Led by Donald Trump, many American conservatives are branding legitimate criticism of Israel or the $3 billion in aid America provides it with each year as “anti-Semitic.” At Trump’s urging, Israel has now banned Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) from visiting the country. Trump has said the two “hate Israel and all Jewish people.”
This comes after a months-long quarrel between Trump and the congresswomen. In May, Trump criticized Tlaib over her statements on the Holocaust and Palestine, tweeting, “She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Tlaib had said:
There’s always kind of a calming feeling … when I think of … the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives … in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews [during] horrific persecution … I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that.
Though widely bastardized by Trump’s supporters a statement that the Holocaust gave Tlaib “calming feeling,” her statement was essentially correct. Palestine did provide a refuge for those fleeing the Holocaust, and Palestinians did lose their land. Tlaib’s implication that Palestinians did this somewhat voluntarily to help persecuted Jews is not accurate, but the Palestinians’ opposition to mass Jewish immigration was justified.
One might compare Trump supporters’ opposition to illegal immigration, which currently represents a mere 3.2 percent of the U.S. population, with what the Palestinians faced. In 1922, Muslims represented 78 percent of Palestine’s population, and Jews only 11 percent. In the ensuing 25 years — while America largely refused to take in desperate Holocaust refugees — the Jewish population grew 750 percent.
In 1947, the United Nations proposed partitioning Palestine, offering the Jews, who were a third of the population, 56 percent of Palestine. The Palestinians understandably refused, leading to the 1947-1948 civil war and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By 1948, the Jews were in control of Palestine.
Omar has been criticized for her 2012 tweet “Israel has hypnotized the world.” She was in fact accurately describing Israel’s remarkable ability to use Jews’ historical oppression to blind many to its oppressive policies towards the Palestinians, including Israel’s illegal settlement policies.
Omar’s controversial 2018 tweet referring to the “apartheid Israeli regime” is merely a reflection of the analogy many all over the world draw between some of Israel’s policies and those of apartheid South Africa. (To be fair, Israel’s defenders often cite the appalling human rights record of many other Middle Eastern regimes as being even worse, and they do have a point.)
The focal point of Israel’s travel ban is Omar’s, Tlaib’s, and civil rights icon John Lewis’ recent introduction of a pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution in the House, which conservatives hammered as “anti-Semitic.” There are legitimate problems with BDS — prohibitions on cultural exchanges are objectionable, and BDS is strategically questionable for various reasons. However, boycotts targeting governments accused of human rights abuses are neither new nor uncommon, and they hardly constitute prejudice.
Criticism of conservative American Jewish groups is also being branded as “anti-Semitic.” For example, Trump and his supporters have attacked Omar for tweeting, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” in reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Trump ally Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, having accused Omar of “deep-seated anti-Semitic views” and “a level of hate,” called for her to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Omar’s comments about the Israeli lobby are accurate and legitimate. Like many other powerful, well-funded lobbies, AIPAC and its co-thinkers and allies have substantial political influence.
That American Jews have helped build influential political organizations is hardly news, and acknowledging this fact is not anti-Semitic. Jewish-backed groups have often played a positive and important role in American politics. For example, Martin Luther King often praised the role of Jewish organizations in the civil rights movement. One week before he was murdered, King told a Rabbinical Assembly, “Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice.”
Jews have also been instrumental in the growth and success of the American Civil Liberties Union — the reason why white nationalists sometimes refer to the ACLU as the “ACL-Jew.”
Trump’s and conservatives’ rationale for these misleading criticisms and characterizations is not hard to see. American Jews have traditionally been among America’s most thoughtful and conscientious voters. These tactics have helped convert Jews from a liberal voting bloc into swing voters. This is particularly important since Florida has played a key role in deciding recent presidential elections.
Conservatives complain that liberals unjustly label criticism of minority politicians or leaders as “racist” (as during the recent Trump-Elijah Cummings spat) and criticism of women politicians or leaders as “sexist” (as during the ongoing battle between Trump and “the squad”). In this, sometimes conservatives have been correct. Yet in stigmatizing criticism of Israel or certain Jewish groups as anti-Semitic, conservatives mirror the liberals they condemn.
Glenn Sacks teaches at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.