The recently adopted resolution of the House of Representatives condemning antisemitism and other forms of bigotry was the right thing to do, and over 400 votes for it attest to that. That it was occasioned by a campaign to condemn Representative Ilhan Omar for antisemitism was disturbing.
What she did was simply to criticize Israeli policies and to point out the influence of the major pro-Israeli political action committee, AIPAC. And indeed, at present a growing number of American Jews are themselves critics of current Israeli policies, and are not supporters of AIPAC.
The current right-wing government of Israel seeks systematically to conflate support for Israel with support for its draconian policies toward Palestinians. Conversely, both the Netanyahu government and AIPAC tend to attack any serious criticism as antisemitic. We hear the same message from Donald Trump, alleging that the House Democrats are antisemites because they insisted on condemning all bigotry, including antisemitism.
Trump in fact has frequently used antisemitic themes to make political points. His final campaign ad in 2016 condemned Hillary Clinton as linked to shadowy global financial interests, a claim highlighted in a bright Star of David. He has repeatedly condemned the financiers George Soros and Tom Steyer, implying that their political agendas are due to their Judaism.
Israel has won the long conflict with Palestinian nationalism, but in the process Zionism has lost its soul.
Trump and his supporters also frequently articulate anti-Muslim messages conveying deep suspicion of the loyalty of Muslim-Americans like Omar. She has personally been subjected to such rhetoric.
This is tragic. Zionism, a movement more than a century old, originally envisaged a homeland for the Jews in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would coexist peacefully. That such coexistence proved illusory does not negate that most Zionists originally thought that way.
Without rehearsing the whole sorry history of the British Mandate and the successive conflicts between Israel and the Arabs, I will just make a couple of points here. First, as I observed two years ago:
…had the Arabs, early on, accepted that coexistence, we would not be at the place we are now. It would not even have been necessary for the Arabs to accept Israel’s legitimacy, only that it existed and would continue to exist. Instead, first the surrounding Arab states and then the Palestinians themselves fought wars dedicated to wiping Israel off the map, losing each one and seeing the map grow steadily more unfavorable to them.
Second, as successive Israeli governments have consolidated the occupation of Palestinian territory, they have moved ever further from even lip-service to the ideal of peaceful coexistence. What we now have instead is what President Jimmy Carter (Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, 2006) rightly called apartheid: the permanent establishment of a Palestinian entity that is dominated by Israel, and the permanent relegation of Palestinians to subordinate status without citizenship in Israel. There are Arab Israeli citizens, but they are second-class citizens.
Israel, under Netanhyahu, is and intends to be a democracy for Jews (and not all Jews: American Reform and Conservative Jewish practices are not accepted), ruling a population of Arabs that have no meaningful participation in national life. Israel has won the long conflict with Palestinian nationalism, but in the process Zionism has lost its soul. Netanyahu’s Israel is abusing the human rights of the population under occupation. Anyone, including Ilhan Omar, should have the right to criticize that without being called antisemitic.