Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Policy Argument Can Be Made. Omar Declined.

With passage in the House of Representatives of a resolution denouncing hate, meat loaf, and neighbors with loud lawn mowers- and GOP surrender on the issue- the Ilhan Omar saga itself appears over.

For now, anyway. Yet the disagreement over the path of Mideast peace and justice continues, and will continue.

One week ago the New Republic's Ben Ehrenreich argued that following Omar's remarks at the event at Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington, D.C. "All attention went to just five words: “allegiance to a foreign country.” Never mind that Omar was talking about politicians, and not about Jews at all..."

Alas, a transcript has been provided by a defender of Omar's remarks. Two paragraphs prior to the Minnesotan stating "so for me, 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," Omar had maintained

And so for me I know that when I hear my Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues speak about Palestinians who don’t want safety, or Palestinians who aren’t deserving I stay focused on the actual debate about what that process should look like. I never go to the dark place of saying “here’s a Jewish person, they’re talking about Palestinians, Palestinians are Muslim, maybe they’re Islamophobic.” I never allow myself to go there because I don’t have to.

She refers here to "my Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues speak about Palestinians who don't wan't safety or Palestinians who aren't deserving." That's Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues who in her view are narrow-minded. 

Ehrenreich wants us to understand that "criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism."  Of course, it only seems to be anti-Semitic when the words come from an individual who had the previous month tweeted "it's all about the Benjamins, baby" in favorable response to a tweet by Glenn Greenwald criticizing the allegedly reflexive support of politicians for Israel. And suspicion of anti-Semitism was inevitable when the subject had several years earlier referred (in a tweet , like the other, now deleted) to Israel's "evil doings," to which she hoped Allah would "awaken" people. 

To be sure, Ehrenreich is not alone in failing to recognize Omar's motivation.  Less critical of the congresswoman than I, Michelle Goldberg (though below, overly generous of Omar's motives) noted

As that resolution was being hashed out, The Hill published an interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn that poured gasoline on a trash fire. Defending Omar, who spent four years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, he seemed to describe her suffering as more visceral than that of Jews. "There are people who tell me, 'Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.' "My parents did this.'" Clyburn said. "It's more personal with her: I've talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain."

Truly, when you see that your god has not extinguished a nation which you consider "evil," it would mean a lot of pain. The likes of Clyburn and Ehrenreich may not understand that criticism of the Israeli government would be more credible coming from someone more credible.  Allow New York Times columnist and Jew Thomas Friedman to explain that, like Omar, he doesn't like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, in his case

because I strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to build a nation-state in their ancient homeland — a nation-state envisaged by its founders to reflect the best of Jewish and democratic values. And I believe Aipac for many years has not only become a rubber stamp on the right-wing policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has resulted in tens of thousands of Israeli settlers now ensconced in the heart of the West Bank, imperiling Israel as a democracy. Aipac has also been responsible for making support for Israel a Republican cause, not a bipartisan issue, which poses a real danger to Israel’s support in America in the long run, and particularly on college campuses.

I dislike Aipac because I am devoted to Israel as a Jewish democracy and because I believe that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians can ensure that. Given how Aipac has let itself become the slavish, unthinking tool of Netanyahu, who opposes a two-state solution, I believe Aipac works against Israel’s long-term interests.

Aipac is a self-appointed lobby that does not represent my feelings as an American Jew. But neither does Representative Omar.

Everything I have heard from her leads me to conclude that she dislikes Aipac because she dislikes Israel, because she does not really believe the Jewish people have a right to an independent state in their ancestral homeland. She seems to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as B.D.S.

Representative Omar has not made a similarly, or even differentiated, reasoned argument against the policies of the Netanhayu government. She has not even had the awareness, courage, or whatever it would take to call out AIPAC itself. Rather, it has been about the Benjamins, the Almighty, and dual allegiance, twin brother to treason. Nor has the vast majority of Representative Omar's defenders, unlike Friedman, explained why they believe that the current Israeli government is simultaneously injurious to Palestinians and Israelis. 

This certainly does not mean that most of them are anti-Semitic. But for many of them, it does mean that they condone that sentiment at this moment in history from this individual, and that does not bode well for either American support of Israel or justice in the Middle East.

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