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What I try to remember in the age of outrage

I’m a Jewish American. My grandparents all emigrated from the Czarist Russian empire, where Jews were oppressed and persecuted. My wonderful American life all traces to that, for which I’m grateful and I try never to take that for granted.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the biggest organized act of genocide in history, it was an appropriate and necessary action to create a national homeland for the Jewish people. This became Israel, the site of the ancient Jewish homeland.

I completely understand why, especially to Jews, the attitude toward anti-semitism must be zero tolerance.

I support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, but that support is tempered by my understanding that the creation of Israel has become a colossal tragedy for the Palestinian Arab Muslims that had been the majority population in that territory for centuries.

I completely understand that if I was Palestinian, I would have far less sympathy for the creation and existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and from that point of view, the creation of Israel and the “Nakba” were the seminal tragedy of that people.

As a general matter, when Israel has had a government that seemed to understand the justice of that duality, and sought to create a two-state solution, I have been supportive. The past two decades, in which Israel has been dominated by the right-wing Likud bloc, and the last 10 under Benjamin Netanyahu, make it harder and at times impossible for me to sympathize with the policies of the Israeli government, especially as they regard a just settlement of these issues.

If I had been born a Muslim, an Arab and especially a Palestinian, I suspect not only my sympathies but my basic understanding of the history above would be substantially different, perhaps opposite and extremely heartfelt. The key facts above would be remembered in a different order of priority.

Now let me get to the recent controversy over Ilhan Omar, who is my representative in Congress. She is a Muslim, a refugee from oppression and, yes, genocide, in Somalia, born in 1981. Her worldview has been shaped by a very different set of events. The Holocaust of the 1940s may seem remote to her. I won’t pretend to understand all the ways in which her background causes her to see the world differently than I do.

But I do try to understand. And it gets in the way my experiencing the full outrage others feel over her recent comments.

I would be happy to live in a world where the attitude would be zero tolerance toward anti-Semitic tropes about “the Benjamins baby,” and implying that American Jews who support Israel are somehow not fully patriotic Americans. Omar shouldn’t have said those things. And she should work harder to stop saying them, and maybe act like she really gets what was wrong with them.

But the attitude toward racism and anti-Islamic prejudice should also be zero tolerance. And it isn’t. And I would aspire to be almost as committed to eradicating those prejudices as to prejudices against the group into which I was born.

Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/08/2019 - 03:48 pm.

    As you say, she is YOUR representative in Congress, not just Somali’s, who i believe are a minority in the 5th district. She probably received more votes from non-Somalis than from Somalis, given the demographics.
    And with a B.A. in political science (from SDSU), she should not be naive about the connotations of her statements.

  2. Submitted by Scott McGerik on 03/08/2019 - 03:55 pm.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your ability to see the issue from multiple perspectives. I understand the hurt that Ilhan Omar’s words have caused but I have been dismayed by the hyperbole on both sides of the aisle.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/08/2019 - 03:55 pm.

    “…I would aspire to be almost as committed to eradicating those prejudices as to prejudices against the group into which I was born.”

    As would I.

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 03/09/2019 - 08:41 am.

    “I would be happy to live in a world where the attitude would be zero tolerance toward anti-Semitic tropes about “the Benjamins baby,” and implying that American Jews who support Israel are somehow not fully patriotic Americans.”

    Zero tolerance of bigotry sounds good. Where I struggle is in interpreting a criticism of congress for being influenced by political donations as an anti-semitic trope. The donor being AIPAC rather than the NRA or AFL-CIO should be irrelevant. I understand the offense at the dual-loyalty charge a little more, but also question the motives of congresspeople who seemingly support the netanyahu government unquestioningly, when it has become a roadblock to peace in the region, which should by this country’s primary interest. Being critical of Netanyahu is surely not the same thing as being anti-Israel or anti-semitic.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2019 - 09:04 am.

    I’m not sure Omar was suggesting that lobbying on behalf of Israel is unpatriotic, she was just pointing out the fact that the lobby exists, and like any other lobby, specially powerful lobby’s, they spend significant amounts of money.

    Frankly I wonder if this entire affair wasn’t triggered by AIPAC overreach?

    Listen: Everyone should remember that the context of Omar’s comments orbits around a nationwide legislative effort to restrict boycotts, divestment’s, and sanctions against certain sectors of the Israeli economy. These BDS actions aren’t being promoted by Nazi’s, they’re initiated by people of conscience who as a general rule are seeking an peaceful end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These are not necessarily enemies of Israel OR Jews.

    Anti- Israeli BDS legislation has passed in the US Congress, and 33 State’s (including Minnesota), as near as I can tell, Omar’s only sin is that she’s discussing this issue openly and publicly. Until now this nationwide legislative initiative has been nearly invisible to most Americans… show hands: how many of you reading this knew that anti-Israeli BDS legislation was passed and signed into law by Governor Dayton something like two years ago? And why can’t we discuss these facts without being accused of anti-Semitism?

    Getting back to the overreach- my question is pretty simple: Why did supporters of Israel NEED this legislation in the first place? Why not simply let the debate unfold like it did with South Africa or any other government that people of conscience take issue with? Why can’t we just discuss Israeli policy? Maybe the real mistake here was pushing this legislative agenda in the first place?

    And by the way, the fact that a nationwide agenda like this could be successfully promoted in the first place, clearly reveals the power of the Israeli lobby. Can you name another country that could accomplish this? Imagine the Russians trying to pull something like this off, or the Chines? The technical aspects of this are irrelevant, even though AIPAC doesn’t put money directly into campaigns, you can’t look at a wildly successful project like this and just say: “AIPAC shmaypack”. Somehow it got done.

    I’m not complaining about the Israeli lobby, they can lobby if they want to, but this my government that being lobbied, and it’s my government that’s passing this legislation- that gives me skin in the game and we HAVE to able to discuss this without being accused of anti-Semitism don’t we?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2019 - 08:17 pm.

      It appears that Russians did far more to influence U.S. elections than AIPAC or any other Jewish organization.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2019 - 10:46 am.

        Paul, I think it might be time to stop bringing Clinton’s humiliating defeat into every conversation. The effect of Russian influence has been greatly exaggerated by Democrats trying to deflect responsibility their own fiasco, that’s not the issue here.

        The power of the Israeli lobby dwarfs anything the Russians can accomplish, and it’s been an ongoing force in American politics for decades. The power of the Israeli lobby isn’t about interfering in US elections, it’s about setting legislative agendas and foreign policy, and itn THAT regard Israel has been by far the most successful foreign lobby for decades.

        Can you even imagine a speaker of the house inviting any other president or prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress without notifying the President? Can you name another foreign leader who has addressed Congress under those circumstances and given a speech directly to the US Congress in opposition to the Presidents foreign policy initiative… an initiative that the this very Congress has yet to vote on? Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi inviting Putin to address a joint session of Congress so he can argue about lifting sanctions on Syria?

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2019 - 09:54 am.

    I’d like to just take a few moments to share my own personal feelings and perspective.

    I’m not a Jew, in fact I’m an Atheist so my religious knowledge is always dodgy at best no matter what the religion. I grew up surrounded by Jews, in fact growing up, most the adults in my life were Jewish. My mom worked for Leon Bongard for decades and spent a lot time around those guys. I went to school with and knew Steve Hunegs. I grew up digging tunnels in the big snow pile on the Talmud Torah parking (in it’s old location on 33rd). During recess I played with the kids who came out to play in our tunnels. My nephew was Bar Mitzvah’d at Temple Israel, my sister, brother in law, niece and nephew are Jewish.

    None of this makes ME Jewish, or establishes any Jewish bonafides but that’s not my point. My point is this: I can’t tell you what high holy days are or when they happen, but these people are my friends and family and love them and care about them.

    One more thing: I’m a lefty Lucy liberal/progressive.

    Recently another Jewish acquaintance of mine wrote an article in TC Jewfolk about Omar. In his piece he expressed the feeling that American liberals are abandoning Jews. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this complaint. Here’s the thing: The difference between the US today and Germany in the 1930s… is American liberals. When Nazis show up, like they did in Charlottesville NC, who was it that drew a line and stood on it? Who was it that put their bodies and lives on that line between Nazis and Jews,and blacks, etc.? And if Nazi come here, I’ll be on that line. People were beaten, shot, and killed in Charlottesville, that’s a weird display of abandonment isn’t it?

    So here’s the thing- when the people who put their bodies and lives between you and Nazis with guns are your new enemies, but a Fascist in the White House is your new best friend… I think you need stop and look around, because there might be a sound here that you’re not hearing.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2019 - 11:12 am.

      One of the things that European Jews learned in the thirties was that some of the people who they thought were their friends were quite willing to turn them in.
      Reform Judaism started in Germany — German Jews were highly assimilated. In the end, people who thought that they were Germans rather than Jews found that they didn’t have a choice. You are right that there are differences; history never repeats itself exactly, but there are also parallels.
      Some of your post sounds like the old trope:
      ‘Some of my best friends are Jews.’
      I first heard this when I was seventeen, from the mother of a shiksa that I was dating. The mother claimed to have nothing against Jews, but she thought that her daughter could do better than marrying one (not that I had any intention of marrying at that time;-). She seem to think that any contact with me would reduce her daughter’s market value.
      Requisite joke:
      The Philadelphia rabbi who said ‘Some of my best Jews are Friends’.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/11/2019 - 11:05 am.

        Paul, is there anything that ISN’T a trope? Hey, if you want to trust Trump instead of liberals that’s your call. All I know is that the legislators who passed all of this anti-BDS legislation didn’t show up in Charlottesville. And we know what Nentanyahu’s new best friend had to say about Nazis. If you want to be more worried about being betrayed by American liberals than fundamentalist Christians that’s your choice.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/11/2019 - 07:08 pm.

          This is a bit of a non sequitur.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2019 - 08:44 am.

            Non sequitur?

            Not to belabor a nit-pick but I’m old logic/philosophy guy. Let’s diagram this out:

            Ant-Semites are those who attack Jews
            Fascists and Nazis attack Jews
            Therefore American liberals who attack Nazis and Fascist are anti-Semites.

            THAT’S a logical non sequitur. I hate to say but as this whole conversation progresses it’s becoming more and more clear that “tropism” itself is the biggest non-sequitur in the room.

            Nentanyahu’s affiliation with Trump is well documented. If someone criticizes Nentenyahu for that affiliation, are they being anti-Semitic?

            Here’s a logical proposition… I’ll start it, you finish it:

            Trump is an anti-Semitic Fascist.
            Nentanyahu is a ally of Trump.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/12/2019 - 09:30 am.

              Does not follow.
              Symbolic logic needs facts to tie it to the real world (yes, I’ve taken a few courses in logic too).
              The fact that Trump associates with antisemites may increase the likelihood that he himself is antisemitic, but it does not -necessarily- imply it. I think that his failings are more general than that.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2019 - 11:17 am.

                Again, not to nit-pick, but not logic is NOT about tying to facts to the real world, if you learned that in your logic class you got it wrong.

                Logic about testing the internal consistency of a proposition, you learn that the first day of logic. If I tell you I have a space ship that can travel at the speed of light, and that it takes light 4.6 hours to travel from the earth to Pluto, and that I can take that space ship travel to Pluto and back in ten hours, That’s a perfectly logical proposition, whether my space ship exists or not is irrelevant, the “fact” of the spaceship is a completely different question. If I claimed I could get to Pluto and back in ONE minute, THAT would be a logical non-sequitur because it violates one of the supporting premise, not because my spaceship doesn’t exist.

                Setting the technical nature of logic aside, I note that you’re now defending Trump from charges of anti-Semitism, while claiming that American liberals who challenge Nazis are simply expressing another anti-semitic “trope”. Let’s not be tooooo hasty in accusing Trump of being anti-Semitic, I mean let’s not get carried away here… but nobody else can even turn around without bumping into an anti-Semitic “trope” of some kind?


                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/12/2019 - 11:45 am.

                  I have never defended Trump from anything. I’m not sure which of my statements you’re misinterpreting.
                  You’re the one who presented a partial syllogism with the intimation that it said something about the real world.
                  And you might check out necessary vs. sufficient conditions.

                  • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/13/2019 - 09:46 am.

                    Not to continue the nit-picking but seriously Paul, you need to re-take your logic class. Yes, a spaceship that travels the speed of light is a NECESSARY condition in my proposition, but the actual existence of such a a necessary condition of logic.

                    Getting back to Trump, this is a public forum and we can all read what is written here, you wrote:

                    ” The fact that Trump associates with antisemites may increase the likelihood that he himself is antisemitic, but it does not -necessarily- imply it. I think that his failings are more general than that.”

                    Clearly you’re refusing to acknowledge Trump’s anti-Semitism, and you are in fact defending him against MY charge of anti-Semitism by doing so. Trump isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite, but Omar is?

                    It’s a free country, you can choose your allies, but Trump seems to be a weird ally.

  7. Submitted by Noel Martinson on 03/09/2019 - 01:46 pm.

    I would like to see the discussion move into a different direction. How do we criticize AIPAC and the impact of their campaign contributions without being called anti-Semitic? How do we openly disagree with the policies promoted by the Israeli government without being called anti-Semitic? It seems to me we have been successfully diverted from the issues Ilhan Omar was trying to raise and got bogged down in whether her choice of words could be construed as anti-Semitic. As a simple and probably ignorant Midwesterner, I find the disproportionate reaction to the use of “Benjamins” and “allegiance” more about anti-Islamism than anti-Semitism. My gosh, what a minefield we have to walk through to get to any unwanted discussion of AIPAC or Israel.

    • Submitted by Robin Holt on 03/10/2019 - 09:13 am.

      While AIPAC is concerning, the first thing Ms Omar’s comments made me think of was CUFI, which is Christians United For Israel. I happened to be in Washington in one of the first years of organizing was was appalled by what I was reading in the local papers about the conference. This was a group who publicly support Israel, but their support is based on a quiet wish that the the Israeli state exists so the end times can begin and Jesus can return. Essentially, they are asking for the death of all non-Christians. I wish Ms Omar’s comments could be put in context of and contrasted with those of CUFI supporters.

  8. Submitted by Erich Russell on 03/09/2019 - 02:12 pm.

    The problem with the Zionist solution of establishing Israel is that the State by rights should have been carved out of Germany. That shoe would have fit. But the UN solution was visited on the Palestinians. The Zionists never had the slightest intention of being confined to the UN boundaries established in 1948 and immediately set about expelling Palestinians from “Greater Israel” by force and terrorism. The UN’s embrace of the occupation sealed the deal and left the Palestinians stateless. Now the complaint that Palestinians won’t recognize Israel is positively risible. Israel, of course recognizes Palestinian sovereignty over not so much as one square inch and is carving what remains into apartheid banton territories while starving the Gazans under blockade.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2019 - 04:21 pm.

      I don’t think you would find many Jews willing to relocate back to Germany after the Holocaust. And they had, which Germany would you carve the new Jewish State out of? East or West? Remember Stalin killed an many Jews as Hitler.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2019 - 08:22 pm.

      As a point of fact, the greatest number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust were Polish, not German. Most of the death camps were not in Germany.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2019 - 10:53 am.

        Paul, thank you, I stand corrected. I can see how Polish Jews would have been happy relocate to the former epicenter of Nazism after the war… since so few concentration camps had been located there.

    • Submitted by Mary McCarthy on 03/10/2019 - 11:10 am.

      Let’s not be disoriented, as two commenters were, by the tongue-in-cheek suggestion (right?) regarding a European location of the Jewish State, when the important part of Mr. Russell’s remarks relates to the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians. Lost is the possibility of a two-state solution, which would respect the homelands of many peoples, the Arab as well as the Jew or the Christian.
      I weep for those in Israel and Palestine, not the least because both countries are terrorized by (their own) leaders who see new apartment buildings as an acceptable incursion on their freedoms.
      Rep. Omar has been excessive in her language, but I find the accusations of anti-Semitism being lobbed her way to be excessive as well.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2019 - 11:21 am.

      Some truth, but if you look at the 1948 boundaries, it was not a viable state, and as soon as the British left the surrounding Arab states attacked.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 03/10/2019 - 06:34 pm.

      Or it could have been carved out of the U.S., which had a whole lot of sparsely occupied land.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/11/2019 - 09:25 am.

        Most of which is worse than the Negev.
        Take a look at an Indian reservation — their main crop is casinos.
        Besides, in 1922 Congress set an immigration limit on Jews, which virtually eliminated Jewish immigration to the United States.

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/09/2019 - 03:28 pm.

    Please educate me.

    The phrase, “It’s all about the Benjamins” was in response to to a tweet from Glenn Greenwald about how hard it is to criticize Israel.

    In the 2018 election, successful House candidates received an average of $23,000 from pro-Israel groups. Successful Senate candidates received an average of $77,000 from pro-Israel groups.

    I am not aware of any other country that consistently reaches into House and Senate races to that extent.

    As I am not aware of any other friendly that country, where the support or lack of, can be a make-or-break issue for a candidate, with the support or lack of support having cleaving lines along moral and religious lines.

    As I am not aware of any other developed country that receives as much US aid as Israel, especially considered on a per capita basis of the recipient country.

    Seems to me, that is a “lot of Benjamins” going both ways. Is it naive to thing that money is being spent in the expectation of certain result–going both ways across the Atlantic?

    What other country has it supporters trying to limit boycotts against that country? In Texas, it is a lawful condition of government contracts that the contractor cannot participate in a boycott against Israel. What other country has its leader address Congress to fight against the proposals of a US president?

    These are all Israel’s issues–that are generally carried out in the support of a group determined to more closely entwine the state of Israel and the Jewish faith to make policy decisions move into the realm of religious belief and attack.

    Last year, Pelosi said ““If this capitol crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain would be our commitment to aid — I won’t even call it aid — our cooperation with Israel.”

    So definitely a “special relationship” with money and influence strongly tied up together.

    A good read:

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2019 - 04:24 pm.


      That law in Texas has been passed in 32 other States, including MN. And recently passed in the US Congress.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2019 - 08:26 pm.

      What other country is being boycotted?
      There are government sanctions against Iran and Russia — these are not popular boycotts by citizen groups.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2019 - 10:50 am.

        Paul, if you want to boycott someone else you’re free to do so… because there is no legislation punishing you if you do.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2019 - 04:59 pm.

          My point is that there is currently no boycott targeted at any other country (despite there being a number of good candidates); the only other one I can recall was South Africa.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2019 - 10:12 pm.

            Dude, there are a lot of boycotts underway at any given moment. But even if Israel were the only one, so what? No one can boycott anyone unless others are also being boycotted? I don’t remember hearing that argument when we were occupying Ford Hall at the U. in the 80s to demand South African divestment. Nobody asked: “what other countries are being boycotted?”

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2019 - 03:19 pm.

    I’m surprised that no one has brought up

    The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy Paperback – September 2, 2008
    by John J. Mearsheimer (Author), Stephen M. Walt (Author)

    Her ideas appear related to theirs, and given her background in Poli Sci (B.A. from SDSU) I’d be surprised if she was not familiar with their book.

  11. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/11/2019 - 10:25 am.

    As an old man with no dog in this fight, I have trouble understanding the outrage at Omar’s statements. I understood and still understand her “all about the Benjamins” to mean it’s all about Congressional response to AIPAC influenced political contributions and they power AIPAC wields as a result. She might have said the same about the NRA or any other organization or industry lobbying Congress. Some will say I’m blind not to see the “anti-Semitic trope” in her statement. I suggest they try to see it through a less defensive (and offensive) lens.

    As for the “allegiance” issue: again, I don’t understand her remarks to have been anti-Semitic. One can question whether a particular organization’s goals are detrimental to the interests of the United States without being anti-Semitic, just as one can criticize the actions of a nation without condemning its people. (We do it all the time here at home.) Like Mr. Black, I have had a very difficult time justifying American support for some Israeli actions in recent decades. The past 20 years of settlements in the Occupied Territories, for example, has convinced me that Israeli leadership and certain factions in Israeli society have no interest in a two-state solution and are intent on creating a situation on the ground that would render it impossible.

    I am not as convinced as Mr. Black that creation of a Jewish homeland was a post-war necessity. In hindsight, the West’s acquiescence in the establishment of a theocracy was one of the last mistakes of the colonial era. What else might have been done I cannot say. What I can say is that it should not have been done on the backs of those displaced or imposed upon surrounding nations. Creating refugees to make room for refugees is never a good idea.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/12/2019 - 10:40 am.

    Personally, I agree it is about the Benjamin’s, or does someone believe that “Citizen’s United” made our country less politically corrupt? Wasen’t there a recent article about the presidential candidates having to raise ~ $1M a day between now and the end of the year. Lobbyist expect something for their money, just because its an Israel oriented lobby that gets tagged dosen’t change the facts. Its a good and fair conversation we should be having, without the hyperbole.

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