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Jews to Trump: We are not in play

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As a Jew I have no problem with what Rep. Ilhan Omar said. We have never reached the point in this country where it’s impermissible to criticize the policy of an Ally. The closest we ever came was during World War II, when the Soviet Union became our unlikely partner in the struggle against Nazi Germany, and Americans tactically decided to demur in their denunciation of Communism, at least for the duration of the war. We largely did; but criticism of the Soviet system (the gulags, collective farms, one-party system, absence of civil liberties, etc.) never entirely abated; and if someone did manage a criticism, he was not denounced in the way Republicans (and a few Democrats) are excoriating Omar.

I myself have frequently criticized Israel, Likud and Netayahu for their racism, and for making a settlement regarding the Occupied Territories impossible. That doesn’t make me anti-Semitic! Nor does it make me anti-Israel. Anti-Semitism, in fact, is almost exclusively found in the U.S. on the Republican right, among the neo-nazis and white supremacist “Christians” who constitute Trump’s base. Which makes Republican accusations against Omar all the more grotesque.

Well, grotesque is what we’ve come to expect from the Party of Trump, and they never let us down. Now the Democratic House, and Pelosi in particular, are in something of a pickle. Jews have been a reliable Democratic constituency, for obvious reasons, but the Trump regime has worked diligently to peel some Jews off into the Republican camp; and this Omar business will perhaps help them a bit. Most American Jews support Israel in a kind of intellectual, token way. It’s nice that there’s a Jewish homeland after the atrocities Hitler committed against Europe’s Jews. It’s nice that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It’s nice that there’s a place for American Jews to visit that feels like home. At the same time, most American Jews (and I feel confident saying this, even though it’s only anecdotal) disagree with Likud’s approach to the Occupied Territories. We feel that the Settlements are a real poke in the eye to Palestinians. We know (although we may not like to admit it) that virulent racism against Arabs and Muslims is widespread among Israel’s Jews. We believe that Netayahu has allied himself with the most profoundly racist, fascist elements within Israel; the ultra-Orthodox, ultra-nationalist parties Likud partners with to maintain its majority are Israel’s equivalent of the Franklin Graham-Ralph Reed Christian fascists in America. It’s important to call these facts out, and that’s what Omar did.

She may have been clumsy about it. As Speaker Pelosi noted, Omar may not have realized how her words would be interpreted, or used against her by Republicans. If so, this has been a valuable lesson for Rep. Omar. The word “allegiance” was intemperately selected. But we shouldn’t let that obscure her real meaning: that Israel, under its current regime, is doing bad things.

There’s an old slogan I remember hearing as a kid: “My country right or wrong, but still my country.” It meant that America might occasionally do some really stupid stuff (like interning Japanese-Americans), but that we still were required to love our country and never desert it. This may be the case; but I don’t think anyone is twisting the slogan to mean, “My country’s allies right or wrong, but still my country’s allies.” Allies can have healthy disagreements. When Obama was president, everybody knew that he was sympathetic to the Palestinians; that for all the stupid stuff they’ve done (and there’s been plenty), they at least have a strong case for a national homeland that includes the Occupied Territories. That sympathy got Obama in heaps of trouble with Netayahu, and with rightwing Republicans. It’s important also to realize that these rightwing Republicans, who frequently are evangelical and pentecostal, have no inherent love for Jews. No, their allegiance—above and beyond the Constitution—is to their Christian God and Jesus Christ. The only reason they support Israel is because, in their reading of certain Biblical passages, Israel must exist before Jesus can revisit Earth in a Second Coming, which would lead to the Rapture which they all await. When that happens, I assure you, Christians will demand that Jews instantly renounce their faith and convert to Christianity, or be consigned to the fires of Hell.

So I say to my fellow Jews, don’t be misled by Republican attempts to fool you. You do not want these people to have any more power than they already hold. Trust the liberalism that always has inspired Judaism, the same liberalism that inspired FDR, JFK, and the Civil Rights movement. We know what it’s like to be hated, discriminated against, shut out and spat upon. We cannot do that to others. Israel must get along with their Muslim neighbors, and the only way is to give Palestinians a country, and then to hold that country accountable to the highest standards of behavior. We have no reason to think that Palestinians are incapable of that. It’s Republicans in our own country that are unable to behave civilly.

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