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
On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.
Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.
Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading
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.
The Irish Senate passed a bill last week that would criminalize doing any business, in goods or services, with Israeli settlements. As with most legislation that concerns Israeli settlement activity, the
Irish Senator Frances Black, who first proposed the anti-settlements bill
bill is already highly controversial. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement have hailed it as a great victory while the usual suspects in and outside of Israel have leveled baseless accusations of anti-Semitism at Ireland and made disingenuous arguments to oppose any action against Israel’s blatantly illegal settlement program. Read more at LobeLog
By now, many of you are surely aware of the fact that the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center’s Executive
Director fired the artistic director of Theater J, Ari Roth. This has been coming for some time, as Roth has insisted on exercising artistic freedom and bringing quality performances to the Theater J stage, even if those sometimes make some on the JCC board uncomfortable because they don’t jibe with the positions and narrative of Israel.
The JCC’s statements about Roth’s dismissal have been unfortunately spinnish. They first tried to characterize it as a mutually agreeable parting. When that failed, they tried to blame it on Roth having publicly disputed a report back in November that claimed that Theater J had “moved to cancel” a controversial program called “Voices From a Changing Middle East.” In fact, Roth is quite dedicated to that program (so much so, that he will be working to continue it outside of Theater J) and made that clear to the reporter who wrote the story in The Forward about the incident.
This article originally appeared at LobeLog.
On June 14, members of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will gather in Detroit, Michigan for their biennial General Assembly meeting. A lot of eyes will be focused on this gathering, particularly those who have managed to maintain interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the wake of the collapse of the “peace process.”
The Presbyterians are going to revisit a vote on divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation that failed in 2012 by a mere two votes. Given that narrow margin of victory (the final tally was 333-331 with two abstentions), many believe it might just pass this time. As a result, pro-divestment groups have reinvigorated their efforts to support Presbyterian divestment, while opponents have redoubled their efforts to oppose the resolution. Continue reading