I have received many emails during the past week regarding Representative Ilhan Omar’s antisemitic tweets. Some were from the many organizations I support. Others were from friends and congregants.
My Republican friends write, “See I told you so. The Democrats hate Israel. They provide fertile ground for a growing antisemitism among liberals.” My Democratic friends, however, find antisemitism on the other side of the aisle and write, “See I told you so. President Trump continues to offer oxygen to racists, neo-Nazis and white extremists.”
Antisemitic hatred grows. Its venom is heard more and more. It exists on both the right and left. It can be found among Democratic and Republican supporters. I remain perplexed. Why must every instance of antisemitism be used as confirmation of one’s vote? Why must every discussion of this resurgent problem begin with the words, “See I told you so.”?
Antisemitism is an increasing threat. Let us be clear and unified about this fact.
We have learned, throughout our long history that even the smallest, and seemingly inconsequential, antisemitic statement must never be excused and instead be vigorously opposed. We cannot, and should not, excuse words such as “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” just as we should not apologize for “You also had some very fine people on both sides.” It’s not a competition which statement is worse or whose subsequent apology is more sincere. And it most certainly should not depend on where a person finds his or her political home.
In fact, a Democrat should be more critical of a Democrat and a Republican of a Republican. These days we find the exact opposite. We apologize and make excuses for those we voted for. We level criticism against those we voted against. Call out those who share your political affiliations. In addition, Representative Omar’s Muslim faith, or for that matter Representative Rashida Tlaib’s Palestinian ancestry, should not make them suspect. People of many different faiths, and heritages, make this country into its hodgepodge of greatness. American Jews have found a home here because of this nation’s openness to different religions and exactly because our constitution guarantees religious freedoms.
Judge the words not the garb. Take issue with the policies not the heritage.
We also find it increasingly difficult to entertain even the smallest amount of criticism about the State of Israel. Not every criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Some critiques most certainly are. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement too often leans on antisemitic tropes. To suggest, as BDS supporters frequently do, that the Jewish people are not bound to the land of Israel by thousands of years of history or to say that the modern State of Israel is some foreign, colonial implant in the Arab Middle East is to engage in antisemitism. Israel is about our return to our ancestral land.
In truth I never visit Israel. I always return there.
I do not expect my enemies, or even Israel’s many naysayers, to share this belief. My story is not their story. My hopes are not theirs. My pains are not their own. I do expect them to banish the very hatred that led to the murder of millions of people. If Israel and the United States, however, are indeed friends, sharing common democratic values, and the United States is to continue to support Israel then American lawmakers and leaders have every right, and even obligation, to discuss Israel’s policies.
Where, for example, is the debate about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s embrace of Hungary’s Viktor Orban? (Orban recently praised Miklós Horthy, the man largely responsible for the murder of Hungary’s Jews during World War II.) Realpolitik is never a legitimate excuse for antisemitism. On the other hand, to suggest that one should boycott West Bank settlements as a few of my Israeli friends advocate, is not to engage in antisemitism but is instead to promote a different, albeit mistaken, strategy about how best to protest particular Israeli policies. Do not label criticism, however misguided and even ill-informed it might be, as antisemitic.
We might feel more at ease when Senators and Representatives rise up to defend Israel’s struggle against Hamas, or speak out against Islamists’ murderous antisemitic ideology, but become terribly uncomfortable when they debate Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank or uneasy when they discuss its stringent controls of Gaza’s borders. We become exercised when a lawmaker uses the term “occupation” and agitated when a leader castigates Israel for using “excessive force”. In those moments we should ask ourselves, why should friends not be permitted to engage in the very same debates, and offer some of the very same opinions, as those found in Tel Aviv’s cafes or the halls of Israel’s Knesset?
Save the outrage for antisemitism.
Good friends are not sycophants. Friendship is not defined by adulation. Love and criticism can, and should, go hand in hand. Only then can Israel emerge better and more secure.
Antisemitism should be called out wherever it is found. Whether it is heard from the leader of another nation, a representative from our own political party or a neighbor living down the street it must be exposed and rooted out.
Antisemitism must never find a home.
Let us find unity in that call.