Criticism of Israel is not the same as criticism of Judaism – By Mohamed Hamaludin

New U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was denounced recently for comments deemed anti-Semitism, an ancient term that has come to be interpreted as hatred for Jews. Her tweets on Feb. 10 included it’s “all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to the $100 bill with Benjamin Franklin’s image, which was taken to mean that the Jewish lobby had bought off members of Congress.

Omar, a Somali American Muslim, quickly apologized. But she stuck to her criticism of the influence of lobbyist money on politics, including from AIPAC — the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. She was wrong because AIPAC does not make campaign contributions.     

Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill also ran into trouble when, in a 20-minute speech at the United Nations, he called for the creation of one state for all Israelis and Palestinians, “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” His terminology was loaded because the anti-Israel Hamas group uses similar language. Hill explained that was not his intent, adding, “Unfortunately, we are in a moment where any critique of the Israeli government is called anti-Semitic. Any call for Palestinian freedom is seen as an attempt to diminish Israeli freedom.” But CNN immediately dropped Hill as a contributor.

At least 137 nations support Israel’s right to exist and most of the world acknowledge Judaism as one of the great faiths. Still, Jews are understandably sensitive to bigotry. They have been victimized for much of their history, including six million killed in the Holocaust in 1941-45. In the U.S., where they are about 1.5 percent of the population, neo-Nazi Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Oct. 27.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted a “nearly 60 percent” increase in anti-Semitic acts in 2017: “1,015 incidents of harassment, including 163 bomb threats against Jewish institutions, up 41 percent from 2016; 952 incidents of vandalism, up 86 percent from 2016; and 19 physical assaults, down 47 percent from 2016.” But there is indeed a difference between religious bigotry and political opinion and activism.

One sore point is the continuing building of settlements on Palestinian territory which Israel seized in the wars. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wrote in The Guardian last Nov. 1 that the creation of Israel forced six million Palestinians into in exile; 2.9 million live in the 2,173 square-mile West Bank and another two million in the 141-square-mile Gaza Strip, “an open prison subjected to regular destruction through the full force of Israel’s military apparatus.”

Bringing home the exiles, most of them Muslims, is another seemingly intractable issue. Israel, whose eight million citizens live on 8,019 square miles, fears that repatriation would eventually lead to Jews becoming the minority. To emphasize the point, Israel last July passed the “nation state” law which downgrades its 1.7 million Arab citizens, or 20 percent of the population, to “special status.”  The legislation declares that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.”

Israel’s long-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is the architect of the hardline policy towards the Palestinians, especially the use of military force, but only because the United States, Israel’s biggest supporter, has not used its influence to hold him in check. Even the Obama administration, which had a dim view of Netanyahu, approved in September 2016 a $38 billion military aid package over 10 years. Also, the U.S. has not publicly demanded from Israel a response to reports that it has between 75 and 400 nuclear warheads.

President Donald Trump has now decisively shifted the Israel-Palestine policy, including remaining silent on additional settlements, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, which it illegally annexed in 1967, and moving the U.S. embassy there. He cut off funding to a United Nations agency which aids millions of Palestinian refugees and $200 million in economic aid, and closed the Palestinian mission in Washington.

An irony of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is that while Trump has become buddies with Netanyahu, in the U.S. Jews/Israelis face violence and verbal attacks from neo-Nazis, some of whom surfaced publicly after the president’s election victory, and the spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes coincided with Trump’s tenure. The president himself said after a clash between white supremacists and protesters in Charlottesville, N.C., that there “were very fine people, on both sides.” This schizophrenic policy is probably due to pressure on Trump from Evangelicals, who believe Jesus will have a second coming in Israel.

Generally, though, Democratic and Republican administrations have not been tougher on Israel because it suits American foreign policy to have the region destabilized – another aspect of the schizophrenic policy because Trump has close relations with Saudi Arabia, one of the countries that have not recognized Israel — and  because of oil.

That is the scenario in which Omar and the other Muslim woman in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, who is of Palestinian heritage, have to function as they promote the Palestinian cause. Florida Senator Marco Rubio visited the Colombia-Venezuela border and warned Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro via CNN not to use violence on protesters: “The consequences will be severe and they will be swift.” Rubio is among lawmakers who immediately criticized Omar. He can still go to Palestine on a fact-finding mission. But don’t hold your breath.

____

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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  • Trevor  On 02/22/2019 at 8:23 am

    Many of the oil investors in Guyana are Jews.

    Many of the crooked slave owners during Dutch Guiana were Jews.

    My ancestors revolted against Jewish slave masters in Berbice, Dutch county of Guiana.

    But if I were to say this in Canada or USA, I’d end up in prison for “anti-Semitism”. The white man has found a way to play a victim class by converting to Jew-ish.
    Ish is a suffix as “like”. The real Jews are probably of North African or Arabian background, not pale as Bolshevik Zionist Russians or Eastern Europeans.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 02/23/2019 at 7:30 pm

    Kahanist Caper Casts Netanyahu as Prince of Darkness and Trump on Steroids

    Even AIPAC broke its usual silence after Netanyahu legitimized followers of the infamous Rabbi Kahane, who was a household name in America before setting foot in Israel

    Chemi Shalev | Haaretz

    The stench from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foul deal with admirers of Meir Kahane’s rancid racism was so strong that it crossed the oceans and compelled even the normally obedient and circumspect organization AIPAC to break their silence.

    The extraordinary condemnation issued by AIPAC, flimsy as it was, is a symptom of the nausea that swept through American Jewry in the wake of Netanyahu’s unabashed efforts to legitimize the Kahane-inspired Otzma Yehudit party in order to ensure his re-election.

    The AIPAC statement could also confound Netanyahu’s plan to use his scheduled appearance next month at the group’s annual conference and turn it from a sure-fire platform for political propaganda to a risky gamble that could do him more harm than good.

    The thousands of delegates who will come to Washington on March 24 will undoubtedly try to maintain a semblance of business as usual and will likely accord Netanyahu the standing ovations he’s used to, but what was supposed to be a victory march on Netanyahu’s triumphant way to the White House has now turned into a tense arena with hidden dangers lurking in every corner.

    This has been the trend so far in the current election campaign:

    Netanyahu’s recent visit to the U.S.-brokered anti-Iran summit in Warsaw, which was slated to showcase his diplomatic prowess, ended in a humiliating fiasco at the hands of a Holocaust-revising Polish government.

    Similarly, Netanyahu’s planned Moscow meeting with Vladimir Putin last week will be remembered only because of the reason for its cancellation:

    Netanyahu’s wish to dedicate his all too koshering Kahane’s disciples and bring them into the fold, for fear of losing their votes and support.

    AIPAC’s rare reprimand, which cited the far harsher condemnation published by American Jewish Committee (AJC), highlights Netanyahu’s personal contribution to the ongoing crisis of confidence between Israel and American Jews.

    In a normal election campaign in any sane country, such a strategic failure would feature prominently in attacks on the incumbent by his challengers.

    But as Josef Stalin famously quipped about the Pope, American Jewry has few divisions in the Israeli electorate. If Netanyahu hadn’t ventured so brazenly beyond the pale, the split with U.S. Jews wouldn’t have been mentioned at all.
    Netanyahu’s embrace of Otzma Yehudit undercuts one of the main talking points used by Israel’s defenders to deflect accusations that Israel, in general, and Netanyahu, in particular, are RACIST TO THEIR CORE.

    The outlawing of the Kahane-inspired movements Kach and Kahane Chai (“Kahane Lives”), along with their general boycott by the political mainstream, served as a fig leaf that blurred Israel’s gradual slide to nationalism and ethnocentrism.

    As he proved in his odious 2015 Election Day warning against “Arabs coming in buses” to the polls, and ever since with the nation-state law, the hunt for BDS activists, the Knesset’s anti-democratic legislation and many more, the total damage wrought by boycott movements, human rights NGO’s “funded by Europe” and hostile leftists in general, pales in comparison to the irremovable stains embedded by Netanyahu himself on Israel’s image.

    His perennial incitement against the traitorous left and ongoing efforts to turn it into a scapegoat for all his own shortcomings are similar, in this regard, to Netanyahu’s campaign to belittle his own transgressions by attacking the media and the agents of Israeli law.

    AIPAC, AJC and similar Israel advocates maintained their code of silence throughout most of Netanyahu’s controversial last term in office, but his courtship of Otzma Yehudit is an exception that proves the rule, for the simple reason that it doesn’t involve largely unknown Israeli politicians such as Likud’s Miri Regev or Habayit Hayehudi’s Betzalel Smotrich.

    For most American Jews, certainly those over 40, Kahane is a household name. He’s also one of a handful of Jewish figures whose views were routinely compared to NAZI ideology.

    Kahane was born in Brooklyn in 1932 and was murdered by an Al-Qaida operative at Manhattan’s Marriott Hotel in 1990. He is a graduate of most prestigious yeshivas in the Big Apple, launched his public career in New York and became a persona non grata for most American Jews long before he immigrated to Israel in 1971. He became a famous, albeit notorious, public figure for founding the Jewish Defense League (JDL), resorting to violence in support of Soviet Jews, numerous brushes with the law – as well as persistent reports of serving at times as an FBI informer – and his infamous alliance with New York Mafia Joseph Colombo, on behalf of “persecuted minorities”.

    Kahane’s racist statements unnerved American Jews in an era when they were still considered rare and reprehensible, and deteriorated further once he landed in Israel and started pursuing an independent political career.

    Which is why, contrary to the nation-state law, the efforts to stamp out dissent, the anti-democratic legislation and more, American Jews could not dismiss Netanyahu’s flirt with Kahane’s disciples as yet another “internal Israeli affair” they could ignore, or as one more hate campaign launched by the Jewish state’s detractors.

    The usual bleach is ineffective in whitewashing Netanyahu’s Kahane stains.

    American Jews know what Kahane represents and where his latter-day heirs are heading. Netanyahu’s embrace of Kahanism is a bridge too far, even for those who normally view any public criticism of Israel as heresy.

    Netanyahu’s Kahane caper compels his followers to confront his image as a prince of darkness who feeds on the baser instincts of his subjects and as a politician who is willing to turn Israeli democracy into scorched earth in pursuit of power and evading the long arm of the law.

    In the hysteria that is increasingly gripping Netanyahu as he faces the unified opposition of his main challengers, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and the impending decisions of the attorney general on his criminal files, it’s reasonable to assume that no one in his proximity dared mention the potential ripple effects of his moves on American Jews.

    Netanyahu’s willful blindness proves his total indifference to the sensitivities of the greatest Jewish diaspora. His disdainful Saturday night dismissal of the protests against his move proves how little he cares or comprehends.

    Perhaps the most stinging of all for American Jews is that Netanyahu’s unabashed embrace of the closest thing Israel has to American white supremacists confirms that his attachment to Donald Trump is just as ideological as it is strategic.

    The worn excuse used by his defenders, by which Netanyahu’s clashes with Barack Obama and subsequent adulation for Donald Trump are simply realpolitik pursued to safeguard Israeli interests is rendered ludicrous by the clear demonstration that the U.S. president is a source of inspiration for Netanyahu on the domestic front as well.

    With the prism of hindsight provided by the Kahane incident, Netanyahu’s vicious attacks on the media, his onslaught against the rule of law and his disdain for Israel’s liberal values and democratic underpinnings paint him as a WANNABE TRUMP ON STEROIDS, seeking to emulate his hero.

    In the cause of Kahane’s disciples, the student has outdone his mentor:

    Trump may have signaled his sympathies for white supremacists but was repeatedly forced by public pressure to distance himself from their beliefs.

    Netanyahu has gone much farther: He has rescued the Kahanists from their previous isolation and laid down a red carpet on which they can march out of the gates of hell to infect the Israeli politic with their deadly virus and to paint Israel as Trumpistan and Kahanestan combined.

    MORE THAN RAGE, AMERICAN JEWS ARE CONSUMED BY SHAME.

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