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Podcast: Rep. Ilhan Omar can criticize Israel, but her tweets still hurt Jews

There are ways to criticize Israel and Israeli policies without trafficking dangerous smears of Jews


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Steven A. CookBrad Rothschild
February 19, 2019 4:05PM (UTC)

It’s been a tough week at "The Amen Corner" podcast. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets that conjured up age-old, anti-Semitic ideas about wealthy Jews controlling politicians were painful and worrying.  If that was not enough, the reaction to criticism of Omar among progressives was also upsetting and deeply revealing. 

Anti-Semitism on the right is nasty and violent and its variant on the left is nasty and self-righteous. Taken together, they have left us wondering whether there is a place for us, our children, and Jews more generally in the United States. That is not an exaggeration.  

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Congressman Kevin McCarthy and Omar have done precisely the same thing—advanced the idea that Jews use their money to compel politicians to pursue policies they would not otherwise pursue and that are contrary to the interests of the country. This is profoundly toxic. Listen to our discussion below in this week's episode of "The Amen Corner."

Speaking of toxic, on Twitter Omar’s defenders were outraged at the charges of anti-Semitism, arguing that she was engaged in criticism of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and that accusations of hostility to Jews was merely intended to shut down debate about Israel and U.S. policy. 

When Steven pointed out that it was shocking how many people were willing to lecture Jews on what is and what is not anti-Semitism, he was called out by strangers, known trolls, acquaintances, and even colleagues from the Washington policy community as a shill for Israel. 

The assumption of bad faith on the part of Jews who express hurt and alarm when people, especially an elected representative, employ anti-Semitic ideas is bewildering. We would never assume a similar bad faith among people of color decrying racism, women fighting misogyny and Muslims fearing Islamophobia.

There are also ways to criticize Israel, Israeli policies and AIPAC without trafficking dangerous smears of Jews. Our objection to Omar’s tweets and the arguments her allies have advanced have nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with our identity as Jews. 

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For Steven, that identity is not connected to Israel. For Brad, it is much more so, but from the decidedly liberal left end of the spectrum. The toxicity of this issue and the discourse around it led us to discuss taking a time out from Twitter primarily because the platform has become central to the outrage culture and is rife with all kinds of hate. 

Moreover, the recognition that anti-Semitism is being mainstreamed and that interlocutors will automatically assume that Jews are acting in bad faith when they are expressing genuine concerns leaves us with the sinking feeling that Jews are alone in the world. Again.   

To hear our discussion and more, listen to Season 3, Episode 22 of The Amen Corner.

You can listen to The Amen Corner in lots of ways: On iTunes, SpotifyStitcherGoogle Play or your favorite RSS aggregator.


Steven A. Cook

Steven A. Cook's day job is as a foreign policy analyst in Washington, DC. His most recent book, "False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East," was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

MORE FROM Steven A. Cook

Brad Rothschild

Brad Rothschild is a documentary filmmaker. He produced the award-winning documentary feature, Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald. Brad directed the documentary film “African Exodus,” about Israel’s African refugees and the documentary film “Tree Man,” about the people who come to New York City to sell Christmas trees every holiday season. He is currently making a film about efforts to combat gun violence in Chicago.

MORE FROM Brad Rothschild

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