Is Rep Ilhan Omar anti-Semitic?

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somalian immigrant, has been insisting that we need to publicly condemn Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Israel itself. This mistreatment includes illegally occupying Palestinian land on which Jewish Israeli’s build so called “settlements,” excessive use of force against Palestinians protesting their treatment (since 2000 Israeli soldiers have killed 9 Palestinian, including women and children, for every Israeli killed by a Palestinian), and legally restricting the citizen rights of Israeli Arabs (i.e. imposing apartheid on Palestinians living in Israel) in an effort to keep Israel both democratic and Jewish with a “one state solution” that would make Jews a minority). All of my Jewish friends, including some Israeli Jews, also condemn these horrible acts. The issue is well summarized by Andrew Sullivan: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/how-should-we-talk-about-the-israel-lobbys-power.html?utm_source=fb&fbclid=IwAR1B12R8xQ0PTQhRO3u2f0nPO2ssSPmdZCEbbYbnvWNByClY2zuNgXaV9TE

So why is Ms. Omar being condemned as an anti-Semite by some (those who, in my opinion, are simply diverting the conversation away from Israel’s bad behavior)? It seems to arise from her complaints that “‘I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel,’ Omar tweeted March 3 in response to critics. ‘I find that to be problematic and I am not alone.’” Washington Post 3/11/2019 https://wapo.st/2TEMzt9. More specifically, and this is where critics have focused, she has complained that the so-called Israel Lobby has blinded American’s to Israel’s bad behavior. “On Feb. 27, Omar told an audience at a town hall event in Washington, D.C., that accusations of anti-Semitism were meant to silence her criticism of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”  Ibid. In my opinion the charges of anti-Semitism reported in the above Post article, prove her point.

Some people were particularly offended by her reference to the “Dual loyalty” of many Americans (Jewish and non-Jewish) to both our own country and to Israel.  I do not respect anyone who uncritically agrees with anything and everything their hero says or does whether it is Trump, Putin, or Bibi (I like some of Trump’s policies and dislike others, but disrespect the man). The same goes for governments. Given the strong reaction (claims of anti-Semitism) of any criticism of Israel in earlier years in the U.S. (we now see a regression to those days) I was pleasantly surprised on my many visits to Israel that a critical public discussion of Israeli policies and behavior was far more open and honest there. We should not be surprised or concerned that organizations such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee champion a particular point of view. That is what they exist for (just as the Log Cabin Republican’s and other policy oriented groups exist to propagate a point of view). What is unusual is the amazing influence that AIPAC has had on American foreign policy, often against America’s best interest. If you are not aware of this read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

It is natural and usual for any of us with origins in another country (that would be most of us) to retain sympathies for the fatherland even when condemning bad things it might do. My Russian American friends, for example, can’t help smarting a bit at criticisms of Putin even when they fully agree with them. The country that gave us some of the world’s greatest literature and music has also given us the gulag, etc. But no one, at least no one I know, would dream of calling me anti-Russian when I condemn Putin.

I have not read every word from Rep Omar, but I have not read anything that suggests she is anti-Semitic. She has raised important points about the policies and behavior of the Israeli government.  President Trump’s, and for that matter his predecessors for many years, uncritical acceptance of Israel’s outrageous treatment of the Palestinians in their charge, should be challenged. Those diverting the discussion by labeling those of us who condemn Israel’s behavior as anti-Semitic are exploiting America’s very understandable sympathies for the horrors of the holocaust and a long history of anti-Semitism. But such charges and diversion are dishonest and a disservice to the best interests of the United States (and I would say of Israel as well).

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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1 Response to Is Rep Ilhan Omar anti-Semitic?

  1. Thorvald says:

    Well written

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