Opinion

Ilhan Omar and the anatomy of a trope

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Representative Ilhan Omar’s straight-talk about the corruption of the US political process by a foreign government was a service to her country, as well as to the cause of justice and peace in the Middle East. Omar impaled a great taboo with the first name of a remarkable, multi-talented eighteenth century American hero whose portrait appears on $100 bills. Outraged agents of that foreign government, aided by US politicians who know the truth of her words better than anyone, kicked in the center beam holding up the sky — but to their horror, the sky did not quite fall. True, she was branded a peddler of age-old tropes; yet it was difficult not to notice that the emperor was, indeed, naked. Self-righteous condemnation from the most powerful human on earth (you know, the one who shoved his weight on Jerusalem and Iran in exchange for millions from a gambling magnate on behalf of Israel, and who says that Jews are good negotiators who use their money to buy politicians) instantly dissipated into fodder for comedy by no less a mainstream media as CNN, which posted a video collage juxtaposing Trump’s feigned outrage at Omar with clips of his true, classic antisemitism.

Yet the outrage over Omar’s truth-telling addressed only a lesser taboo, not the single, core taboo that is at the heart of Israel’s seemingly inexplicable ability to ‘hypnotize’ (to use Omar’s word) the West.

The real taboo that Ilhan Omar broke was not accusing AIPAC of buying politicians. That was just the way it manifested. The taboo itself was freeing the hostage — Jews — from Zionism and the Israeli state. Outrage over Omar’s tweets requires — requires— that Jews and Israel are seen as synonymous. Even to ‘apologize’, Omar, too, had to engage in this antisemitic lie.

Thus it is the very people who feign outrage at Omar who are the purveyors of antisemitic tropes. They, not Omar, took the simple concept of a political interest using money and pressure to buy influence, and conflated ‘Israeli influence’ as ‘Jewish influence’.

Indeed even anti-Zionists are complicit in this when they qualify that criticism of Israel is not ‘necessarily’ antisemitic, or that ‘legitimate’ criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. These qualifiers implicitly accept the Zionist premise of some obligatory connection between Jews, as Jews, and the Israeli state — otherwise the qualifier is nonsensical. Something is, or isn’t, antisemitic independent of whether it has to do with Israel or not. And if by happenstance it does happen to concern criticism of that nation-state in the Middle East, it is, or isn’t, antisemitic independent of whether the criticism was justified. Try this on a friend and see the odd looks you get: “Legitimate criticism of Burma is not necessarily anti-Buddhist.” Or try: “Legitimate criticism of Liechtenstein is not necessarily anti-Catholic.”

It makes no difference how many people self-identifying as Jews protest to the contrary — no one has the right to make Jewry itself into a tribe headquartered in Tel Aviv. It is time to acknowledge that Israel’s claim on Jewry is categorically unlike any other state’s claim on any other ‘people’. It is a vestige of a sorry era of ethnic nationalism to which we bid good riddance in the mid 1940s. That it continues to be inflicted on Jews, and that it is used to empower ongoing crimes against humanity in their name, should outrage us all.

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An interesting sample of the discussion about Omar from New York Magazine – http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/ilhan-omar-alleggiance-resolution-democrats-anti-semitism-israel-palestine.html#comments Ilhan Omar Has a Less Bigoted Position on Israel Than Almost All of Her Colleagues…It should be “okay” for Americans who want their country to have a close alliance with a foreign power to form political organizations that advance their views. The problem with AIPAC is not that it pushes American lawmakers to show deference to the interests of another country.… Read more »

Jews and Zionism need not be one in order to see the Benjamins tweet in a negative light. It is heavy handed to sing a song or quote a song with the notes symbol, it is flip, it is a sign of not caring. It was interpreted as those rich Zionist Jews do this. even if one is not a Zionist, “those rich Zionist Jews” might rub you the wrong way if you are sensitive… Read more »

“What Ilhan Omar Said About AIPAC Was Right
I’m ashamed to admit that endorsing AIPAC positions was all about the Benjamins for me and my candidate.
By Ady Barkan”
https://www.thenation.com/article/ady-barkan-aipac-ilhan-omar/

For the record: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/04/us/politics/aipac-congress-democrats.html New York Times, March 4/19 By Sheryl Gay Stolberg “Ilhan Omar’s Criticism Raises the Question: Is Aipac Too Powerful?” EXCERPT: WASHINGTON — “When Representative Ilhan Omar landed a coveted seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Stephen Fiske began working the phones to Capitol Hill. “Alarmed by messaging that he saw as anti-Semitic and by Ms. Omar’s support for the boycott-Israel movement, Mr. Fiske, a long time activist with the American… Read more »

Thanks for giving us Tom Suarez. He’s wonderful.
As for the Benjamins, I wish it were all about money. It’s also about the effect of decades of Israeli propaganda. And it’s about one imperial country built on stolen land supporting, and being supported by, another one.