Americans Increasingly Critical of Israel: The Case of Ilhan Omar

Defenders of Israel are usually quick to confront the new ideas and mobilize all their energies and ‘lobbies’ (especially inside and outside the current American administration) to affirm unconditional support for the Zionist state and its policies. What happened with the Democratic Party deputy Ilhan Omar is the biggest proof. She was accused of anti-Semitism following statements that Jewish money (referring to AIPAC) is behind US support and allegiance to Israel. The US President, Donald Trump, called for her resignation, while Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an apology for her use of “anti-Semitic language”!!! Things went further when the Republican Party placed a poster on the building of the West Virginia State Council, linking Ilhan Omar to the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks, putting her photo alongside the World Trade Center towers.  “Never forget” a caption was added in reference to the attacks.

In a remarkable development, American attitudes are no longer along the same lines on Israel as “the oasis of democracy amid an old Arab quagmire!” While some saw an emerging trend as an escalation in hostility towards the Zionist state, others considered it merely a rejection of Israeli policies represented by its occupation of the Palestinian lands, its construction of illegal settlements/ colonies and its siege of the Gaza Strip. Indeed, in an article by The New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander entitled “Breaking the Silence on Palestine,” the writer concluded: “There is an ever-increasing understanding that criticizing the policies and practices of the Israeli government is apparently no longer an act of anti-Semitism in itself.” She said “two sitting members in the US Congress (Rachida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) having expressed their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the change of attitudes of young American voters – including young Jews – towards supporting the Palestinian cause would not have happened a few years ago.” American journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg said in the New York Times that “the conflict over Tlaib and Ilhan showed a growing generation rift within the Democratic party; the old guard support Israel while the rising wing of young liberals, including Jewish youth, are ready to accuse Israel of violating  human rights and even demand movement to establish a Palestinian state.” She noted that “the risks facing the Democratic Party are clear and visible across the Atlantic, while in Europe, leftist parties tend to woo Moslem voters with rising anti-Israel sentiment. Meanwhile, the populist right targets Jews and strengthens Israel’s rightist government.” Recently, the American ‘Intercept’ website published a report saying “there are indications that a shift may be taking place in the Americans’ view of the State of Israel and its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.” “The Democrats and young American voters – including Jewish voters – have begun to adopt a more pro-Palestinian stance that has nothing to do with what they call anti-Semitism”, Intercept said. Indeed, Jim Norman reported from the most recent Gallup Poll that: “For the first time since 2012, at least half of Americans favor the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Growing support among Americans for an independent Palestine is occurring amid a national debate in the US about Israel’s handling of the conflict and the US government’s ongoing support for Israel”.

As Democrats moved to issue a draft resolution to condemn congresswoman Ilhan over statements on the role of the Pro-Israel lobby in American politics, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez the youngest US Representative, described the draft plan as offensive. She said on Twitter: “What hurts more about condemning Ilhan is that no such condemnation is made when statements are made on people of Latin origin or from other communities.” Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill expressed support to Ilhan: “she voiced concern at the US support to Israel’s murderous racist government and the American policies serving a foreign power agenda. Ilhan is rare voice and deserves our defense.” The New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali also expressed his displeasure at Islamophobic attacks against Ilhan and the proposed draft resolution. “I support Ilhan, because at a time when the White Republicans anti-Semitic statements are being overlooked, lhan is receiving horrifying anti-Muslim comments and death threats, and is being subjected to poor, shameful and double standards,” he said. In a further development, Neturai Karta Jewish group voiced solidarity with Ilhan. “We fully support Ilhan’s statements on Israel”, said the group’s leader Rabbi Dovid Feldman. “To accuse someone of being anti-Semitic because they oppose the occupation of Palestine or the oppression of the people is revolting, unacceptable. Doing something like that in the name of Jews is will do them real harm”, he said, stressing that “what has been done against (Ilhan) Omar is tragic and unjust, she did nothing but only talked about things that should have been talked about a long time ago, and then they seek to punish her to be an example for others, she said only the truth, and we are here today to support her.” However, some Officials and members of the Democratic Party expressed their support for Ilhan, who apologized to American Jews but stressed “the importance of not ignoring the activities of lobbyists in US politics.” Some even objected that Ilhan did not criticize Israel well enough, declaring full solidarity with her.

It is indeed an unprecedented stage in which we live, as the door seems now to be strongly open to criticize Israel with a rejection of its policies.