When Donald Trump declared that 70-80% of the U.S. Jewish community (the percentage that is voting Democrat these days) suffered from “a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” it set off a firestorm of objections from most of that community. From the center-right leadership of the American Jewish Committee to the left wing, progressive Jewish Voice for Peace, a wide swath of Jews expressed their outrage at the obvious anti-Semitism in Trump’s words.
Of course, the far-right Jews in Trump’s corner supported him. The Republican Jewish Coalition said that Trump was “talking about the survival of the Jewish state,” an argument Trump himself debunked when he clarified his remarks.
But the right was simply playing its role. The real problem came from the reaction of some so-called “liberals,” a reaction rooted in the same dishonesty that frames the entire Israel debate in the United States. Read more at LobeLog
Bowing to a new law in Germany, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf rescinded its invitation to Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli. In May 2019, the German government passed a law stating that the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) until it met the basic national demands of the Palestinian people was anti-Semitic. As a result, Kweli, who is a long-time advocate for the Palestinian cause, could not perform at a music festival using public funds, as this one does.
When it comes to BDS, Germany won’t tolerate “don’t ask, don’t tell” either. I have no idea whether Kweli would have said a word about the Palestinians at his show, and neither do the show’s organizers. Some of Kweli’s songs mention his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies, but it’s hardly a primary theme of his. It’s just one piece among many of his stances for social justice. He did not start this; the festival producers asked him as a litmus test for his entry.
That’s how far anti-BDS legislation goes in its quest to stifle speech that might illuminate the Palestinian case. Read more at LobeLog
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) made headlines by unveiling its latest project, the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. It sounds like a terrific idea, and certainly AJC is claiming to have done a lot to lay the groundwork for it. These two communities—which overlap a lot more than many people realize—have a long and complicated history, marked by periods of great mutual support but also of mistrust and hostility. A caucus in Congress to help inform policy that would be beneficial to both communities should be welcome.
But this is one of those eras where mistrust abounds, aggravated recently by the focus of the Jewish community on Black thought leaders who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Accusations of disproportionate hostility toward Israel, accompanied by both indirect and direct accusations of anti-Semitism have tenderized already fraught community relations, where too many Jews and Black people feel that the other bears them ill will. These tensions are particularly hard on Black Jews and other Jews of Color, members of both communities who must contend with this friction in the most personal way.
All of this should make the caucus even more welcome. But the inclusion of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the new Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus inevitably raises significant questions about its intent. Read more at LobeLog
In a recent piece for LobeLog, I touched on the overtly racist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party in Israel. Ever since it became clear that Israeli Prime Minister
Michael Ben-Ari, leader of Otzmat Yehudit
Benjamin Netanyahu was going to do everything in his power to ensure that they joined with HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party to secure a few more seats for his next far-right coalition, there has been widespread condemnation of the party.
You can tell a lot about the sincerity of objections to the overt racism of Otzma Yehudit by whether it’s accompanied by condemnation of Netanyahu for his role in promoting it. Most of the so-called “centrist” groups in the US—such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and AIPAC—have not done that. Otzma Yehudit is a small party, one which would not have made the Knesset on its own. Yet it was still necessary to cajole and bribe even a far-right party like HaBayit HaYehudi had into letting Otzma Yehudit join with them.
The real issue is that Netanyahu, the prime minister, did the cajoling. Many respondents have recognized that, but in their numerous tweets, comments and op-eds, they have often compared Otzma Yehudit and Netanyahu to Louis Farrakhan and Tamika Mallory. It’s the wrong comparison. Read more at Souciant
I did two radio spots this week which my readers might find interesting. Both were devoted largely, but not entirely, to discussion of Ilhan Omar’s tweets and the outrageous backlash to them. My piece on the matter is at LobeLog, at this link.
Yesterday, I spoke with Ian Masters on KPFK in Los Angeles. You can hear that segment at this page.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon about Rep. Omar, Israeli elections, and a little on Iran. You can listen to that at this link.
Discussing the role of the pro-Israel lobby in forming US Middle East policy is perilous. I’ve heard hundreds of stories from fellow advocates, colleagues on Capitol Hill, and journalists who have learned that lesson the hard way. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has once again brought that peril on herself.
Responding to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s comments about the amount of energy Congress spends defending Israel, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” When the Forward’s opinion editor asked her who she thought was “paying off” members of Congress to support Israel, Omar tweeted “AIPAC.”
The backlash was swift and powerful. Criticism and denunciation of Omar’s tweet as anti-Semitic came from all directions, left and right. It culminated with leading Democrats denouncing the new congresswoman and Omar’s apology. Omar’s initial comments evoked for many the image of Jews nefariously controlling a political agenda with their money, an old and sordidly familiar anti-Semitic trope.
Having been through this sort of thing before when she had to apologize for a tweet evoking the trope of subtle Jewish power by saying that Israel had hypnotized the world, Omar might have known better than to tweet so flippantly on a subject that requires significant nuance.
Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
Alexander became the latest in a growing list—including Angela Davis, Rashida Tlaib, Marc Lamont Hill, Ilhan Omar, and Linda Sarsour—targeted by Israel advocates in the United States. All of them are people of color, and all have faced new or renewed attacks over their defense of Palestinian rights since the since the horrific shooting incident at a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by a white, anti-immigrant fanatic in late October. Read more at LobeLog