Anti-Semitism Not Neutralized
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
In less than three months in Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar has succeeded in legitimizing anti-Semitic speech in the United States. As if there was not enough anti-Semitism engulfing much of the world already and as if President Trump single-handedly had not stirred up enough bigotry and hatred himself in less than two and half years in office, along comes a first year House Member from Minnesota to explode on to the stage and introduce into the political conversation classic anti-Semitic terms not heard in public for generations.
As one of the two first Muslim Members of Congress, Ilhan could have created a political conversation about issues which she presumably cares deeply including: the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, continued Israeli expansion of West Bank settlements, the status of women in the Muslim world, the degrading of Iranian women, the persecution of non-Muslims and non-religious Muslims throughout the Middle East, and many more issues. Rather, Representative Ilhan opted to increase the polarization in the region and to attack all Jews with some of the most vile, anti-Semitic stereotypical tropes not heard in public conversation in America for generations.
The response of the Democratic Party—which never even should have permitted a parliamentary discussion to have ensued—was to fall all over themselves as they sought to address all bigotry, hatred, racism, and sexism in one breathe. Democrats failed to single out the legitimate outrage which Ilhan had permitted. They covered it up with a universal condemnation of all bigotry.
The Democratic Party leaders failed to use this obvious opportunity to attack the failure of the Republican Party to punish the racists and White supremacists in the Republican Party and the anti-Semitism on the right. The Democratic Party was only saved total embarrassment when 23 Republican Members were the only ones in the House who voted against the final resolution. Their votes enabled the Democrats to at least partially rehabilitate themselves by attacking the blatant hypocrisy of Trump and his supporters.
Anti-Semitism—is history’s oldest hatred. It persists today in America and around the world because public leaders who know or ought to know better still find it much simpler to ignore, dilute, or blame someone else for it. The scene in Washington was perhaps best understood if one considers what might have occurred if a Member of the Democratic Party caucus had spoken with comparable vitriol against Blacks, Latinos, LBGT, or women. The outburst and outrage would have been deafening.
Anti-Semitism is also not reduced when the U.S. Government and the Israeli Government fail and are unwilling to force debate on the fundamental issues separating Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians have no leaders; the Netanyahu Government has forsaken true bi-partisan support in American politics; and American Jewish leaders have permitted the Israeli Government to advocate an agenda for American Jews which is not helpful in the long run, either for Israel or Diaspora Jews. The Middle East conflict may not be resolved for generations, but movement towards defusing tensions and hatred cannot be achieved by permitting and tolerating the invigoration of anti-Semitism.