On Ilhan Omar

On Purim we read, in the Megillah, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among other peoples throughout the land, whose laws are different and who do not obey the laws of the king.  It is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them.”  A month later we tell the story of our liberation from Egyptian bondage.  We were enslaved because as the Pharaoh tells his people and advisers, “Behold, this people is too numerous for us.  Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase.  Otherwise in the event of war, they may join our enemies and fight against us.”

Though separated by hundreds of years and the divide of different continents, countries and civilizations, both canards and conspiratorial theories about Jews and distrust of them attempt to rationalize evil intentions.  Both level accusations of dual loyalty, and both were expressed in halls of power and government.

Although uttered thousands of years ago, the sentiments could have been lifted from today’s papers.  The spirit of contempt and distrust of Jews, the accusations of dual loyalty have been expressed, or more accurately, tweeted by people elected to serve in the United States Congress.

Such hateful comments cannot be ignored, excused or rationalized.

The accusations by freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar that Jews and supporters of Israel seek to manipulate the American political system through campaign donations is but the most recent expression of her ongoing fixation and antipathy towards Israel and its supporters.  In 2012, prior to being elected to Congress, as a Minnesota state representative Omar prayed that Allah would awaken the world because Jews exercised mind-control powers to hypnotize the world to mask their evil doings.  Those who have followed the career of the Somalia born Omar are not surprised by her obsession with Israel and its supporters.  The voters in her district knew what they were getting and who they were electing.

She now has a national platform, as a member of Congress to spread, disseminate and promote her anti-Semitic diatribes against Jews.  She has not questioned specific actions of the government of Israel, but has expressed contempt and disdain for the existence of the State of Israel, questioned the loyalty of Israel’s supporters, and accused her fellow members of Congress of being motivated by and concerned only about money.

I cannot help but ask why, when she supports countries who are enemies of the United States, has she not been accused of dual loyalty?

Anti-Semitism is traditionally the place where extremists on the left and right meet.  While her positions have been endorsed by the easily dismissed clowns known as Neturei Karta and white supremacist David Duke, there is justifiable cause for concern that her anti-Semitic claims are gaining acceptance and respectability in the mainstream of American political discourse.

Many in her party, such as Ted Deutsch, Nita Lowey and others have forcefully explained why her comments are so hurtful and offensive.  But some, including JStreet and individuals identified as Jews have given her a pass and tried to exuse, minimize or rationalize her hateful remarks.

One of the clearest statements distancing himself from her approach came from New York’s liberal Democratic mayor Bill deBlasio who said, “Let me be really clear, suggesting that support for Israel is beholden to a foreign power is absolutely unacceptable — and it’s illogical too. I believe strongly in the state of Israel. I don’t feel beholden one bit to a foreign power.  I’m a proud American who believes in the state of Israel and believes it must exist.  I happen to be Italian-American.  I never heard anyone suggest that because of my pride in my ancestral homeland, I’m beholden to a foreign government. It’s a really inappropriate comment. Unfortunately, it aligns with a history — for centuries — of that kind of negative comment being thrown at the Jewish community. There’s a long anti-Semitic tradition associated with that kind of comment.”

As DeBlasio reminds us this identity thing is complex.  We all have multiple identities and potentially conflicting loyalties.  A person can be a woman and a member of a minority ethnic group and an American.  The late Jewish comedian Alan King responded to the charge that Jews have dual loyalty years ago when he said we should not speak of dual loyalty, but dual love.  He said, “I love my mother and I also love my father.”  One does not preclude the other.

For the record – the expenditures of pro-Israel groups on lobbying are estimated to have been in 2018 about $5 million.  Norway spent that much lobbying for doubling of spending on foreign aid.  And what about the amount spent by the 21 nations that make up the Arab League?  The United Arab Emirates alone, secretly contributed approximately $20 million to Washington Think Tank, the Middle East Institute, between 2016 and 2017.  In 2014, Qatar sought to gain influence and access by giving $14.8 million to the Brookings Institute, a foreign policy think tank. From 2015 to 2017, Saudi Arabia increased the number of registered foreign agents from 25 to 145, and poured $18 million into D.C.-based lobbying.

For the record, contrary to what the Minnesota congresswoman claimed, Aipac, does not endorse or contribute to political candidates.

Those who contribute to pro-Israel candidates, or pacs who support candidates who believe in a strong US-Israel alliance are no less patriotic than those who contribute to candidates because they agree with their stance on abortion, labor laws, civil rights, women’s issues, or any of a myriad of other causes that align with their own positions on different policies.  That is the American way, and citizen involvement is how a democracy functions.

Congress supports Israel not because of a zen-like hypnotic spell cast over members of Congress by Jews or because of campaign contributions.  Rather it is because support for Israel reflects our shared values and common interests.  It is because they recognize the ongoing constant threats facing Israelis and that it is in the interest of the United States to thwart the threat posed to Israel by enemies who seek its destruction.  Hamas, Hizbullah and other terrorist proxies of Iran who attack Israel are not just enemies of Israel.  They are also enemies of America, of freedom and western values.  And finally, let us not forget, the members of Congress support a strong US – Israel relationship because the United States benefits greatly from the scientific developments, agricultural advancements, innovations, intelligence and technology Israel shares with the United States.

Omar and those who defend her have tried to portray her as the victim and said that the attempt to censure her is an effort to silence Israel’s critics.  In reality, the opposite is true.  There is no shortage of critics of Israel, its policies or government.  It is a bogus charge and an effective means and calculated tactic to intimidate into silence Israel’s supporters, who do not wish to be accused of stifling free speech.

While Israel, its government, leaders and policies are not above criticism, we should not shy away from critiquing those who obsessively criticize Israel.  The singling out of the Jewish state with an intensity and for criticisms not leveled against others for the very same grievances is the all new and improved, packaged for the politically correct 21st century version of anti-Semitism encountered in Egypt and Persia.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

Congregation B’nai Tzedek

Potomac, MD

 

About the Author
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt founded Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland in 1988, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 620 families. He is president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly and member of the National Executive Council of AIPAC. He has taught Jewish history and theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. In recognition of Rabbi Weinblatt’s leadership role in the community and as an outstanding teacher and speaker, he has received many awards from community organizations such as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Greater Washington Chapter of ORT. He is the author of, “God, Prayer and Spirituality,” a compilation of his sermons, writings and articles.
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