Three, young, powerful, brash women of color have come down upon the Capitol and left the old while folks there sputtering in their wake. The most well-known—so much so that she already can be recognized by her initials, AOC—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY)—has blown the doors off Congress by daring to offer her “Green New Deal” vision. The other two are both Muslim women, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. Tlaib and Omar have strongly promoted the international “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction” campaign to pressure the Israeli government to withdraw from West Bank settlements.
AOC has been allowed to thrive as a social media star, despite being treated with despicable condescension by the “senior” congresspeople and their supporters. After all, even the Democratic Party knows that climate change is real and needs immediate action.
But when it comes to criticizing Israel, Dems collectively freak out in an orgy of blatant hypocrisy that might, but probably wouldn’t, make Trump blush. Most immediate, Rep. Omar was quoted in a tweet stating that “Jewish money,” more specifically, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, influences US policy on Israel. This claim led to instant and widespread condemnation from all sides, for promoting “anti-Jewish tropes.” Rep. Omar was forced to apologize publically.
The specter of the US establishment taking the high ground against anti-Jewish comments is both pathetic and despicable. I need not catalogue the history of US anti-Judaism, both official and casual, since the beginning of this nation. One trip through the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, provides all the evidence one might want, including the infamous refusal of FDR’s State Department to admit a ship of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.
At a more personal level, my Jewish father felt the need to change the family name, “Horowitz,” to “Howard,” as well as to get a nose job, to avoid being denied jobs because of pervasive anti-Judaism in the business world. The classic film, “Gentlemen’s Agreement” (1947), dramatizes this sordid cultural context. The WASP elite that runs the US has never been fond of American Jews, unless, like blacks, we are “entertaining.”
But there is something even worse about this specific attack on Rep. Omar’s claims: Nancy Pelosi and everyone else in DC knows that Omar’s claims are totally and undeniably true.
I saw it very clearly when working for Jewish Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D, Ohio) in the 80s. Metzenbaum was a far left liberal on most issues, including being one of the greatest champions of consumers against corporate power of the late 20th century. But I learned in my first weeks on the job that on the question of Israel, AIPAC and rich Ohio Jewish donors from Cleveland ran the show. AIPAC is to Israel what the NRA is to guns: a relentless, univocal tiger that will not rest until it has both achieved its goals and silenced dissenters. (see this 2011 piece from another former Jewish Congressional staffer on the risk of challenging AIPAC: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mj-rosenberg/aipac-a-lobby-without-par_b_870943.html)
Naming this fact is no more “anti-Jewish” (it remains shocking that so many still use the incorrect term, “anti-Semitic,” which would include animosity against all Semitic peoples, including the Palestinians) than Martin Luther or Menno Simons were “anti-Christian” for pointing out the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church of their day. For that matter, Omar’s comments are in line with those of another Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who did not hesitate to call out the hypocrisies of the elite within this own tradition, as had the biblical prophets before him.
We who seek justice for all creation cannot allow courageous people like Ilhan Omar to be silenced by such accusations. We must reject the equation that being against actions by the Israeli government is “anti-Jewish” and stand together in solidarity with Omar and Tlaib for daring to challenge the Dems’ deal with Israel. And we must reject the scapegoating of Muslim women of color when they dare to uphold the values that we pray would bind us together as USAmericans and believers in the Good News.
The Jewish Jesus would ask no less from his disciples.
Wes Howard-Brook teaches theology at Seattle University and is the author of many books including “Come Out My People!”: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond (2010).