnesota Congresswoman Omar’s alleged antisemitism has been dominating the headlines in the US in recent weeks, in Israel, the controversies have barely been reported on in Hebrew media, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many Israelis who even know who she is. Yet much of the attacks and condemnations she is facing originate in talking points and policies created by the Israeli right, specifically under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the last decade.

Omar has made repeated claims in recent weeks – some not too carefully crafted — that Israel (a country that holds millions of Palestinians under violent occupation) has outsized influence on American foreign policy and that its lobbyists use money to maintain that support.

Since Sunday, she has been defending herself against a barrage of attacks from both Democrats and Republicans for one sentence – arguably one word — she said at an event last week: "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." This has been slammed as a charge of dual loyalty (though she did not specify Jews directly in her comments), an antisemitic trope.

As this has been going on, Omar has been facing death threats and Islamophobic attacks herself, including a poster last week at a Republican Party event which likened her to 9/11 terrorists.

Omar is one of only two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, and they are both the first members of Congress to openly support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This has made them the targets of an incomparable onslaught of scrutiny and attacks.

The Israeli government has invested millions of dollars in its campaign to combat BDS around the world, and has worked hard (and largely succeeded) to equate BDS – a non-violent tactic to secure Palestinian rights — with antisemitism, arguing that it denies Israel the right to exist. As an Israeli and a Jew, I do not challenge Israel’s right to exist, but I do challenge its right to exist as the Jewish supremacist, undemocratic, violent state that it is. That does not make me an antisemite, and neither does solidarity with the call for BDS.

Yet this talking point has been fully adopted in Washington. When you look at the anti-BDS legislation that has already swept half of the US and further efforts on a federal level to penalise American businesses which so much as favour a boycott of Israel, it’s no wonder Omar is being attacked. It’s practically a given she would be. A Muslim congresswoman supporting a boycott of Israel is unprecedented in Washington. She is challenging decades-long unconditional American support for Israel while many American legislators are demanding loyalty oaths that enable Israel to continue doing as it pleases – with total impunity.

As Democratic Representative Juan Vargas from California inadvertently confirmed in a tweet denouncing Omar, “questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” President Donald Trump’s tweet Tuesday that Omar is “under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel” and that it is a “dark day for Israel” also appeared to be an admission that this has nothing to do with Jews or antisemitism and everything to do with criticizing Israel and US foreign policy.

It’s important to highlight that at the core of the contemporary dual loyalty canard is Zionism’s goal that there be no daylight between Jewish religious, ethnic and national identities. Israel claims to speak for Jews globally and then when people call out Israeli policies, it can conveniently cry out antisemitism. This is the weaponization of antisemitism that we are seeing play out in American domestic politics, and that the Democratic leadership is conceding to.

The fact is that Israel under Netanyahu has normalized right-wing antisemitism in countries like Hungary and the US, while simultaneously demonizing as antisemitic those who try and undermine Israel’s infrastructure of occupation. Without that precedent, the US government would not have the credentials to do to Ilhan Omar what it is doing.

House Democrats have delayed a vote that was scheduled for today on a resolution condemning antisemitism that does not mention Omar by name but is clearly meant to serve as a rebuke of her comments. It does not offer anything innovative about fighting real threats of antisemitism. If it is meant to address the dual loyalty charge, then where was the resolution after President Trump told a room full of American Jews in December that Israel is “your country”?

During the event at which Omar made the statement for which she is under attack, Omar also said, after acknowledging the emotional connection some American Jews have to Israel and likening it to her children’s connection to Somalia: “But we never really allow space for the stories of Palestinians seeking safety and sanctuary to be uplifted. And to me… the dehumanization and the silencing of a particular pain and suffering of people should not be OK and normal. And you can’t be in the practice of humanizing and uplifting the suffering of one if you’re not willing to do that for everyone.”

As a Jew, an American and an Israeli, these sentiments represent my values much more than those claiming to be combatting antisemitism under the guise of the preservation of the US-Israel special relationship.

Mairav Zonszein is an Israeli American freelance journalist

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