March 26, 2019

Let’s Embrace Ilhan Omar’s Call for a Difficult Conversation

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)

The idea that anti-Semitism often hides behind Israel criticism is now well established. A prominent example is Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who had to apologize for once tweeting that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” In her latest offense, Omar had to apologize again for suggesting that the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) compensated lawmakers for their support of the Jewish state—another classic anti-Semitic trope.

Omar’s latest tweet triggered condemnations across the board, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that “her use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”

This is all well and good, and we should be grateful we live in a country where you can’t get away with stereotyping Jews. But something is getting lost in the emotional, anti-Semitic heat: What about criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic?

Omar herself is eager to put the focus on that criticism. Just last week, she said on CNN: “It is really important for us to get a different lens about what peace in that region could look like and the kind of difficult conversations we need to have about allies.”

Instead of feeling threatened by this proposition, the pro-Israel community should welcome it. We ought to say: “Yes, let’s look at peace in the region through a different lens and let’s have a difficult conversation about Israel.”

But this is not what our community is doing. By focusing so much on the anti-Semitic tropes behind Israel criticism, we look like we’re running away from the core issues of the conflict. This simply reinforces the progressive narrative that Israel is the big, bad wolf occupying Palestinian land and preying on helpless Palestinians.

The progressive narrative doesn’t have to be anti-Semitic to engage our attention, and, indeed, it could use a difficult conversation.

Bret Stephens succinctly added difficulty to the conversation in his op-ed last week in The New York Times:

“Israel’s enemies were committed to its destruction long before it occupied a single inch of Gaza or the West Bank. In proportion to its size, Israel has voluntarily relinquished more territory taken in war than any state in the world. Israeli prime ministers offered a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2008; they were refused both times.

“The progressive narrative doesn’t have to be anti-Semitic to engage our attention, and, indeed, it could use a difficult conversation.”

“The government of Ariel Sharon removed every Israeli settlement and soldier from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The result of Israel’s withdrawal allowed Hamas to seize power two years later and spark three wars, causing ordinary Israelis to think twice about the wisdom of duplicating the experience in the West Bank.

“Nearly 1,300 Israeli civilians have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks in this century: That’s the proportional equivalent of about 16 Sept. 11’s in the United States.”

The point is this: Exposing the anti-Semitism behind Israel criticism is important, but equally important is exposing the hollowness and superficiality behind much of the progressive criticism of Israel.

In other words, when progressives claim that their criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, it behooves us to call their bluff and make Israel’s case. Otherwise, their grossly oversimplified narrative will continue to distort reality.

Making Israel’s case doesn’t mean ignoring Israel’s faults. As Stephens writes, “None of this is to embrace the ‘Likud narrative’ of the conflict, or support the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, or reject the idea of Palestinian statehood, or suggest that Israel is above criticism and reproach.”

“When progressives claim that their criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, it behooves us to call their bluff and make Israel’s case. Otherwise, their grossly oversimplified narrative will continue to distort reality.”

Rather, it means conveying, at the very least, that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is, as Stephens notes, “far more complicated than the black-and-white picture drawn by Israel’s progressive critics.” 

A crucial part of this “complication” is the often overlooked reality that the biggest enemies of the Palestinian people are their corrupt leaders. These failed leaders have consistently put the hatred of Jews above the welfare of their own people. To this day, they continue to glorify and subsidize terrorism, promote Jew hatred, exploit victimhood, lie about history and refuse to recognize any Jewish connection to a biblical homeland. It’s no wonder they have rejected serious offers to create a Palestinian state that would have improved the lives of their people. 

So, by all means let’s embrace Rep. Omar’s call for a difficult conversation about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. She might be surprised by how difficult the conversation would end up.