March 11, 2019


How Not to Fuel Anti-Semitism When Discussing Israel (Bill Scher, March 11, 2019, RCP)

In Omar's telling, she is not treating pro-Israel lobby groups any differently than she treats other lobby groups. She is criticizing them all for pressuring politicians to put the special interest ahead of the public interest.

The narrative that well-financed donors and special interest lobbies are what thwart the public will is deeply embedded in our discourse. Just as the left blames Big Oil for our lack of action on climate change, so does the right blame Big Labor for resistance to reform of public schools and government bureaucracies. [...]

What Omar and her defenders chafe at, in Omar's words, is accusations of anti-Semitism that are "designed to end the debate." But it is not hard to construct arguments critical of Israeli government policies that do not go near anti-Semitic tropes; there's nothing bigoted about criticizing the Israeli government's settlement policies or its efforts to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. The rhetoric only gets uncomfortably conspiratorial when discussing pro-Israel lobbyist influence, and assuming the underlying motives of those lobbyists.

The way to avoid crossing the line into anti-Semitism is to first conduct a thorough assessment of whether unethical lobbyist influence really is distorting the behavior of our government. Then, if so proven, lay out a carefully crafted case that can hold up to scrutiny. If a robust and productive debate about Israeli policies is the objective, then consider whether that objective will be achieved with cheap shots about foreign "allegiance" and clap-back tweets about "the Benjamins," or with hard facts.

Both the left and the right have a tendency to scapegoat special interest influence as a useful foil for which to galvanize support, and as an excuse to rationalize any difficulty in earning sufficient support. But the obstacles to reform are often more complicated than our preferred pat narratives would suggest, and understanding the complexity is necessary to develop successful strategies. Just because we are comfortable being simplistic when discussing most political issues, that's no reason to do so on a subject where simplicity is oxygen for hate.

Posted by at March 11, 2019 9:53 AM