By Michael Harel
After widespread condemnations of recent tweets by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar as anti-Semitic, Binghamton University Pipe Dream’s opinions editor Sarah Molano claimed that “Democrats are doing all they can to stifle the more progressive views of these officials.”
When progressivism becomes hateful, it is inherently no longer progressive. Therefore, Molano’s article, which downplays a deeply hateful comment that sent shockwaves through the Jewish community, is curious; as a strong supporter of minority rights, she should know better than to claim what is or is not offensive to a minority group.
Historically, anti-Semitism has evolved with politics, and this is once again occurring with the emergence of ever-more virulent anti-Zionism. While criticism of the Israeli government is understandable, Omar has consistently and without fail referenced anti-Semitic tropes through unfounded criticism of the Jewish state and its American lobbies. It is vital that such anti-Semitism guised as progressive criticism of Israel be continuously exposed, rather than defended in university publications.
On Feb. 10, Omar was met with resounding criticism for a tweet that was both factually incorrect and rife with anti-Semitic tropes. She tweeted that American support for Israel and condemnations of her previous actions as anti-Semitic were “all about the Benjamins.” Then, in a following tweet, she claimed that AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, is responsible for purchasing this support.
Fundamentally, it cannot be overemphasized that comparisons between AIPAC and lobbying organizations such as the NRA, which lobby Congress for monetary profit, are nonsensical. Despite its name, AIPAC is not a PAC, and does not actually pay candidates or politicians. Rather, it works to organize American citizens around a shared cause, helping them better voice their concerns.
Additionally, AIPAC’s mission is the survival of the Jewish state, and thereby the Jewish people; its agenda is virtuous. About 6.6 million of the world’s approximately 14.7 million Jews live in Israel. Without the country, these Jews would be at the mercy of hostile entities, such as Iran, whose supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently declared that “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated.” Without Israel, world Jewry would again become a people without a home — a people who would endure tireless persecution as they have throughout history.
In her piece, Molano cites anti-BDS legislation as supposed evidence of Omar’s claim that legislators have been bought off by AIPAC to support unethical legislation. However, Molano mischaracterizes BDS as a movement whose “aim is to end international support for Israel’s policies that oppress Palestinians,” when in reality the movement’s intentions are not so pure. To truly understand an organization’s goals, look to the leaders; in the case of BDS, its leaders are not afraid to express their true intentions. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has openly declared, “Most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
That being said, of course, Israel can be criticized like any other country. In fact, Israelis are often the first to do so. One can criticize the settler movement or the need for greater civil rights for Palestinians. But when Israel is the only country whose existence is consistently questioned or when the fault of the conflict is placed solely on its shoulders, criticism is no longer honest but rather irrational and even anti-Semitic.
Palestinian leadership has consistently demonstrated a commitment to the destruction of Israel rather than to peace, as demonstrated in 1948, and later in 2000 and 2008, when they rejected generous offers to establish a state in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. When these historical realities are willfully ignored, there is a clear double standard applied to Israel that leads to dehumanization, not peace.
The sting Omar’s words inflicted was especially sharp because it targeted a sensitive area — the ancient and destructive conspiracy that Jews control the world’s money. It was simply a statement rooted in hate, which at a minimum was a breach in the line of what is acceptable. Testing the boundaries of anti-Semitism is a dangerous and increasingly common phenomenon perpetrated by politicians on both sides of the spectrum and must be condemned by all.
Although Omar apologized, her sincerity is doubtful considering she once again made headlines by questioning the loyalty of Americans who support Israel, when she said, “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.” She also used a similarly heinous Jewish caricature in November 2012, when she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
Hinting at tropes of “dual loyalty” and the “scheming Jew” with great vitriol, Omar has exhibited a deeply ingrained bias. Therefore, it is difficult to interpret Omar’s apology as anything more than a public-relations move.
When criticism manifests as hatred, it blinds us from the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Omar’s tweet is, ironically, exactly why we need AIPAC.
It is disturbing that someone with such clear animosity toward a persecuted minority has such an influential position as a member of the Foreign Affairs committee. As a Democrat, I hope my party’s leadership takes a stand and removes Omar from that committee.
Michael Harel is a senior at Binghamton University majoring in political science with a minor in Middle Eastern studies. He is the 2018-’19 Binghamton CAMERA Fellow.