Tweet Frenzy: Why Criticizing Israel Does Not Equal Anti-Semitism
Last week, the internet went into a frenzy over Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s tweet about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a secular Israel advocacy group. In these tweets she quoted the 1997 Puff Daddy song “All About the Benjamins” in reference to politicians (both Democrat and Republican) receiving monetary support from various pro-Israel lobby groups. Following those tweets she was immediately accused of antisemitism, specifically accusations that she was propping up age-old conspiracies of Jewish money secretly running the world’s governments.
Ever since the Democrat was elected as the U.S. representative for Minnesota’s 5th District, she has been a vocal supporter for the Palestinian people, even initially supporting their call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against the state of Israel in support of the decolonization of Palestine and the right to self determination for its people.
These past few years, we have seen a heavy increase in anti-semitic sentiment as well as proto-fascist groups within the United States from groups such as: Identity Evropa (which posted flyers on the UAlbany campus last semester), The Daily Stormer and more. The growth of the American far-right, specifically online, has inspired multiple heinous hate crimes such as: the Pittsburgh massacre and the recent burning of a Yeshiva in in upstate New York. Furthermore, we also see the rise of blatant anti-semitic tropes by the American far-right about George Soros “buying” the American left.
Abroad we have seen blatant anti-semitism from leaders such as President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán, both of whom have been publicly supported by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.
The rise in global anti-semitism by these aforementioned antisemitic groups and leaders has horrified myself as well as the larger Jewish community I am a part of. The focus on Ilhan Omar demonstrates a grotesque attempt at ignoring and reframing the issue of antisemitism to manufacture consent for Palestinian suffering as well as silence those of Jewish faith on the left who may not agree with them.
In response to Ilhan Omar’s tweets, there has also been an increase in the spreading of blatantly islamophobic rumors about her such as: having illegally immigrated to the United States, being married to her brother, having sexual intercourse with wild animals, and being a “secret recruiter” for a variety of jihadi terrorist organizations. It is evident and not surprising that the American media at large holds women of color and muslims to a higher standard when it comes to Israel. This is a shameful attempt to continue the decades long framing of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” as a religious issue.
The claim that calls for justice in Palestine are anti-semitic insinuates that if given full self determination, Palestinians will violently expel the Israeli Jewish population from their land. Many of the same news outlets made similar claims about black south africans during their own fight for freedom. As history has shown, these claims hold no validity.
It is an erroneous accusation to argue that it is prejudicial to oppose: segregated highways, segregated courts (with an almost 100% conviction rate for palestinians), the nation-state law (which was praised by noted neo-nazi Richard Spencer), and a plethora of other discriminatory laws leveled against the Palestinian people both living within Israel as well as the occupied territories.
We can no longer allow the American Jewish community to be regarded by the right as a political monolith all supporting Zionism and the Israeli state. And with the decades long suffering of the Palestinian people as well as Netanyahu’s recent endorsement of the Kahanist and anti-arab party Otzma Yehudit, we can no longer stand for Israel’s claim to represent us.
Ilhan Omar stood up to the Israel lobby, and more importantly despite her apologies, continues to call for an end to ongoing colonization and illegal West Bank settlement expansion. Her ongoing support for the Palestinian people is a courageous act, especially in this political climate, and no attempts to narrowly define the Jewish community can change that.