EPF PIN member Linda Gaither, also a member of the Ithaca (NY) Comm. for Justice in Palestine/Jewish Voice for Peace, reflects on the recent controversies around Ilhan Omar’s comments.
Recently an op-ed aimed at Ilhan Omar and anti-semitic tropes appeared in our local Upstate New York paper. The pro-Israel author attempted to smudge or ‘gaslight’ the position of Rep. Omar’s defenders by saying, “no serious person claims criticism of Israel is ipso facto anti-Semitic.”
So what are the boundaries of ipso facto? When do serious people have to worry that they’ve tripped over a facto and stumbled into the dreaded mine-field of tropes and canards? Inquiring minds want to know, as David Samel points out in Mondoweiss:
This trope/canard nonsense could be used to immunize Israel from virtually any criticism. Anyone who dared suggest that Israel, throughout its history, has deliberately killed civilians could be accused of appealing to the anti-Semitic “canard” that Jews place a lower value on the lives of non-Jews. Accusing Israel of conducting espionage in foreign countries, whether spying on the US or stealing New Zealand passports, would invoke the anti-Semitic “trope” of the devious, dishonest Jew. There surely is an anti-Semitic trope, canard, or slander, real or imagined, to fit every criticism of Israel.
How do we evaluate a random selection of factos such as those listed below? Do they rise to the level of canard? Perhaps even the dreaded trope?
The Israel lobby donates to the majority of politicians, spending money on 269 Representatives’ and 57 Senators’ campaigns last year. One example, Democrat Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee (of which Rep. Omar is now a member), accused her of invoking an “anti-Semitic trope” by suggesting that money from pro-Israel groups affects political discourse. Engel has received $1.07 million from the Israel lobby during his career – more than he’s received from any other industry. See more here.
15% of Jewish settlers are Americans with dual citizenship. They vote in Israeli elections in support of settlement expansion; they are granted full rights of Israeli citizenship, although they live in illegal settlements in the West Bank. They vote again in American elections on behalf of pro-Israel positions and candidates. Their agenda is supported by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel as well as U.S. “peace brokers,” Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner. The Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation is funding the construction of the Bet El settlement, which Jared failed to disclose on financial forms. Read more n Trump and the Golan Heights here.
Settler violence continues to escalate. Last month, Jewish settlers surrounded a Palestinian school in the West Bank city of Hebron, assaulting several children. Israeli occupation soldiers then fired tear gas bombs and concussion grenades at the school; thirty children suffered severe effects. 230 children under 18 were held in Israeli military detention centers as of Jan. 31, 2019.
What factos come into play for U.S. voters and taxpayers who recognize and wish to challenge the human rights catastrophe that has befallen Palestinians since 1948?
The United States gives Israel a 10.5 million dollar chit for U.S. weapons every day. Our tax dollars are used to advance both the illegal occupation and preemptive attacks by Israel on neighboring states. U.S. human rights laws, known as the Leahy Amendment, prohibit the Departments of State and Defense from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity. Nevertheless, lawmaker Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) tweeted during the uproar over Rep. Omar’s observations about AIPAC’s power in our government that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
Last month, a Commission of Inquiry formed by the U.N. Human Rights Council reported that Israel may have committed crimes against humanity at the Gaza security fence, killing 189 Palestinians, including 35 children, injuring more than 9000 during the past twelve months. Evidence shows that Israeli snipers deliberately shot unarmed journalists, health workers, children and people with disabilities. Is this something Americans can talk about or challenge?
When voters cannot depend on our government to enforce human rights laws or allow debate on U.S. foreign aid, the rational option is to engage in and promote nonviolent boycotts, or work for divestment and sanctions on Israel. But the pro-Israel community in the U.S. has made combating the BDS movement one of its principal goals in recent years. 26 states have regulations on the books requiring businesses or individuals contracting with the state to pledge not to participate in a boycott of Israel. In essence, they force companies to make a choice between participating in BDS and keeping their business. Federal anti-BDS legislation is on the horizon, as well.
In this environment, ipso facto, serious people want to know: has the definition of anti-Semitism been stretched so far beyond it’s classical meaning – hatred and hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group — that it is impossible to avoid the alleged tropes and canards? This is a dangerous development. Anti-Semitism is a deadly phenomenon that needs to be named and repudiated at all times, everywhere. Because of the deadly seriousness of anti-Semitism, it must be clearly differentiated from criticisms of the Zionist project and the State of Israel. To be clear, it is not anti-Semitic to support Palestinian rights, demand a change in U.S. policy towards Israel, expose the pressures that the pro-Israel lobby brings to bear on elected officials, or call out Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. For serious people, these actions are not just an option, but, ipso facto, a necessity.