Criticism of Israel isn't synonymous with anti-Semitism, but that's how it's seen in our system. We need to face this reality, and others.
by Ahmed Tharwat
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Notes of support at the D.C. office of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who had been assailed for remarks involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The art of a proper apology is to never say “if” or “but” — just admit your mistake and move on.
Conservatives, of course, seldom apologize. Their motto is the 3Ds — deny, deceive and distract. And when they do apologize, they usually blame the misunderstanding on the offended. Sorry if my actions/comments offended you.
However, liberals can hardly wait to apologize. They always have something to feel guilty about. When liberals apologize, they don’t use “if.” They use “but” (or “at the same time”).
Which brings us to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s apology.
In the end, Omar caved in, surrendering to the intimidation of a system that demonizes any critic of Israel, a system full of hypes, hypocrisies and dishonesties.
Omar’s apology, after an avalanche of accusations and threats, sounded like a confession at Guantanamo — forced, rehearsed in a controlled environment.
“Anti-Semitism is real,” she explained, “and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
Aren’t we all; we all need to be educated, it seems.
The story started when Omar responded to a journalist’s assertion that “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Omar fell into the trap and tweeted back: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”
This simply is not automatically an anti-Semitic trope. A reference to $100 bills bearing Benjamin Franklin’s face simply reflects the undisputed role of money in our politics. To suggest that the Israeli advocacy group AIPAC influences some members of Congress to support Israel over the Palestinians doesn’t seem so radical or inherently anti-Semitic; it is actually bragged about by AIPAC on its own website.
What Omar left out in her short tweet is that the role of money in our politics is not just about AIPAC and Israel. It is also about the NRA, Citizens United, the Koch brothers, and right-wing evangelical Christian Zionist fanatics. Omar needs to understand that if AIPAC has the Democrats by the throat, the NRA has the GOP.
But Omar wasn’t talking about “Jewish Money,” reflecting a deep, wicked feeling about “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This is absurd and it is a Western thing.
But next came the internet panic — TV pundits from far right to far left, politicians from both parties, even Chelsea Clinton, demanding answers with almost identical rhetoric, as if they all got the anti-Semitic trope memo. Backlash, reckoning, disturbing, repugnant, appalling, horrifying. Even some of her own party, even Nancy Pelosi, threw Omar under the bus, demanding an apology or else.
What lots of Americans don’t understand is that anti-Semitism — the charge thrown causally at anyone who offers the slightest criticism of Israel — is an alien concept for most Muslims, since Arab/Muslims think of themselves not just as Semitic people, but also as indirect victims of the Holocaust atrocity, which led to establishing the Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East, beheading the nation of Palestine.
I grew up in Egypt, where an average Muslim would speak fondly of the Jewish people and their prophet, Moses. The problem in America is that the suffering and grievances of Arabs/Palestinians and Muslims are mostly ignored.
I’m disappointed by Omar’s quick capitulation to the political forces surrounding her, but not surprised. Even someone like me, host of an “obscure local TV show,” can suffer the wrath of Fox News, which worked so hard to find an old interview with then-activist Omar and drag me into the fray, turning me into Omar’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.:
“Tharwat, who has given a platform before to radical activists … went on to compare the violence perpetrated by terror groups around the world to the actions of western governments.”
Fox never contacted me to corroborate any of their claims, but the Daily Caller did (I’d never heard of them), through an e-mail from an “investigative reporter” inquiring about things I’d discussed in the Ilhan interview, asking if I could explain why I said “Israel is the Jewish ISIS.”
The Daily Caller then published an article with a frantic headline, “Ilhan Omar Gave Interviews To Host Who Called Israel ‘Jewish ISIS’ And Compared Hamas To Holocaust Victims.”
I have no idea how the Daily Caller arrived at this conclusion, I have used “Jewish ISIS,” and “Jewish Taliban,” and “Jewish Jihadists” before, just to respond to the media narrative in which any misbehaving Muslim is labeled “Islamic” — Islamic terrorist, Islamic state, Islamic jihadists, Islamic Taliban.
Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Equating the two is hurtful not just for Muslims/Arabs and Americans but also for lots of fair-minded, peace-loving Jews around the world. As Omar stated in her apology, anti-Semitism is real. But it mostly thrives in Europe and America, not in the Muslim world.
Ilhan Omar, as a refugee who fled Somalia when she was 7, will bounce back. She has survived worse. However, this made-up, fake controversy exposed more about our political system, our media and our divisive racist culture than about Omar’s anti-Semitic index.
Arabs, Muslims, Jews and people around the world are the real victims of neo-liberal capitalist systems controlled by corporate jihadists and the Wall Street Taliban. We need to have an honest debate about America’s relationship with Israel. It is not just AIPAC; it is our interests around the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to the Middle East to assure the most repressive regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia of U.S. support, so long as they would improve their ties with Israel. Pompeo admitted that Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with Israel are a reason not to downgrade America’s relationship with the kingdom, despite the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Democracy Now, historian Illan Pappé gave a chilling assessment of Israel: “I think Israel in 2014 made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.” Pappé says the prime minster of Israel, the “king of Israel” as he is called by his opponents, is cozying up with the biggest anti-Semitic groups in Europe, supporting the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East and South America. Yet this raises no alarms among the sensitive Americans who want Ilhan Omar’s head.
Accept my “apology” for a long piece. But … it needed to be said.
Ahmed Tharwat is host/producer of the Arab American TV show, BelAhdan. He blogs at Notes from America (www.ahmediatv.com). On Twitter @ahmediaTV