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Few things are so anti-Semitic as the association of Jewishness with a serial human rights abuser and apartheid state like Israel.
Yet, this is precisely what the Israel lobby does when they suggest that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
So, when the newly elected, Somali congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, said that congressional support for Israel was all about money, and was castigated for her anti-Semitism, the real anti-Semitism lay in the charge itself. For it suggested that criticism of the Israel lobby amounted to an attack on Jews, thereby conflating a complex religious and cultural identity with a dangerous and oppressive state.
Now forget for a moment the obvious fact that lobbying groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee use campaign dollars to influence the way political leaders vote, and the fact that at least a couple of major studies have found AIPAC to be the second most powerful lobby in the country.
Moreover, ignore the fact that, as Omar most surely now knows, AIPAC’s power arguably lays less in the carrot of its campaign dollars and more in the stick of its character assassinations.
Focus instead for a moment on the fact that Omar said nothing whatsoever about Jews—literally nothing. Rather, she was referring to supporters of Israel, which also includes a hefty contingent of evangelical Christians, while countless Jews, like myself, vocally oppose the human rights abuses of the state.
Hence, the real anti-Semitism lay in the assumption, made by countless commentators and members of congress, that she was even talking about Jews—as if every Jew, and only Jews, support the state of Israel.
It is a funny sort of bait and switch, the way they spend their days linking the concept of Jewishness to the state of Israel, tarring anyone who might dare to criticize the state as anti-Semitic. But when someone, like former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, refers to “the Jewish lobby,” they are instantly smeared as anti-Semitic as well—as if the very purpose of Zionist propaganda, reaching back to the late 19th century, were not to tie Jewishness to the idea of Israel, as if AIPAC does not routinely arrogate the right to speak for each and every American Jew.
But the real irony lay in the fact that while supporters of Israel were bellowing about anti-Semitism, virtually everyone missed the Islamophobia animating their attacks. Everywhere you looked, the Muslim Omar, along with her Palestinian compatriot Rashida Tlaib, were being reduced to a stereotype of intolerant and hateful Muslims, when neither their words nor their deeds indicated anything of the sort.
The irony ran deeper still, for Jews are arguably the most well-assimilated ethnic group in the country, and the vast majority like myself have experienced neither institutional discrimination nor racially motivated threats of violence.
Meanwhile, Muslims are constantly scrutinized for their loyalty, treated as terrorists, mocked for their religious beliefs, attacked on the streets, and barred from flying. And it was happening again, right before our eyes.
Somehow, the virtual lynching of a black woman, a Muslim, and a refugee, all rolled into one—in an era in which each of these groups is increasingly targeted with racism—was being carried out under the guise of anti-racism. And the Islamophobia deployed against her ran so deep that virtually no one saw the double standards that were being applied to her as racist.
The Israel lobby, along with Israel’s thousands of paid trolls and millions of supporters, has long been at the forefront of these sorts of attacks, routinely stereotyping Muslims as terrorists and jihadists in an effort to delegitimize their critics.
So, when Rashida Tlaib or Ilhan Omar are dubbed anti-Semitic without justification what we are really seeing is yet another case of Islamophobia. But like most Islamophobia, it remains invisible to the American public, who have now been steeped in it for decades.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of charges of anti-Semitism in America these days are integral to a propaganda campaign whose sole purpose is to whitewash Israeli human rights abuses.
We saw it recently with Marc Lamont Hill, the black CNN commentator and Temple University professor, who was fired from his job for calling for freedom in Israel and Palestine “from the river to the sea,” a phrase that has often been associated with ethnically cleansing Jews from Israel but is increasingly associated with calls for one democratic state with equal rights for all. Then there was the withdrawal of a civil rights award to the black civil rights icon Angela Davis for what was almost certainly her opposition to the Israeli occupation.
None of this was new, as it happened several years back to black congresswoman Cynthia McKinny for her criticism of Israel as well.
The attacks follow a long-standing pattern of the Israel lobby dividing the left, where defining racism is typically left to its so-called victims—no matter their questionable purposes. And they have been increasing in the last couple of months, amounting to a concerted assault on the new progressives, who threaten to open up a conversation about Israeli human rights abuses that the Israeli lobby is desperately trying to shut down with unconstitutional legislation that would make it illegal for companies to boycott Israel.
Toward this end, the Israel lobby has weaponized the concept of anti-Semitism, thereby trivializing its seriousness. They have taken a concept long associated with anti-racism and turned it into yet another tool in the arsenal of an apartheid state, where Palestinians and Jews in the occupied West Bank must drive on separate roads, live in separate communities, and abide by separate laws; where separate is never equal, and the inequality routinely results in the abuse of basic Palestinian human rights.
Now the accusation of anti-Semitism is increasingly associated with this racism, while the Islamophobia supporters of Israel have helped foster is sparking a wave of racism, which is increasingly directed at Jews.
Hence, the Israel lobby has helped spur not only a decades long wave of Islamophobia but the very anti-Semitism they should have been defending against in the first place, while they have reduced the charge of anti-Semitism to something of a joke.
In the process, they have cramped the idea of Jewishness into a national identity associated with a criminal state, overshadowing its rich historical associations with iconoclastic thinkers and social justice movements, prophetic spirituality and intellectual innovation.
Meanwhile, the state of Israel is forging ever closer ties to Europe’s most racist and fascist states, like Poland and Hungary, with whom they are tied through their shared hatred of Muslims.
That, somehow, amid this orgy of Islamophobic hate, liberal news sites like the New York Times, saw fit to focus their attention on Omar’s obvious suggestion that a lobby group is influencing congressional leaders through campaign dollars, is merely a testament to the extent to which the whole idea of anti-Semitism has been transmuted into a weapon.
But perhaps the greatest irony of all is the fact that so many anti-racist campaigners took the bait, becoming accomplices in yet another high profile lynching of a leading black campaigner for social justice.