If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you that Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has accused defenders of Israel of dual loyalty and blamed American Jews of buying support for Israel through large political contributions. You already know that she has argued that Israel “has hypnotized the world” and compared the actions of the U.S. and Israel to those of Hamas and the Taliban. And you remember that earlier this year she fought against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, whose only use is to protect Israelis from rocket attacks by Islamist militants.
So why am I telling you all this again? Because I am going to suggest that we — the American Jewish community and supporters of Israel — endorse legislation that Representative Omar has introduced.
Omar has actually positioned herself to do something positive for the American Jewish community. And we should take advantage of it.
Along with her fellow Democrat, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Omar recently introduced legislation that would create a State Department special envoy who would monitor and combat Islamophobia globally. The office would record instances of Islamophobia, including violence against and harassment of Muslims and vandalism of their mosques, schools and cemeteries worldwide.
A similar office was created in 2004 both as a clearinghouse and a watchdog in the fight against antisemitism. While Omar herself has seemed more interested in encouraging antisemitism than in fighting it, the parallel efforts of empowering the State Department to protect Jews and Muslims against prejudice and bias opens a window for the Jewish community to join with potential allies who share similar and overlapping goals.
It’s tempting to simply dismiss anything with which Omar is associated, but there are longer-term goals at stake here. The Jewish community is increasingly isolated, both on the right and the left, and many of our traditional progressive allies have turned their backs on us. There is now a rapidly growing belief among many young people, minority voters and other progressives that Israel is a force of oppression in the Middle East and that American Jews who support Israel have become unacceptable partners even on issues having nothing to do with foreign policy.
Pointing to the hatred that we have faced is of little use unless it is accompanied by sustained efforts to assist others who confront similar prejudice of their own.
There’s no question that Israel has become a more formidable presence on the world stage — economically, diplomatically and militarily. Similarly, many American Jews have achieved notable academic, economic and political success. But this has led to a growing envy and hostility from some who have still not yet reached similar levels of accomplishment. And pointing to the hatred that we have faced is of little use unless it is accompanied by sustained efforts to assist others who confront similar prejudice of their own.
There is no shortage of opportunities to work with other minority communities in this country to confront this shared threat. But like the worst forms of antisemitism, Islamophobia is a worldwide phenomenon as well. Muslims have been the targets of mass killings and other forms of violence against the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar, and of their faithful populations in India and Sri Lanka. Those who worry about rising levels of hostility against Jews in Europe, Great Britain, Africa and the U.S. might see the potential for a joint effort to push back.
In addition to the potential real-world protections that could develop from such an arrangement, American Jews can also use support of Omar and Schakowsky’s bill to demonstrate our commitment to helping those who face persecution. Omar and the other most virulent haters will not be swayed, but there are many other members of Congress and leaders of underrepresented communities who would welcome such a step.
The Jewish community needs more friends, and offering our help to others who must overcome similar challenges can help us begin that process. Rather than opposing the special envoy proposal to spite Omar, we can instead enjoy the irony that she is unintentionally giving us the tools we need to build bridges to others in need.
Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. Join Dan for his weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” (www/lawac.org) on Tuesdays at 5 PM.