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Rep. Omar’s Dilemma: AIPAC, Zionism and Weaponized Identity Politics

Teodrose Fikre
21st Century Wire

It happened once again; someone committed the egregious sin of speaking the truth only to be vilified by establishment voices. This time around, it was Ilhan Omar, Minnesota’s freshman Representative–and a refugee from Mogadishu, Somalia–who was mauled by her own party and the media-politico complex for daring to criticize AIPAC.

The charges of antisemitism were thrown at a furious clip as politicians on both sides of the aisle and media personalities across the spectrum were hell-bent on making an example out of Omar and lashing her into submission. Within short order, Representative Omar was forced to backtrack and apologize for saying something she never said.

Let’s get one thing clear, criticizing AIPAC and Zionism is not antisemitism. The former is a lobbying group and the latter is a political philosophy that is rooted in ethnic supremacy. Rebuking one or both is to antisemitism as denouncing Democrats is to racism or refusing to vote Hillary Clinton is to misogyny. It’s one thing to disavow bigotry, it’s a whole other ballgame to stifle dissent and silence deserved condemnations by loosely throwing around unfounded accusations of racism, sexism or antisemitism.


Rep. Ilhan Omar was interviewed by CNN’s senior operative Christiane Amanpour about her view on the undo influence of the Israeli Lobby over US politics.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the way Democrats have perfected the duplicitous practice of leveraging racism and sexism as a means of defending themselves from criticism. I made it clear in the article that the issues of racism and sexism are very real; my aim was not to minimize the hardships too many people face due to no fault of their own other than being born of a certain hue or gender.

However, to hide behind the pains faced by marginalized groups in a naked attempt to intimidate people and silence speech is a most cynical act of cowardice and totalitarianism.

Let me make this clear, assigning blame to Jews for the sins of a few is a despicable act of bigotry and is in fact antisemitism. For centuries, Jews have faced insidious aspersions because some happen to do better than most communities. Instead of appreciating their sense of solidarity and reinvestment that creates an atmosphere of shared success, too many would rather bash them while refusing to reinvest in their own communities. Perhaps more of us should study and implement Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs, where boys and girls entering their teens are brought before the community and a bond of accountability is formed between that child and the adults in the room. These are not practices to be loathed but customs to be emulated by more people.

As a first generation immigrant from Ethiopia, I appreciate very well the pains many Jews feel. After all, during the very time that Jews were getting gassed in chambers by Hitler, my grandparent’s generation were getting liquidated by Mussolini’s gruesome chemical weapons. If the world had spoken out against the evils of Nazism and Fascism, perhaps the lives of millions of Jews and Ethiopians could have been spared. The foundation of both genocides was vengeance built on the premise of collective judgement. Hitler blamed all Jews for the dire conditions Germany endured during the 1920s while Mussolini was intent on paying back Ethiopians for the bitter pill of defeat Italy tasted during the battle of Adwa.

Throughout history–from “African-Americans” to Native-Americans to China and beyond–collective judgment has led to the most horrific acts of genocide against various groups of people. The malicious practice of assigning collective blame takes on an insidious undertone when Jews are associated with greed and power. The capital larceny that is choking most nations and suffocating the lives of billions around the world is not the work of any one race, gender, religion or nationality. Just because some Jews happen to be uber-rich doesn’t make all of them guilty of a global conspiracy anymore than all “black” people are guilty of being homicidal puppets because Obama loved to drone nations that never attacked us.

Having once felt repression does not give anyone the right to repress others. If anything, people who felt the heat of iniquity should be the first to speak up against injustice.

However, what happened with Representative Omar was not collective judgment but a focused chiding. What got Omar in hot water was a tweet that she sent out over the weekend where she responded to a tweet that Batya Ungar-Sargon,the opinion editor at the Forward, sent her. When Sargon asked Omar who she thought was paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. Representative Omar tweeted back “AIPAC!”

Had Representative Omar replied back that Jews were paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, you would not be reading this article today–you would instead be reading a rightful condemnation. However, Representative Omar said that AIPAC was essentially bribing politicians and by extension coercing them to enact policies and legislation that favor Israel. In DC, lying is custom but telling truth is blasphemy.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is in fact one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the world. There are few things in our nation’s capital that are bipartisan, but currying favor from AIPAC is a favorite pastime of both Democrats and Republicans. Lost amidst the sea of Russiagate propaganda is the fact that Israel has near veto power when it comes to America’s political process. Every presidential election, politicians on both side of the aisle who aspire to capture the White House trek to Israel to get the blessings of AIPAC. Saying that AIPAC exerts tremendous influence over both parties is not a defamation but a matter of record.

It is also a fact that AIPAC is a Zionist organization. What is wrong with Zionism you ask? Zionism is a philosophy founded by Theodor Herzl that espoused an exclusively Jewish homeland. That by itself is not problematic, a lot of “African-Americans”, from Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X also embraced “black” homelands. I don’t agree with it, but if people want to be with their own kind and refrain from taking in the broad diversity of humanity, that is their right to do so.

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What makes Zionism toxic is that it espouses supremacy of one group of people over others. Zionists used the biblical reference of “God’s chosen people” to elevate themselves above everyone else. As always, humans have a way of inverting faith to serve their own purpose. “God’s chosen people” is not about superiority, it’s a parable of a people who are chosen to endure much so that they can give back more to humanity. The “chosen people” are the ones who feel the most oppression which imbues them with the compassion to redeem others who suffer too.

Far from choosing compassion, Zionists opted to pay back the malice their parents faced by dolling out venom towards Palestinians. When others push back against the apartheid they have reconstituted in Israel, Zionists insist that they are “chosen” to have their own domain. For the record, Apartheid means “apartness” in Afrikaans; when walls are erected to keep Palestinians apart from Jews in Israel, reasonable people are left few options but to call Israel an apartheid state.

Though we are being conditioned to rage against injustice through ideological or identity blinders, we must be morally consistent when speaking out against intolerance. When Germans evoked Aryan exceptionalism, they were rightly castigated by the world. Anyone who claims that their kind is better than others are bigoted racists, period. It is based on this false-notion of primacy that Zionists currently impound Palestinians behind more sophisticated version of the very walls that Nazis used to imprison Jews in the ghettos of Berlin, Warsaw and German occupied territories in the 1930s.

There are plenty of Jews in Israel and beyond who find the treatment that Palestinians endure unconscionable. Are we to assume that Jewish groups like Neturei Karta or Jewish Voices for Peace are anti-Semites? Are we to assume that the 327 Holocaust survivors and their decedents who signed a letter condemning Israel for their horrific treatment of Palestinians are likewise anti-Semites? The signed letter notes:

“Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”

This same letter likewise castigated the United States for blindly aiding Israel as the IDF wages a brutal crackdown against Palestinians and use collective judgement to indenture men, women and children into lives of bleak hopelessness. “Genocide begins with the silence of the world”. These are the words of the letter’s signatories. The letter ends with this most powerful reminder:

“Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”

Are we to believe that the 327 Jews who rebuked Israel and called for a boycott of Israel are anti-Semitic? Following the lead of AIPAC, and the most zealous Zionists who have an iron grip on discussions about Israel in America, anyone who deviates in the slightest way from accepted orthodoxies is promptly dismissed as an anti-Semite and is either drummed out of office or forced to bend the knee to apologize.

This type of concerted intimidation and coordinated character assassination against anyone who dares criticize Israel’s policies, AIPAC’s overbearing practices and the racist philosophy that undergirds Zionism only feeds into the ugly stereotypes that some extremists have of Jewish people as a whole. The United States Congress is currently trying to implement a law that would effectively outlaw free speech by punishing businesses or organizations that take part in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The dissent against Israel that is currently being stifled by de facto means can, in short order, be muzzled by de jure methods.

I am not sure what was worse, watching a bunch of pious Republicans who love Jesus on Sundays and invert His teachings the rest of the week or witnessing mealy-mouthed Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chelsea Clinton as all sides have a pander competition on behalf of AIPAC. The fact that one organization can have this much clout over politicians proves Omar right. AIPAC is not the only game in town, our government has been completely hijacked by special interests and moneyed lobbyists. I know I just triggered someone into calling me an anti-Semite for associating AIPAC with money—facts are a stubborn thing. It bears repeating, condemning a lobbying firm that happens to represent Israel’s interests is not the same thing as blaming all Jews.

AIPAC’s influence on elected officials is so onerous and their power so heavy-handed that we no longer have a viable debate about the wisdom of giving Israel billions of dollars worth of weapons that is in turn used against Palestinians and the surrounding areas. This is not to give cover to Hamas or any other group who intentionally target Israeli citizens and revert to terror campaigns by killing innocent men, women and children. But fighting terror with terror only creates perpetual terror, this might be great for the military-industrial complex, but it’s not good for humanity. The fact that both parties so quickly condemned Omar on-demand is not an indication of a democracy but a manifestation of a government that is thoroughly beholden to special interests.

I know that I will be accused of antisemitism for writing this article, I welcome that attack since I’m Ethiopian and consequently part Semite. The history of Ethiopians and Hebrews is inseparable; Ethiopian kings and queens have been referred to as the Lions of Judah for a reason—Ethiopians are called the lost tribe of Judah. Jew is a derivative of Judah. I no more hate Jews than I hate my own faith; as a Christian, I am keenly aware that the Old Testament I read is the Torah that millions of Jews worship. There are tens of thousands of Beta Israel Jews who are currently living in Israel. My stance against Zionism is no more an attack against Jews than my stance against the KKK is an attack on “white” people.

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” – Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel—a man who saw first-hand the brutal horrors of concentration camps and coordinated campaigns of hatred—said these words in defense of our common humanity. There are some who want us to be outraged when crimes are committed against their kind but wish us to remain silent as they commit crimes against others. Never again means never again; we must advocate shalom (peace) for all and condemn bigots without bias to their identity or ideology. Moreover, we must not allow anyone to weaponize suffering to shield themselves from criticism as they proliferate human suffering.

***
Author Teodrose Fikre is the founder and editor of the Ghion Journal, and a former defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught.

An original version of this article was first published at The Ghion Journal.

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