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.