Omar Can’t Break the U.S.-Israel Bond
March 11, 2019
ask whether freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar was being anti-Semitic or merely inartful
when she suggested U.S. support for Israel is driven by moneyed interests
(“It’s all about the Benjamins baby”) and Americans who owe “allegiance
to a foreign country” is a waste of time. Ms. Omar is a gifted and ambitious
politician who thinks Jew-baiting will help her career; the question is not
whether she is a nice person but whether she is a significant one. Does her
appearance on the political stage herald a substantial change in American
politics—either a renewed anti-Semitism or a diminished U.S.-Israel alliance?
answer at this point is that Ms. Omar’s notoriety is more sizzle than steak.
Politically, her election doesn’t mean very much. That the congressional
district Keith Ellison represented for six terms chose Ms. Omar to replace him
hardly represents a political earthquake. Mr. Ellison had ties to the Nation of
Islam and a strongly anti-Israel record. Voters in Minnesota’s Fifth
Congressional District have tolerated these sentiments for some time.
Party luminaries like Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer supported Mr. Ellison in
his 2017 bid to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee (he ultimately
became deputy). Even before Ms. Omar, the party has been more interested in
reaching an accommodation with militantly anti-Israel politics than in driving
it out of the party.
Mr. Ellison, Ms. Omar plays to a national as well as a local constituency. Mr.
Ellison became a symbol both for those who welcome and those who fear the
increasing prominence of Muslim American voices in U.S. politics. Younger, more
photogenic and perhaps more charismatic, Ms. Omar hopes to repeat and if
possible surpass Mr. Ellison’s success. But the path she has chosen is not
a longer historical perspective, the appearance of progressive anti-Semitism and
its presence in both immigrant and native subcultures is also par for the
course. Nineteenth-century abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, as well as
more recent figures like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, used anti-Semitism for
political purposes. Immigrants from Germany and Russia brought the infection of
anti-Semitism with them from the old country, and tensions between immigrant
Catholics and the American Jewish community tormented Democratic politicians
long before the party struggled to accommodate both Alan Dershowitz and Mr.
the new wave of left-leaning anti-Israel activists succeed in breaking up the
U.S.-Israel alliance? The answer is almost certainly no, less because of the
Benjamins than the weakness of the conspiratorial anti-Israel case. The argument
that the American Jewish community—animated by slavish loyalty to the Jewish
state, armed with unlimited financial resources, and abetted by fundamentalist
Christians hoping for Armageddon—has imposed a pro-Israel policy on the
gentile majority may resonate with the faithful, but it strikes most Americans
as implausible and lame.
who follow politics at all know, for example, that American Jews are anything
but monolithic on the subject of Israel. Many American Jews are more hostile to
Jewish settlements in the West Bank than are non-Jewish Americans. Far from
robotically supporting strongly hard-line pro-Israel politicians, most American
Jews voted against Donald Trump and George W. Bush. An American politician whose
sole goal was to raise money and votes from American Jews would do better to
criticize Benjamin Netanyahu than praise him.
also know, in many cases from personal experience, that Christian support for
Israel is not confined to Bible-thumping fundamentalists counting the days to
Armageddon. It is and long has been widespread among Christians of many
theological views who regret the murderous Christian anti-Semitism of past
centuries, who admire Israel’s economic success and military strength, and
who, without being intolerant of Islam, also abhor the venomous Jew hatred that
is so regrettably prevalent among some Muslims today.
is another problem for Ms. Omar and her allies. The theory that “the Jews”
control American foreign policy by distributing Benjamins to elected officials
isn’t a theory only about rich and unscrupulous Jews. It is a theory about
stupid gentiles unable to perceive the devious purposes of the hooknosed Master
Race. This reflects not just anti-Semitism but contempt for the American people
as a whole.
Omar, like many other anti-Israel activists, seems to believe that mixing
crackpot theories about U.S. politics with insults to voters’ intelligence
will change the way Americans see the Middle East conflict. When this strategy
fails, as it invariably does, anti-Israel activists attribute the failure not to
the weakness of their arguments but once more to the Benjamins of those
oh-so-clever Jews, and to the stupidity of the hypnotized non-Jewish voters.
They try again, fail again and curse the “lobbyists” and their lackeys
hasn’t been a recipe for success in American politics in the past. Ms. Omar
and her backers seem to think that this time will be different. We shall see.