by Laila Ujayli
Over the past two weeks, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been the victim of anti-Muslim attacks and death threats. But rather than stand in solidarity with her in the face of this chilling and dangerous racism, her colleagues have exploited the opportunity to reignite bad faith accusations of anti-Semitism against her. They’ve referenced earlier tweets for which she has already forcefully apologized and grossly twisted her latest critique of U.S. policies toward Israel. And in response to the “outrage” over Omar’s comments, House Democratic leaders will bring to the floor a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.
The smear campaign currently deployed against Omar is nothing new in the world of advocacy around Palestinian rights. It is consistent with the systematic silencing of critics of Israel. And like the attacks on Omar, these tactics do not involve substantive policy debate. Instead, these tactics involve the gross weaponization of anti-Semitism to shield Israel from criticism and rely on ad hominem attacks deeply rooted in racism and Islamophobia.
Take, for example, last week’s explosive reporting from Adam Entous at The New Yorker about a private Israeli intelligence firm, Psy Group, spying on pro-Palestinian advocates in the United States. As part of a project to silence the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, Psy Group disseminates negative information about pro-Palestinian advocates and uses “narrative warfare” to send the “main message that anti-Israel activity equates with terrorism.” By publicizing derogatory information about an activist—for instance, if a pious Muslim drinks alcohol or has an affair—Psy Group works to effectively blackmail individual activists and deter future ones.
Similarly, the notorious Canary Mission exists as a McCarthy-esque blacklist of pro-Palestinian rights advocates on college campuses. Primarily targeting Muslim and Arab student groups, the Canary Mission “compiles dossiers on Palestinian rights advocates and labels them racists, anti-semites, and supporters of terrorism,” posting their names and photographs online to intimidate young people concerned about their future job prospects.
Moreover, there is a systematic campaign to silence pro-Palestinian advocates—particularly BDS activists—at the legislative level. As its first act in the new Congress, the Senate passed a bill that allows state and municipal governments to punish companies and individuals that boycott Israel, protecting the anti-BDS laws currently enacted in 26 states and facilitating the passage of future anti-BDS legislation. These laws force employees to sign de-facto “loyalty oaths” affirming that they will not boycott Israel or support such boycotts, a practice the ACLU firmly maintains violates Americans’ First Amendment rights. It’s laws like these that in effect legally force Americans to hold “allegiance to a foreign country”—the very claim Omar made that drew such ire.
Like Omar, Americans across the country who dare question Israel’s policies risk being smeared as anti-Semites and terrorist sympathizers. The net result is that the majority of Americans are not talking about this integral piece of U.S. foreign policy. They’re not interrogating Washington’s unwavering support of right-wing Israeli policies. They’re not questioning the role of the powerful Israel lobby and the millions it spends to advance right-wing pro-Israel legislation in Congress (for example, the prominent advocacy organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), spent $3.5 million on lobbying alone last year). Discussing foreign policy can be hard enough without having to navigate the systems in place to silence pro-Palestinian advocates.
In the face of little outcry, both the U.S. and Israeli governments have been emboldened in their discrimination against the Palestinian people. The Trump administration recently closed the Consulate General in Jerusalem, which served as the de-facto U.S. embassy to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Gaza could be unlivable by next year. The UN recently found that Israel may be guilty of war crimes for the murder of unarmed protestors in Gaza, including 35 children. In Israel’s upcoming elections, embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with the extremist Jewish Power party, a successor to the racist Kahanist movement that advocates for total apartheid. And the Palestinians that bear the brunt of these racist and right-wing policies will not have the right to vote in these elections. Meanwhile, the new Democratic majority in the House has spent more time debating semantics with Omar than addressing these dire developments and condemning the racist policies of the Israeli right wing.
Ilhan Omar could stand to learn more about anti-Semitic tropes and choose her words more carefully in the future. Yet, her words can so easily ignite this grossly disproportionate outrage because the script is already written. Not only are Democrats playing into the hands of the right by unjustly censuring one of their own, they are entrenching the systems in place that prevent criticism of Israel and choosing to remain silent in the face of Israel’s racist occupation. The resolution House Democrats are bringing to the floor to condemn anti-Semitism is an important one, considering the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes. But the resolution should also be accompanied by one that condemns Islamophobia, anti-blackness, and other forms of insidious, systemic discrimination—and fortunately, recent reports indicate that the resolution’s language will be adjusted to condemn anti-Muslim bias. It should also assert that every piece of U.S foreign policy can be questioned—even the U.S. relationship with Israel.
Friends of the Palestinian people need to ask why Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have abandoned the Palestinian cause.
Is this also due to AIPAC or other pro Israel groups?
This is a great posting! Kudos….
Palestine Is Still THE Issue!
Memo: Slam dunk — AIPAC should/must be required forthwith to register as an agent of a foreign nation-state under the Foreign Agents Registration Act!
The double standard hypocrisy is so high that when anyone refers or names representatives Omar and Tlaib they are referenced and titled/referenced by their religion while no one refers at any member of Congress like representatives Eliot Engle by his religion, a representative from state of NY. Every time I hear these ladies name in media, they are referenced with their religion as Muslims, but no other member of Congress is identified by his or her religion, why?
Great article. Omar’s comments have nothing to do with Israel or the Jews but have a lot to do with those who have hijacked Judaism with their own racist ideology! Now they are trying to use the Jews as their own shield forcing the politicians and elites in EU and US to protect their racist ideology! Currently France is struggling through the same dilemma. It’s so sad that some politicians are falling for this trickery!
I agree, the original reported proposed resolution against anti-Semitism by the democrats is a gross exaggeration, considering the circumstances. Also, if Obama was President the resolution would not happen. However, the statements made by Rep. Omar confirm the anti-Semitic culture in the Arab and Muslim world. She was born in Mogadishu, right? Oh, and a quick google search of you shows you spent “much of her childhood in Syria and Saudi Arabia”. Maybe you should be honest with yourself. You know what I’m saying.
You are listing the sins of Israel and the American people? Consider listing Palestine’s and the Arab world first and than you will be able to see clearly to correct Israel. What policy debate are you calling for? Let’s start in 1948 until the present day. One Arab country after another declaring war and calling for the total annihilation of the Jew and Israel.
Please do not hide behind you’re youth and inexperience to write what you do. You are right the script has already been written Israel is there to stay FOREVER!
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