Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Is Your Offense Offensive?

So this is an interesting take on Ilhan Omar:

The day that began with a media furor around Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent tweets did not end the way many on the left feared it would. While centrist Democrats and the party’s leadership predictably criticized the first-year congresswoman from Minnesota for her tweets about the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), most of the party’s progressive base rallied behind her. Omar’s tweet about “the Benjamins” may have been ill-advised—many thought it traded, whether intentionally or not, on the anti-Semitic idea that Jewish money controls the government—but by the news cycle’s end it had performed a kind of public service, focusing attention on, and in a way demonstrating, the power the pro-Israel lobby wields in American politics. Articles detailing the way AIPAC marshals its significant resources and extensive influence to shut down criticism of Israel and bolster support for Israeli policies appeared not only in reliably left-wing publications like the Intercept, but also among the gatekeepers of acceptable liberal opinion like Vox. If Omar’s intention was to shift public debate about AIPAC’s role in U.S. politics, she seems to have succeeded.

Not least because it appears in Slate, which ran an article by another author decrying Omar's comments as clearly anti-Semitic, although not denouncing her as an anti-semite.  Maybe that's a distinction as sound as decrying the racist statements of Donald Trump without saying Donald Trump is a racist (well, most of the news media does that.  Even Steve King is not tarred as a racist.  At worst, he's a "white nationalist.")  But Omar's statement that "it's all about the Benjamins" still strikes me as almost racist; but then again, almost not.  This article in Slate is the first time I've seen that ambiguity acknowledged: "Omar’s tweet about “the Benjamins” may have been ill-advised—many thought it traded, whether intentionally or not, on the anti-Semitic idea that Jewish money controls the government—"  It still seems to me the tweet was about the influence of lobbyists like AIPAC (whose influence is through money, the whole complaint about lobbyists in the first place), and not about money and Jews.  But I see the connection to anti-semitism and foul Jewish stereotypes, too.  Just like I see the connection between denouncing George Soros' politics (or how he spends his money), and the fact that George Soros is Jewish.  But does that mean I can't disagree with George Soros' political opinions (I don't, but arguendo) without being an anti-semite?  If I disagree with the politics of Ben Carson (and I do), am I a closet racist?

Is that really what racism is about?  Is it really what anti-semitism is about?  If so, then I can't denounce Woody Allen as a child-molester (I don't; again, arguendo) without also engaging in racist attitudes.  Or maybe that's okay because there's no historical connection between pederasty and Jews (actually there probably is, as I have no doubt Jews have been accused of every crime imaginable.  But if so, it's long forgotten).  On the other hand, a number of people mischaracterize the God of the Hebrew Scriptures as a blood-thirsty tyrant demanding fealty and blind loyalty, without ever once considering they are speaking of the God of the Jews, or that such a mischaracterization is distinctly and profoundly anti-semitic, in fact is probably the root of European antisemitism (the distinction between "our" loving God, and "their" vicious one)

So can we have discussions about Israel and the political influence of Israel in American politics without resorting to cries of anti-semitism?  That's an old question by now, and maybe the answer is that a new generation is coming with new ideas:

Among young people, support for Israel is low—just one-quarter of respondents ages 18–29 in a 2018 Economist/YouGov poll said they considered Israel an ally. 

My daughter doesn't remember the 1972 Munich Olympics; or Yassir Arafat, or the Six Day War or even the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt brokered by Jimmy Carter.  Her frame of reference, in other words, is not mine (and mine has shifted as I've learned more about the history of modern Israel and the Palestinians).  Her generation does not tend to understand Israel as good, and all around it evil.  I understand Israel as being founded by terrorists (one man's freedom fighter is another man's....), not because Israel has no "right to exist" (what country does?) but because "those to whom violence is done/do violence in return," and Israel did a lot of violence to to others to create itself.  Someone will tell me I am an anti-semite to say this, but I don't think I am.  And there are a number of people in the international community who would agree with me.  Perhaps news events since my formative years, combined with a greater international understanding due to technology (however slightly that door is opening), may be causative factors.  I do know my daughter appreciates aspects of other cultures which weren't even open to me at her age; she has friends from around the world simply because that's the nature of our world today, she appreciates ideas and cultural matters I had to struggle to even find a reference to.  That Ilhan Omar is in Congress means there are more people like Rep, Omar in this country, now; and that's a good thing (there are still too many people like Steve King, but as others have pointed out, the President didn't demand Rep. King resign from Congress).

If we use this as an opportunity to talk and listen, rather than to decry and blame, that would be a good thing, too.

(Besides, and wholly apart from this controversy, she's asking the questions that need to be asked.  I'm old enough to be her father, but there's no "generation gap" here for me!).

Adding: a bit of information on AIPAC:

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