In an op-ed in Thursday’s edition of The Stanford Daily, the co-Presidents of Stanford Jewish Voice for Peace set out to “make some unequivocal statements” in the wake of the recent Poway terror attack. By and large, their statements are misleading and cannot go unanswered.
The authors begin by criticizing right-wing politicians who have “capitalized off of [the Poway attack] to forward their hate and harassment of [Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar.” The charge of twisted politicization is reasonable enough. Leaders on the Right are wrong to spin the heinous killing as anything but a White Nationalist hate crime, and it is highly unlikely that the Poway terrorist, who claimed “inspiration” from the Christchurch massacre, took his cue from Omar, a devout Muslim.
But politicization and its accompanying moral blind spots run both ways. The authors go on to absolve Omar of any wrongdoing, arguing that the congresswoman has been “bullied” for her “uncensored criticism of the Israeli government and the power of the Israel lobby in US politics.” It is true that Omar has been subjected to some viciously-islamophobic personal attacks. But this does not excuse her own toxic rhetoric.
To construe Omar’s comments as justified criticism of Israel is either shocking ignorance or willful blindness. Omar’s tweeted message — “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” — reeks of the age-old canard that Jewish money controls politics, and her accusation of dual loyalty against American Jews is equally poisonous.
But beyond the unmistakably anti-Semitic overtones in her comments, Omar’s claim about the pro-Israel lobby’s disproportionate power, regurgitated by the authors of the Daily op-ed, has no basis in fact. The authors attempt to substantiate the idea that the Israel lobby has “outsized” political influence by hyperlinking to data on pro-Israel lobby spending from Open Secrets, the Center for Responsive Politics. But the data from Open Secrets actually tell a completely different story.
As Armin Rosen of Tablet notes, pro-Israel lobbying spending was about $5 million in 2018, a total dwarfed by the $20 million spent by the American Hospital Association and the $22 million spent by the Native American casino lobby. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the target of Omar’s tweet, is ranked as just the 147th highest-spending lobbying entity, “$2 million behind both American Airlines and the Recording Industry Association of America, entities whose malign influence has gone regrettably underexamined over the years.”
In addition to their indifference toward anti-Semitic rhetoric and their false portrait of the American pro-Israel lobby, the authors glibly conflate anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel, claiming that neither one is, or can be, anti-Semitic. Much has been written on this subject, so I will be brief.
Nobody, or at least nobody reasonable, believes that criticizing Israel is ipso facto anti-Semitic. But criticism of Israel can and often does dip into anti-Semitism, either explicitly (see, for example, a recent New York Times cartoon) or implicitly, when it manifests in a noxious obsession with the Jewish state. To be an anti-Zionist is to oppose not just Israel’s actions, past or present, but the very idea of national self-determination for the Jewish people. In theory, perhaps, an individual can be an anti-Zionist because they oppose the general idea of nationalism. In practice, anti-Zionism is often coupled with full-throated support of Palestinian nationalism and conspicuous silence vis-a-vis other nationalist movements. The implication is crystal clear: nationalism is only wrong when it is Jewish.
Taking anti-Semitism seriously means looking in the political mirror. Those on the Right should be appalled by the disturbing rise of White Nationalists in recent years. Those on the Left should rebuff, not apologize for, anti-Semitism masquerading as criticism of Israel. The authors’ suggestion that “accusations of anti-Semitism aren’t actually about Jewish people’s safety but American interests” is as offensive as it is startlingly naive. If the long history of both left- and right-wing anti-Semitism teaches us anything, it is that the safety of the Jewish people is precisely what is at stake.