I have a few words of advice for Representative Ilhan Omar, the newly elected Muslim Congresswoman from Minnesota who has openly injected anti-Semitism into the Democratic Party. If you want to criticize any country in the part of the world you hail from, you can start with plenty of places before you get to Israel. You might begin with Saudi Arabia, which oppresses women more openly than perhaps any country on the planet and which, after having provided fifteen of the twenty suicide bombers involved in the attack on your adopted country on 9/11 as well as its mastermind, Osama bin Laden, is now pursuing a genocidal war in Yemen that is generally recognized as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. Or you could try Egypt, which has imposed a regime of oppression on its citizens, murder and torture included, which would have embarrassed even its previous tyrant, Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe Iran, which has reduced much of its population to penury, hangs its citizens in public, supports terrorists directly and indirectly throughout the Middle East and is a principal actor in the Syrian civil war that has cost an estimated 500,000 lives.
Come to think of it, you could start with the apparently principal object of your concern, the territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip that would like to become the State of Palestine, known to Israeli authorities as the Disputed Territories and to most of the international communities as the Occupied ones. Of course, these territories cannot be judged as states would be. They are not sovereign; they do not control their own borders and many of their vital services; they are subject to Israeli incursion and blockade. Nonetheless, their day-to-day administration, including policing, education, public services and justice, are in the hands, respectively, of the Palestinian Authority established under the Oslo Accords, and of Hamas, the political-party-cum-terrorist-group elected by the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The Palestinian Authority has been corrupt, repressive and incompetent since its inception. Many billions of dollars in foreign aid have passed through its hands without responsible accounting or demonstrable public benefit. No recognized political parties exist except for the PA’s political wing, Fattah. The likelihood of the West Bank achieving a democratic, multiparty statehood under its current management is zero.
Hamas is a terrorist entity whose goal is the violent destruction of Israel, and which maintains iron control over a million and a half Palestinians through tactics such as public street executions. On coming to power, it drove Fattah out of the Gaza Strip in a bloody civil war — one that would clearly resume if either of the Palestinian territories achieved statehood.
Israel, with the flaws endemic to most democratic societies and a few of its own, would not seem to merit your special attention, let alone the suggestion that support of it entails placing allegiance to a “foreign power” above loyalty to America. Such an accusation is a classic anti-Semitic trope, as is your accompanying one that Jewish interests and organizations are trying to buy such allegiance. Coming, moreover, barely four months after the massacre of eleven Jews at worship in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and amid a rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents both in Europe and America, your remarks are an incitement to further hatred and violence. They also divide your party at a moment when its full energies ought to be devoted to dealing with the Constitutional crisis represented by Donald Trump. To all Americans, that is the severest disservice your behavior has done.
At the same time, you are the symptom of a more general problem. Anti-Semitism, long the particular (though never the exclusive) province of the Right, has very publicly migrated to the Left in recent years. The Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel has gained almost its entire traction on the Left, including campaigns in professional academic organizations to reject collaboration and exchange with Israeli scholars en masse. Israel has been variously accused by voices on the Left of Apartheid, fascism and even genocide. Calls have been raised for its conduct to be monitored and penalized by international bodies specifically authorized for such purposes.
The American Left has been particularly exercised over the close relationship between Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s Israeli policy is of course framed by his desire to court favor among American Evangelicals, a group that envisions the final conversion of the Jews prior to the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of all nations in the Rapture. Netanyahu, whatever his alignment with Trump on specific issues and notwithstanding his own cynical cultivation of Evangelical leaders, assuredly has no interest in the renunciation of Judaism as the climax of human history. As Trump himself might put it, their relationship is transactional, and it is equally cynical, or willfully obtuse, to see it otherwise. It is certainly no excuse for the Left to demonize Israel as such.
Britain has had its own troubles, too. Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has repeatedly crossed the line that separates criticism of Israel from hostility to its existence and the embrace of its enemies, for example holding a wreath on behalf of two of the Black September terrorists who massacred Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, praising Hamas and Hezbollah, both groups dedicated to destroying Israel, as “our friends,” and defending an Anglican cleric who accused Israel of fomenting the 9/11 attacks. To be sure, there is no dearth of anti-Semitism masquerading as criticism of Israel among conservatives and enough of it pure and simple from Republican Congressional leaders such as Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan. But one doesn’t expect much from the sponsors of the soul-killing austerity program espoused by Theresa May’s Tories in Britain, or Donald Trump’s enablers in the GOP. For those on either side of the Atlantic who hope for at least modest progressive reform, however, it is a bitter mouthful to take anti-Semitism from self-proclaimed liberal champions, and some would rather spit than swallow. For my own part, and as someone who feels free to criticize Israel whenever necessary, I will not have truck with anyone who embraces the world’s oldest hatred on behalf of any cause, including those I hold most dear.