Policing Democrats For Israel

On Wednesday, after days of cajoling and political arm-twisting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jewish Home party agreed to enter into coalition with an extremist party, Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power.” As the name implies, Otzma Yehudit is an explicitly racist party, comfortably akin to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. It is led by former members of Kach, the party founded by avowed racist Meir Kahane that the Knesset banned in 1988.

The open embrace of such a blatantly racist party elicited anger and dismay from a wide range of Israelis and their supporters, while critics noted that this was the logical result of Israel’s years of rightward drift and Netanyahu’s open embrace in recent years of authoritarians and authoritarianism. That increasing authoritarianism is certainly a major factor in Israel’s severely diminished standing in the United States among liberals, progressives, younger voters, and, crucially, Democrats.

The growing debate among Democrats has been an increasingly hot topic since the 2016 presidential election. It presents a particular problem for Democratic leaders who identify closely with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and similar groups that work to pressure elected officials to support Israeli policies. The decline in Israel’s appeal to Democrats is directly related to the wider awareness of the country’s increasingly authoritarian nature, its treatment of Palestinians, and its reluctance to take substantive steps toward peace. Pro-Israel liberals face a fundamental paradox trying to reconcile Israel’s illiberalism with their political values.

Republicans have a simpler task. There is much less sympathy for things like human rights, international law, and for Arabs in general among their voters. Lobbying and campaign financing are not as crucial for Republicans to secure lock-step support of Israel, as that support is there based on their faith, their view of security, and their view of race and culture.

On the Democratic side, the effort to secure unconditional support for Israel depends much more on spin, marketing, and money. That is the basis on which a new pro-Israel group, the so-called Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), operates. Read more at LobeLog

Radio Appearances Discussing Rep. Ilhan Omar

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.

Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, And Denial

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.

Connecting Palestinian Rights To U.S. Civil Rights

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 DavisRashida TlaibMarc Lamont HillIlhan 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

No, Linda Sarsour Did Not Accuse Jews Of Dual Loyalty. But The Right Wants You To Think She Did

Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American, Muslim, progressive activist and co-leader of The Women’s March, is a lightning rod of controversy.

Her critics will say it is because she fails to live up to her progressive values when it comes to matters of anti-Semitism, and some say she is anti-Semitic herself.

Her supporters will say it is because she is a strong, left-wing woman who wears a hijab, proudly supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and is firmly anti-Zionist.

Either way, the mere mention of her name is usually enough to provoke a passionate response.

And when she called for support for Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar, who Sarsour said she was being attacked by pseudo-liberals who check their values at the door where Israel is concerned, she was quickly assailed for having invoked the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.

But is that really what she did? Read more at The Forward

What Do The Midterms Mean For U.S. Mideast Policy?

There are still a few races to be decided, but the overall results of the 2018 midterms are clear. The hoped-for “blue wave” turned out to be a blue trickle, but Donald Trump’s era of completely unfettered action is over. Voter suppression and gerrymandering stack the deck in favor of Republicans, yet there was enough disgust with Trump and congressional Republicans to swing about 30 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. Republicans still gained at least two—probably three—seats in the Senate, despite the fact that Democrats got nearly 13 million more votes in the Senate races. That’s not a great indicator for the state of democracy in the United States.

It wasn’t the rebuke of Trump’s behavior and policies that some hoped for, but given the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy, the Republican losses still mean something. Democratic control of the House creates a check on Trump’s worst excesses, at least domestically.

In foreign policy, the gains will be more meager and harder to gauge. Congress still holds considerably more power over domestic affairs than foreign, and that is even more true for the opposition party in a divided Congress. Read more at LobeLog

On Israel-Palestine, Three New Congresswomen Bring Some Hope

As midterm elections near, it is becoming clear that there is an opportunity in Washington to take the first few steps toward measurable change in U.S. politics around Israel and Palestine. Increasingly belligerent Israeli actions toward the Palestinians and toward Jews who oppose the occupation, a U.S. administration with unabashedly pro-settler leanings, and the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shift away from bipartisan efforts in the U.S. and depend on unflinching Republican support have combined to create a strong groundswell in the Democratic party for a change in policy.

This groundswell has not yet made a significant impact in Washington. Occasional letters of admonishment from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who is not a Democrat, but caucuses with them in the Senate), or Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have little impact on the ground. Meanwhile, after New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was photographed at a progressive conference holding a sign that read, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go,” he scrambled to disavow the sign, claiming he didn’t know what it said. Read more at LobeLog