I have a suggestion for Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. If David Duke, Holocaust denier and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, defends you and thinks you’re saying the right things, maybe you should rethink what you’re saying, or at least how you’re saying it.
In the continuing saga of Omar vs. the State of Israel, she has said that Israel has "hypnotized the world," suggested that Jews and Israel have bought U.S. politicians, and implied that American Jews have divided loyalties. Some pundits have labeled these classic anti-Semitic tropes, while others say her remarks are being blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
Omar has disavowed and apologized for some of what she has said. However, instead of having a serious discussion of our policy towards Israel, we seem to be stuck in an infinite loop of discussing her statements — which appears likely to culminate in a congressional resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.
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Oddly, on Omar’s official government website, she literally has nothing posted about policies toward Israel. Her campaign website says she supports a peace that affirms the safety and rights of both Palestinians and Israelis (which I agree with) but lacks specific proposals.
Omar was sworn into office in January, so she may improve as she comes up to speed. And for those of you comparing Omar with the arguably racist GOP Rep. Steve King, keep in mind that King has been making dubious comments since 2002 — so maybe give Omar another chance.
Granted, it is great fun to be endlessly debating what Omar said and meant, but let me suggest some topics we should be discussing about Israel that don't involve anti-Semitic clichés:
►Why do we continue to give so much money to Israel? It has literally been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, so far totaling more than $130 billion. America’s financial support is ongoing, with Israel continuing to receive about $4 billion a year in U.S. aid.
Israel is an affluent developed country that has a gross domestic product per capita of about $36,000 a year (around the same level as Italy, Japan and South Korea) and a GDP of an estimated $350 billion a year. If Israel needs an extra $4 billion (a bit more than 1 percent of its GDP) for its military, perhaps it should just raise its own taxes, and we should direct our aid dollars to less fortunate countries.
►Do we plan to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ties to racists? Netanyahu recently formed a de facto coalition with Otzma Yehudit, an anti-Arab political party described as racist and akin to Nazism by influential Rabbi Benny Lau. Among other proposals, the group has called for laws banning sex and marriage between Jews and Arabs.
Most of America’s Jewish community has condemned Netanyahu’s links with Otzma Yehudit. If his party wins Israel’s upcoming election in April, Netanyahu is laying plans for members of Otzma Yehudit to potentially enter Israel’s governing coalition. What actions, if any, will America take to express its opposition to these racists? If this despicable group becomes part of the Israeli government, America should make its disapproval loud and clear.
►How long will Republicans keep supporting Netanyahu? The prime minister is facing indictment on bribery, fraud and other charges in Israel stemming from three corruption investigations. Why did the GOP invite this dodgy foreign politician to address a joint session of Congress in 2015, and more generally, why does the GOP treat Netanyahu as some revered figure on the world stage?
►What about Israel's human rights record? Under Netanyahu, Israel stands accused of numerous human rights violations against Palestinians and other groups in connection with its settlements and occupation of the West Bank. Perhaps Congress should evaluate the validity of these allegations in hearings (and make sure to invite both sides, since Israel has serious and legitimate concerns about Palestinian terrorist attacks against its citizens).
This is far from an exhaustive list of all the “not anti-Semitic" critiques one could raise about America’s policies on Israel.
Omar has been subjected to many vile racist attacks, but that doesn’t excuse her thoughtless remarks.
If she and her supporters want to have a serious conversation about changing U.S. policy toward Israel, they’ll find many people in and outside the Jewish community who want to have that discussion. But if they just want to make vaguely worded comments about how “some people” control the news media, buy politicians and have divided loyalties — maybe they're just anti-Semites.
At the moment, Omar’s remarks help Netanyahu by distracting people from his many failings. For him, she is the gift that keeps on giving.
Steven Strauss, a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is an economic development specialist and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Strauss
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: You can critique Israel without sounding anti-Semitic. Rep. Ilhan Omar should learn how.