Those are the words of commentator and Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy speaking from Tel Aviv a few days ago. They came in the wake of the recent comments of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), followed by a flurry of media blather and finally a knee-jerk Congressional resolution condemning anti-semitism and other forms of ethnic-religious hate. Weighing in on the brouhaha, Levy — in his characteristic no-holds-barred manner — makes it clear what it was really all about.
Under ordinary circumstances, no reasonable person should object to a Congressional resolution against hate — except that this one is being wielded as a political club, to silence much-needed political and public discourse. Levy says, in part:
The context is very suspicious and very troubling […] We have to say the truth […] What is happening now is that some kind of fresh air, some kind of new voices are emerging from Capitol Hill, raising legitimate questions about Israel, about America’s foreign policy toward Israel and about the Israeli lobby in the States. Those are very legitimate questions, and it is more than needed to raise them. But the Israeli propaganda and the Jewish propaganda in recent years [have employed] a systematic method: whenever anybody dares to raise questions or to criticize Israel, he is immediately and automatically labeled as anti-Semite, and then he has to shut his mouth, because after this, what can he say? This vicious circle should be broken.
To view the first interview segment featuring Gideon Levy (6 min.), go HERE (or click on above image). Then…
The discussion continues with two other informed observers (and more of Levy!): Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and Remi Kannazi, a Palestinian-American poet and activist (17 min.).
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Finally, let’s be clear: Anti-semitism is a real phenomenon and always has been, festering beneath the surface of American society and of many others. Any reasonable person can recognize it when he or she hears it or sees it — it emits an unmistakable odor. And, when genuine anti-Jewish expressions or acts, or any kind of hate, rear their ugly heads, these deserve to be called out and opposed.
BUT, the flap over Rep. Omar’s words is about something else entirely. Here, “anti-semitism” is a label that has been slapped on her as an intentional and undeserved smear, in an attempt to delegitimize the woman and especially to neutralize her message. And what is her unwelcome message? Mainly that America’s bizarre, skewed relationship with the State of Israel is badly in need of scrutiny and re-evaluation. The message is about the displaced, stateless and occupied Palestinian people and their rights under international law — a discussion which, yes, unavoidably involves criticism of the policies and actions of Israel, the government of a sovereign foreign nation.
But, to automatically and purposely try to conflate Palestinian advocacy and criticism of Israel with “anti-semitism” — hatred of the Jewish people — is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s a dirty trick of the worst sort (and, sadly, works pretty much every time). Plus, this sort of casual, “cry wolf” deployment of the anti-semitism flag just gives cover to the real anti-semitism which, as I say, is out there.
Admittedly, there may sometimes be a shrillness and inelegance to Rep. Omar’s pronouncements — totally apart from the message — that can make her hard to listen to. Nevertheless, she’s saying things that need and deserve to be heard.