Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 3, 2018.
(photo credit: ALAN FREED/REUTERS)
In the Passover Seder next month, Jewish families around the world will recall how “In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”
That has unfortunately been historically accurate, since the days of Pharaoh, to the Babylonians, Haman, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, expulsion from Western European countries, pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust and the repeated attempts to annihilate the State of Israel.
The massacre of Jews at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in October, the most deadly attack on Jews in American history, was a painful reminder that Jews are not entirely safe in the US now.
Especially following that attack, there can be no excuse for any public figure, certainly elected officials, to engage in any form of antisemitism. It should be obvious that just like there is zero tolerance in America for statements against women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, no antisemitism can be tolerated, accepted, or explained away as ignorance.
Therefore,the dual loyalty canard of freshman Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was particularly offensive. The fact that she reaffirmed her statements even after her Democratic Congressional colleagues asked her to apologize proves Omar’s offenses were intentional. Her remarks were designed to introduce antisemitism into the mainstream debate and to legitimize and foster that discussion.
In the final analysis, antisemitism is a disease that infects the antisemite. We may be the intended victims but the disease is theirs.
The Democratic leadership disappointed the Jewish community by not insisting on a Congressional resolution exclusively condemning antisemitism. This surrender to extremists in the party’s progressive wing is a frightening omen for the future as that wing’s power grows.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn made matters worse by suggesting that Omar had a “more personal” relationship to suffering than the descendants of Holocaust survivors. For a man whose job is to build a consensus among the new Democratic majority, he should have known better.
NEVERTHELESS, THE mainstream Democratic Party remains pro-Israel. The leadership remains in the hands of unquestionably pro-Israel Congressmen and not the likes of Omar, Rashida Tlaib or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
There are 32 Jewish Democrats in the House and Senate whose efforts for American Jewry and for Israel cannot be underestimated, as well as Congressmen like Tom Suozzi who rightly condemned Omar:
“Antisemitism is real and growing,” Suozzi told CNN. “After Representative Omar made apologies in the past for statements she made in the past and now made them again, we have to be very firm in clearly speaking out against antisemitism and say you can’t do this. It’s wrong to question people’s loyalty because they’re pro-Israel.”
Suozzi said Omar’s statements “conjure up the worst antisemitic stereotypes.”
It is that mainstream Democratic Party that must be nurtured by the American Jewish leadership, so it doesn’t get taken over by extremists and overt antisemites like Labour in Britain. Those advocating giving up on the Democrats have forgotten that Israel’s bipartisan relationship is its top strategic asset.
While empowering that mainstream, it is important to keep fighting the fringes, so their views do not gradually become accepted. The best approach is that of AIPAC, which has been working sensitively to maintain support for Israel across the aisle, even when it has been dragged into the headlines.
“Charges of dual loyalty are antisemitic and insult millions of patriotic Americans – Jewish and non-Jewish – who stand by Israel,” AIPAC courageously tweeted in response to Omar’s attack. “Our alliance with Israel is in the US national interest. We will not be deterred from exercising our right to advocate for a strong US-Israel relationship.”
It is that spirit that must unite the Jewish people in the face of challenges that are intensifying. Unity in the American Jewish community is more important now than ever, as is educating Jews so they appreciate their history and background. We need to eradicate ignorance among all Jews and especially young Jews.
Each individual can do his part, simply by learning more about Israel and Judaism. An important step toward achieving both that unity and an unequaled learning experience is attending this month’s AIPAC Policy Conference.
As the Hebrew phrase goes regarding encountering obstacles: “We have overcome Pharaoh. We will overcome this, too.” We must.The writer is the co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity and serves as a committee member of the Jewish Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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