Continued Bad-Faith Weaponization of Israel Debate Harms Israelis, Palestinians and American Jews

February 13, 2019

Two days ago, J Street called on lawmakers and pundits to bring an end to the destructive and dangerous oversimplification and political weaponization of issues related to Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Semitism. While some have heeded that call, we are alarmed that others — including President Trump and many of his allies in Congress — are doubling down on political tactics and rhetoric which are harming the long-term interests of Israel and the American Jewish community.

The tweets made earlier this week by Rep. Ilhan Omar were problematic and insensitive. While there can and must be room for a nuanced discussion of the role of money in politics, the congresswoman’s comments evoked long-standing tropes about Jewish money and political influence that have been used for centuries to target and stigmatize our community. We appreciate that Rep. Omar has offered a clear apology and committed to listening and to learning more about these issues in dialogue with the Jewish community, her colleagues and other important partners.

Even in the wake of this apology, President Trump and other right-wing leaders are continuing to brazenly exploit this incident to engage in partisan warfare — and to squelch legitimate, substantive debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US foreign policy in the Middle East. They seek to falsely tar the Democratic party as “anti-Israel”, to drive a wedge among Democrats and to create an atmosphere of fear in which legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies will be reflexively dismissed as “anti-Semitic.”

What makes these attacks particularly egregious is that the president and many of his allies have disgraceful records of using xenophobic rhetoric and imagery to target vulnerable minority communities. Indeed, President Trump has repeatedly evoked anti-Semitic tropes and failed to seriously condemn the anti-Semitism of some of his own supporters. In a 2015 speech, then-candidate Trump told the Republican Jewish Coalition that “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.” The closing ad of Trump’s 2016 campaign villainized prominent Jewish individuals and was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for using “images and rhetoric….[that] touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages.” When white supremacists in Charlottesville chanted anti-Semitic slogans and killed protester Heather Heyer, President Trump shamefully said that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Congressional Republicans have not only failed to criticize or hold the president to account for these actions — some have engaged in such conduct themselves. During last year’s midterm elections, a number of Republican candidates, including Leader Kevin McCarthy, exploited hateful stereotypes about Jews and money in their campaign materials — for which they have never apologized.

We need to be clear: Those who routinely demonize and scapegoat ethnic and religious minorities out of ideological conviction or to gain political advantage, have zero credibility in the important fight against anti-Semitism. Efforts by Congressional Republicans to act against Rep. Omar without reckoning at all with their own destructive rhetoric should be treated as shameful political posturing.

All who care about combating bigotry and promoting a better future for Israelis and Palestinians must refuse to allow bad-faith, hyper-partisan attacks to dominate or restrict important discussions about anti-Semitism, Israel or US foreign policy. The political weaponization of these issues is doing tremendous damage to the American Jewish community, to our national political discourse and to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace. It needs to stop.

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