E.J. Dionne Jr.: Let's stay united against bigotry
The polling is imperfect, but it’s fair to say that more than 70 percent of American Jews and Muslims vote Democratic.
They do so, in part, because Democrats have spoken out strongly against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And now, both groups are horrified by Trumpism’s embrace of discrimination against Muslims and its trafficking in anti-Semitism.
Just watch the Trump campaign ad attacking what it claims is “a global power structure that is responsible for economic decisions that have robbed our working class,” while flashing images of prominent Jews.
And you can’t help but cheer the fact that Jews and Muslims across the country have stood in solidarity when the local institutions of either group were defaced or attacked.
Bigotry is bigotry. It must always be opposed.
This is why the dangerously careless use of language by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., about Jews and Israel — she spoke of people who “push for allegiance to a foreign country” — has been cause for both heartbreak and anger.
I get that some readers will see my use of the word “careless” as too soft because the dual-loyalty charge has historically been so poisonous. But in refraining from stronger language I’m putting my bet on hope. I’m wagering that Omar’s personal history ought to mean that she understands the dangers of prejudice better than most.
Last fall, many of us celebrated her breakthrough election. She won strong backing from the Jewish community in her district. Maybe I’m also giving her a break because she’s progressive. Anti-Semitism is utterly antithetical to anything that deserves to be called liberal or progressive. Surely Omar doesn’t want the Democrats ensnared in the sort of left-wing anti-Semitism now haunting the British Labour Party.
Opposing anti-Semitism should be axiomatic for everyone. And for me, it’s also personal.
My observant Catholic parents moved to our city’s most Jewish neighborhood shortly after I was born, and my sister and I were raised to see anti-Semitism as sinful. My very first friends in the world were Jewish, and my late mom regularly sat down with our next-door neighbor to compare notes on Catholic and Jewish views about the nature of God. As I’ve written before, my informal second father was Jewish. A dear man named Bert Yaffe informally took me into his family after my dad died when I was a teenager, and his kids welcomed me as a brother.
Partly because of this history, but also in common with almost all liberals and social democrats of a certain age, I have always — and will always — support the existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.
I spent a month in Israel in the spring of 1974, as the country experienced searing existential anxiety after its close call in the Yom Kippur War, and I visited Kiryat Schmona, a development town in the north that suffered under regular Palestinian attacks. It was an enduring lesson in the constant fear that haunts Israelis over the prospects of their country’s survival.
But Israel’s commitment to democracy is also an important reason for my admiration, which is why I support a two-state solution and oppose continued settlements in Palestinian areas. Israel will not remain democratic if it continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza, and justice requires Palestinian self-determination.
When I covered the war in Lebanon in the 1980s, a Palestinian friend underscored for me the cost of being stateless. All he wanted, he would say, was the legitimacy that citizenship and a passport confer. It did not seem too much to ask.
Thus, my sympathies have always been with the beleaguered peace camps on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. This has led to deep frustration with Palestinian rejectionists, but also with the politics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has done enormous damage to Israel’s standing with young Americans who did not grow up with my gut commitment to Israel’s survival. His appearance before Congress in 2015 to trash President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran greatly aggravated this problem. His alliance with a virtual fascist party leading into next month’s elections is unconscionable and a gift to anti-Israel propagandists.
So, yes, I know full well that you can love Israel, be critical of its current government, and truly despise anti-Semitism, all at the same time. What you cannot do is play fast and loose with language that cannot help but be seen as anti-Semitic. I pray Omar now realizes this. At this moment, opponents of bigotry must be able to rely on each other.