Discriminating Tastes

There are those who never buy shoddy anything – their clothes are finely tailored and well made – like everything else – and they know fine wine from dreck – and they are not ostentatious. What they own is elegant and understated. They’re cool. They won’t deal with nonsense. Look at that car they’re driving. They have discriminating taste. Discrimination is a good thing. And there are those who don’t want “those people” anywhere around them – the blacks, the Irish or the Catholics (long ago) or the Jews (not so long ago) or Hispanics or Muslims or Arabs or Asians or gay folks. They can’t live here. They can’t buy things here, or eat here, or drive around here – and they cannot go to “our” public schools with “our” kids – and we “don’t hire their kind” – and so on. But they can live here and work here and all the rest – at least most of them can. The law (now) says so. Discrimination is a bad thing. We’re all in this together. Accept these people, or if not that, tolerate them. If not that, shut up and follow the law. You may have exquisite discriminating taste – you wouldn’t be caught dead chatting with a Frenchman or a rapper – but keep it to yourself. Tolerance of others is now mandatory.

That’s not going to work. That’s just not working:

Democratic leaders moved Tuesday to broaden a resolution condemning anti-Semitism to encompass other types of religious bigotry after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other liberal lawmakers and groups bristled at the attempt to sanction Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments targeting supporters of Israel.

Top party officials drew up plans specifically targeting anti-Semitism – circulating a draft Monday that did not mention Omar (D-Minn.) directly but came in response to remarks she made last week suggesting that Israel’s supporters have an “allegiance to a foreign country.” But Tuesday those plans were thrown into doubt after the response split the Democratic caucus, with several lawmakers angry that the House was poised to vote on a measure indirectly condemning Omar while failing to denounce the vitriol that she has faced as a Muslim.

There’s a lot going on here. Ilhan Omar was suggesting sometimes support for Israel makes no sense. Benjamin Netanyahu can be a jerk. Israel has done some nasty stuff. Sometimes what is in their interest on this or that is not at all in our interest. People should see that, but to criticize Israel is considered anti-Semitic. Somehow that nation is the religion, or maybe that nation is the people as an ethnic group defined by DNA strands and shared history, not exactly the religion itself with its theology and doctrines. Or the nation is neither – it’s just a political entity. Maybe this nation is just a nation, and the nation of Israel can do dumb things. Can one say that? That’s not an attack on Jews. That’s an attack on a political position. And an attack on Netanyahu, and his Likud Party, is not an attack on all Jews. That’s an attack on a guy who is a bit of a jerk now and then. Seeing this any other way seems odd, a kind of dual allegiance to another country. That’s the issue here.

The other issue is that’s it’s now fashionable to hate Muslims. They’re the new Jews. Many groups are the new Jews:

Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told her 3.4 million Twitter followers Tuesday that “no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities,” mentioning an incident in which Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) shouted “Go back to Puerto Rico!” at Democrats during a floor debate this year.

“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’ ”

The tweets were an implicit critique of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who moved to put the anti- Semitism resolution on the House floor after Omar’s comments last week prompted several Jewish members to push for a rebuke.

That misses the point:

Twice this year, Omar has apologized for tweets that critics said had anti-Semitic overtones, but she has defended her latest comments questioning Israel supporters’ “allegiance” – arguing that she is only raising questions about Israeli government policy and U.S. support for it.

She was making a distinction, she was discriminating one thing from another, but no one else was:

Omar’s allies pointed to an incident last week in the West Virginia state capitol where a sign was posted at a state Republican Party event falsely linking Omar, an immigrant from Somalia who wears a traditional Muslim headdress, with the 9/11 attacks. They suggested the House should rebuke that behavior, as well.

They’re considering that, but the White House and the Republicans are going the other way:

Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets came hours after President Trump used his Twitter account – with nearly 59 million followers – to lambaste Omar: “Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel,” he said. “Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!”

Questioned about the resolution, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was time for the country “to think again about anti-Semitism,” and criticized Omar without mentioning her by name.

“It seems to be more fashionable in Europe; it seems to be more fashionable in this country, regretfully, among at least some members of the new class in the House,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly news conference. “We need to stand up to it in every way we possibly can.”

Stand up for what? This was getting odd:

On Monday, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) tweeted that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable” – prompting Ocasio-Cortez to ask him publicly to “further explain his stance.”

“I remember a time when it was ‘unacceptable’ to question the Iraq War. All of Congress was wrong, including both GOP & Dem Party, and led my generation into a disastrous + wrong war that virtually all would come to regret,” she wrote.

And some things need to be discussed:

A combative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally launched his election campaign Monday, urging his supporters to rally around him because victory was no longer guaranteed amid his mounting legal woes.

“We have to win,” he told hundreds of members of his Likud party in a hotel just outside Tel Aviv. His supporters stood on chairs and cheered so loudly that the prime minister’s words were barely audible.

“Bibi, king of Israel,” chanted the crowd, using Netanyahu’s nickname in a twist on a Hebrew song about the biblical King David. Thousands more gathered to watch the Israeli leader speak on screens set up outside.

But not so fast:

With just 35 days to go before Israeli elections, Netanyahu is feeling the heat. Calls for his resignation have increased since Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Netanyahu’s legal team Thursday of plans to charge the prime minister with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three criminal cases, pending a hearing in which he can present his defense.

Netanyahu has maintained his innocence and called the legal cases against him a left-wing plot.

But he is in trouble. Fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three criminal cases are serious charges. They’d be just as serious if Benjamin Netanyahu were a Lutheran minister from Minnesota. But he isn’t. So say nothing about him.

Paul Waldman finds that absurd:

In what is surely the most shameful decision of her current term as speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided that the time has come for the House to rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for things she didn’t actually say, and ideas she didn’t actually express. In the process, Pelosi and other Democrats are helping propagate a series of misconceptions about anti-Semitism, Israel, and U.S. political debate.

So it’s time to clarify matters, with this disclaimer:

To be clear, I do this as someone who was raised in an intensely Zionist family with a long history of devotion and sacrifice for Israel, but who also – like many American Jews – has become increasingly dismayed not only by developments in Israel but by how we talk about it here in the United States.

So there was this:

In the latest round of controversy, Omar said during a town hall, regarding U.S. policy toward Israel, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This comment was roundly condemned by members of Congress and many others for being anti-Semitic. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) called her statement “a vile anti-Semitic slur” and accused her of questioning “the loyalty of fellow American citizens.”

Pelosi then announced that the House would vote on a resolution which, while not mentioning Omar by name, is clearly meant as a condemnation of her. It contains multiple “whereas” statements about the danger of accusing Jews of “dual loyalty.”

And there’s some truth to that:

For many years, Jews were routinely accused of having dual loyalty, to both the United States and Israel, as a way of questioning whether they were truly American and could be trusted to do things such as serve in sensitive national security positions.

That charge was anti-Semitic, because it was used to allege that every Jew was suspect, no matter what they thought about Israel, and that they could not be fully American because they were assumed to have too much affection for another country. It wasn’t about the particulars of U.S. policy or what Jews at the time were advocating; it was about who they (allegedly) were, their identity.

But this is something else:

The whole purpose of the Democrats’ resolution is to enforce dual loyalty not among Jews, but among members of Congress, to make sure that criticism of Israel is punished in the most visible way possible. This, of course, includes Omar. As it happens, this punishment of criticism of Israel is exactly what the freshman congresswoman was complaining about, and has on multiple occasions. The fact that no one seems to acknowledge that this is her complaint shows how spectacularly disingenuous Omar’s critics are being.

And then there’s this:

You may have noticed that almost no one uses “dual loyalty” as a way of questioning whether Jews are loyal to the United States anymore. Why has it almost disappeared as an anti-Semitic slur? Because, over the last three decades, support for Israel has become increasingly associated with conservative evangelicals and the Republican Party.

Not coincidentally, this happened at the same time as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most prominent and influential pro-Israel lobby, went from supporting Israel generally to being the lobby in the United States for the Likud, Israel’s main right-wing party. While AIPAC works hard to keep Democrats in line, its greatest allies are in the GOP, where support for Israel and a rejection of any meaningful rights for Palestinians have become a central component of party ideology. When the most prominent advocates for Israel are people such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, “dual loyalty” loses any meaning as a slur against Jews…

 “Supporters of Israel” hasn’t been a synonym for “Jews” since the 1980s. I have to repeat this: In the United States today, a “supporter of Israel” is much more likely to be an evangelical Christian Republican than a Jew.

Waldman finds all of this absurd:

Ilhan Omar certainly didn’t say that Jews have dual loyalty. For instance, in one of the tweets that got people so worked up, Omar said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”

You’ll notice she didn’t say or even imply anything at all about Jews. She said that she was being asked to support Israel in order to have the privilege of serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was true. Many on the right have called for her to be removed from that committee. Her argument, to repeat, isn’t about how Jews feel about Israel. It’s about what is being demanded of her.

That’s a demand from the folks that Jordan Weissmann remember here:

In early 2015, as the Obama administration was deep into negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stridently opposed the deal, to address a joint session of Congress. The speech itself, which was intended to convince Congress to scuttle the agreement, turned out to be a dud. Instead of shaming Democrats into opposing the deal, Bibi seemed to unify them in support of it. But the public spectacle of a foreign leader attempting to undermine the American president on U.S. soil at the request of his political adversaries was symbolically striking. Later, polling would show that GOP voters generally felt more warmly about Netanyahu than their actual commander in chief. “Republicans haven’t just rejected Obama. They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader,” Slate’s Will Saletan wrote at the time.

“Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests?” he continued. “When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?”

The feeling did not subside, and the young congresswoman is stuck, but not wrong:

I find Omar’s rhetoric tone-deaf, but haven’t seen compelling evidence that she has any real animus toward Jews. The more likely explanation for these statements is that she’s an inexperienced politician who arrived at the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia at age 12 and probably came of age in left-wing circles where vocal opposition to Israel was the norm, and there wasn’t a lot of thought given to words that Jews consider anti-Semitic dog whistles. Once the outrage crested last week, she could have shown a little sensitivity to people’s concerns and backed down. But I have trouble blaming her for not doing so.

First, this week arguably demonstrated her broader point. She gave a talk about how accusations of anti-Semitism tend to silence critics of Israel. In response, she was swiftly called a “Jew hater.”

Second, there’s the sheer hypocrisy factor. Many of the Republicans attacking Omar now have shown little if any concern about their own party’s use of anti-Semitic tropes. And as Omar points out, they also haven’t shown much concern about the Islamophobic attacks or death threats that have come her way…

Omar’s not wrong to highlight just how difficult it is to question the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to want that to change. “It’s almost as every single time we say something,” she said moments before her allegiance remark, “our advocacy about ending oppression, or the freeing of every human life and wanting dignity, we get [labeled] something and that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that, and nobody ever gets to have the proper debate about what is happening with Palestine.”

So there is a lesson here:

While her approach has been somewhat counterproductive for the Jewish American left-wing activists who are more emboldened than ever to speak out about what is happening with Palestine, her willingness to throw herself into a highly fraught political issue and not back down is admirable. If Israel’s most devoted U.S. backers are really so concerned over dual loyalty smears, maybe they should think more carefully about how they’re encouraging them.

Maybe they should think more carefully about all of what Mehdi Hasan identifies here:

So let me get this straight: The president of the United States has called neo-Nazis “very fine people”; retweeted neo-Nazis; told an audience of Jewish-Americans that Israel is “your country”; and indulged in viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. While running for office, he tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton inside a Star of David, next to a pile of cash; told an audience of Jewish donors, “You want to control your politicians, that’s fine”; and put out a campaign ad that attacked three rich and powerful Jewish figures. While a private citizen, he insisted only “short guys that wear yarmulkes” should count his money and kept a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches on his bedside table.

He has never apologized for any of this. Nor has he been censured by Congress.

Since coming to office, he has hired, among others, Sebastian Gorka – who made the Nazi-linked Hungarian group Vitézi Rend “proud” when he wore its medal to an inauguration ball – and Steve Bannon, who didn’t want his daughters attending a particular school in Los Angeles because of “the number of Jews.”

Neither of them has apologized. Nor have they been censured by Congress.

In the Senate, Ted Cruz has denounced “New York values” while on the campaign trail, and Sen. Chuck Grassley has suggested that Jewish philanthropist George Soros paid the protesters who confronted then-Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator with their stories of sexual assault last October.

Neither of them has apologized. Nor have they been censured by Congress.

In the House, Republican members have referred to themselves as “David Duke without the baggage,” accused Soros of turning on his “fellow Jews” and taking “the property that they owned,” claimed that Soros funded the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, sat on panels with white nationalists, invited a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union, and tweeted that three Jewish billionaires — Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer – were trying to “buy” the midterms.

And then there’s this:

The House Democratic leadership will try and formally censure Rep. Ilhan Omar – a black Somali-American Muslim woman who came to the United States as a refugee, and who, in recent days, has been compared to the 9/11 terrorists by Republicans in West Virginia and described as “filth” by an adviser to the president – for saying that she wanted “to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Her fellow congressional Democrats have said little or nothing about the aforementioned and shameful Republican record of anti-Semitism, but many have joined the pile-on against Omar. One of them – Rep. Juan Vargas – went out of his way to insist, rather revealingly, that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”

So my simple point is this: Whether or not you agree with Omar’s remarks, whether or not you were personally offended, anyone who tells you that these nonstop, bipartisan political attacks on her are about fighting anti-Semitism is gaslighting you.

Of course they are. Tolerance of others is now mandatory. That was never going to work. Everyone has discriminating tastes, and a streak of nastiness.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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