Listening to news reports about Ilhan Omar, one of the newly elected US congressional representatives who seems to enjoy making antisemitic statements, reminded me of an article that appeared in Vanity Fair in June 2003. The article was an expose entitled France’s Scarlet Letter. The piece addressed the growing anti-Semitism that French Jews were having to cope with which began more than 17 years ago. The article contained a warning from a retired French police officer, Sammy Ghozlan. French Muslims were attacking French Jews and their synagogues. Ghozlan took note about the significant increase in attacks on Jews across France. Many French Jews heeded his warning since then and have left France. Still it is getting worse.
The Democratic party in the US attempted to address Representative Omar’s anti-Semitic statements which included the three major tropes known to incite Jew loathing. Her comments included the lie of financial clout of Jews, the extremely overblown hyperbole of political influence that Jewish Americans have and the Hitlerian accusation that Jews have a dual allegiance implying that the Jewish “cabal” seeks to undermine US interests. Many opinion writers contributed columns critical of Omar. Some appeared in print versions of major newspapers while many more were posted online. Some took an historical perspective explaining the distinction between the philo-Semitism of America and the new creeping anti-Semitism that is replacing it. Other articles spoke about personal views and the pain that Omar’s callous declarations caused.
I read many of the articles but the one that struck home the most directly was written by Bret Stephens of the New York Times entitled Ilhan Omar Knows Exactly What She Is Doing (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/opinion/ilhan-omar-anti-semitism.html). The last sentence of his piece ends with a warning. Stephens noted that if Omar could not be reigned in by House Speaker Pelosi then “the days when American Jews can live comfortably within the Democratic fold will be numbered.” Stephens was, I believe, being prim and coy. It is abundantly clear that in the US today intersectionality rules and Jews, because they are generally white, are considered privileged. That gives license to people like Omar to attack what she can irrationally justify as members of the Jewish privileged class.
Omar should have been censured directly but Pelosi managed only to get a toothless resolution through the House addressing bigotry in general. One of the arguments against citing Omar was that President Trump had himself issued some vile bigoted comments including the now iconic statement he made after Charlottesville “there were good people on both sides.”
Until just a few years ago the Vanity Fair article was dormant for me. I could dismiss it by simply saying to myself that is France. And while anti-Semitic attacks are occurring with increasing frequency across Europe I hoped and believed that it could not happen in America. After the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, and Omar’s blatant bigoted comments I must be more realistic.
Anti-Semitism in the United States has skyrocketed about 37% in just the last year. We have always known about the hatred on the right, the KKK and their ilk being the most obvious. Nowadays however there is just as much animus toward Jews on the left. It is not just Ilhan Omar. Another Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has accused AIPAC of attacking her without even sourcing the hate mail she received. It was not from an AIPAC member but thus far she has not retracted her accusation.
America has always been a haven for people seeking a better life. That may now be little more than a false sense of safety – for many minorities – Jews included. I see bigotry and anti-Semitism encircling the Jewish community in America.
In the Passover Haggadah we recite a prescient line “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” Despite having had to deal with my fair share of low-grade anti-Semitic attacks since childhood I viewed that line as a prayer against that ever happening in America. No longer.
I believe, like Bret Stephens indicated, that Ilhan Omar knows precisely what she is doing and she has won the first most important battle in her war to promulgate anti-Semitism in the US. But I also believe that if we do not rise to confront her and all forms of anti-Semitism the concluding line of Stephen’s editorial will read – the days when American Jews can live comfortably within – the not just the Democratic fold but in – America will be numbered.