A lawyer’s truism advises: When your case is weak, pound away at your desk to boost your defense. The antisemite’s truism advises: When your case is weak, pound away at your gender or racial or ethnic grievances, to obscure your offenses.
The Democratic Party’s cave-in last week to Rep. Ilhan Omar was dastardly, not just cowardly. Bad enough that Democrats were intimidated by Omar and her Palestinian enabler Linda Sarsour.
Earlier in the week, when it looked like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was going to do the right thing and specifically condemn Omar’s antisemitism, Sarsour posted an ugly, personal attack, calling Pelosi “a typical white feminist upholding the patriarchy doing the dirty work of powerful white men.... God forbid the men are upset – no worries, Nancy to the rescue to stroke their egos.” Sarsour admitted: “Our top priority is the safety of our sister and her family.”
Within days, Pelosi and the Democrats diluted a resolution specifically condemning antisemitism, adding so many forms of hatred, it was like passing a resolution condemning thunderstorms, car accidents and cancer.
With that resolution, Pales-stain-ianism conquered liberalism and subdued the new Democratic congressional majority. No, I am not committing an Omarism and imputing to Sarsour or the Palestinians some evil, hegemonic power. I am, however, confronting the ideology behind the Democrats’ reprehensible retreat.
Consider the central mystery here: How could Democrats crusade against Donald Trump’s “bigotry and other forms of intolerance” – I am quoting their 2016 platform – yet justify Omar’s bigotry?
This isn’t about the old “What’s the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism?” debate. Omar isn’t criticizing Israel or Zionism. She’s doing what bigots do. Instead of addressing specific actions, she keeps going essential, characterizing Jewish behavior broadly, with her lines about “the Benjamins” – meaning, Jewish money supposedly seducing Congress – and Jews’ alleged foreign “allegiance.” Essentialism is the essence of bigotry, caricaturing a people’s character, not characterizing their actions.
Such inconsistency forced Democrats to overlook the words the speaker used and focus on who the speaker was – as Sarsour’s post directed. Omar’s status as a “sister” whose “safety” is “our top priority,” her color and gender pitching her against the “patriarchy” of “powerful white men,” make her invulnerable to criticism. You then reason backward, not from her ugly words to their meaning, but from her unquestioned virtue to then draining the meaning and ugliness out of her words.
It’s the same kind of reasoning that can have people who claim to abhor sexism, racism, dictatorship and terrorism championing the Palestinian cause. Steeping the Palestinians in their status as virtuous victims excuses them of any wrong – making Israelis incapable of doing anything right.
Pales-stain-ianism emphasizes the broader damage such shoddy, essentialist yet relativist reasoning causes: Just as blind support for Palestinians has blemished the United Nations since the 1970s, the Democrats’ blind support for Omar just stained them and the Congress.
It’s not about her religion or her gender or her life story. It’s about her words. They were despicable and deserve unanimous condemnation – even if she is anti-Trump or a Muslim woman. And, yes, bigots shouldn’t serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Where are the Democratic Party’s leading lions to fight consistently against bigotry and wipe this stain away? Where is the great civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, who in the past, when Jews were attacked, so eloquently quoted Martin Luther King’s words: “I solemnly pledge to do my utmost to uphold the fair name of the Jews – because bigotry in any form is an affront to us all.” Lewis is the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus – why can’t he bring some moral clarity to this mess?
THE DAMAGE has been done. Now, the Jewish community and other Americans of conscience must decide what to do.
I hope that the AIPAC Policy Conference will turn into a mass brainstorming session responding to this Democratic betrayal. Bipartisanship cannot mean blindly supporting both parties, no matter what. We must tackle antisemitism Right and Left. We should shore up the pro-Israel alliance Left and Right. But bipartisanship becomes blinders if we cannot single out one party, or members of said party, when they’ve let us down. And there’s no point in gathering 18,000-plus pro-Israel supporters in March 2019 for a mass exercise in air-kissing.
AIPAC’s leaders should shelve the program they worked so hard to develop, and create a new one to respond to the last month’s outrages.
Supporters of Israel, of American democracy, should reward our friends, punish our enemies and educate our own people about the rights and wrongs in fighting bigotry. Those who stood up for truth and justice last week should be thanked; those who didn’t should feel our displeasure.
Finally, an important opportunity is arising now. The “invisible primary” wherein presidential hopefuls try lining up financial and political support has begun. Omarism and Sarsourism, this Pales-stain-ianism menacing the Democratic Party, has now provided a clear litmus test. No Jewish patriot, in fact, no American patriot, should give a dime or endorse any politician who cannot condemn antisemitism specifically, from the Right or the Left, from white males or women of color, from Christians or Muslims, from those we love to hate, and from those we used to love – until they betrayed us.
Fight bigotry clearly, consistently. Judge by the words, not the speaker; by the effect, not the intent; by the real truth, not the partisan posture.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.