Ilhan Omar and the Axis of Antisemitism
American Jews are facing a perfect storm of antisemitism. On the one side are the antisemites of the right: the hate that coalesced in the “Jews will not replace us” conspiracy chant at Charlottesville and then the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. From the left comes the pathological intersectional hatred of Israel that extends into the hatred of the 90 percent or more of world Jewry that embraces Zionism and ultimately to the Jews themselves as a people. And finally the vulgar, debased antisemitism of much of the Muslim world, part religious and part nationalist, that may well be the most violent and threatening of the three.
What we are seeing is, in other words, the emergence of an axis of antisemitism; one that threatens not only the Jews, but American democracy itself.
It is the latter two forms of antisemitism that have resulted in the recent scandals involving Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the wretched failure of the Democratic leadership in Congress to appropriately condemn her by name and antisemitism as a specific phenomenon, preferring instead to defer to their far-left and pass a pathetically watered-down resolution that elides the issue by dilution, effectively handing antisemitism its first ever legislative victory in the United States. In other words, this antisemitism, intersectional in nature, brutal in rhetoric, violent in discourse, now wields not inconsiderable political power.
The most violent faction of this axis of antisemitism is, one regrets to say, born of Islam. This religion, a descendant of Judaism itself, has always contained elements of antisemitism. Muhammad himself massacred the Jews of the Hijaz. The history of Jews in Muslim lands had its golden ages, but it also had a multitude of expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres. And it ended, we should not forget, in the expulsion of a million Jews who found refuge in the new Jewish state.
But today, in the progressive 21st century, Muslim antisemitism has become stronger than ever. A 2014 ADL survey of global antisemitism found that the most ferociously antisemitic region in the world is, by far, the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians were far ahead of almost all contenders, with a stunning 93 percent holding antisemitic opinions. Not far behind was Iraq, with 92 percent. Egypt, the most populous and influential Arab nation, came in at 75 percent. Close on its heels were 74 percent of Saudi Arabians. The survey found that, as a whole, a horrifying 74 percent of Middle Easterners hold antisemitic beliefs — 200 million out of a total population of 275 million.
This makes the Arab world by far the most antisemitic place on the globe. Indeed, few other countries managed to crack 50 percent in the survey, and Arab media testifies to the hatred’s ubiquity. Cartoons routinely appear with hook-nosed, grotesque caricatures of hideous, inhuman Jews. The blood libel is habitually invoked in print, on television, and on the internet. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a bestseller. The darkest and most debased antisemitic themes and stereotypes are so ubiquitous as to be completely normalized.
And this is not confined to the Middle East. 49 percent of French Muslims, for example, hold antisemitic beliefs, and one doubts that the number is substantially different across the rest of Europe. And this has resulted in very real violence: The heinous murder of Ilan Halimi, the pogroms against Jewish synagogues and neighborhoods, the massacre at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris, the Toulouse slaughter, and the thousand cuts of numerous other, smaller incidents of hatred and brutality that have become a catalyst for a previously unthinkable exodus to Israel of many European Jews. In other parts of the Muslim world open antisemites abound, many of them possessing great political power, such as the prime minister of Malaysia, the genocidal mullahs of Iran, and the president of Turkey.
Indeed, this culture of Islamic antisemitism is likely the origin of Ilhan Omar’s own brand of racism. To her, the ideas that Jews wield insidious hypnotic powers, are traitors to the US due to their allegiance to Israel, and use their financial acumen to bribe the powers that be to do their bidding are so deeply ingrained, so obviously true to her, that they are simply normal. They are truths that must be spoken to Jewish power, and thus she feels a moral obligation to speak out against this pervasive Jewish evil. To her, antisemitic beliefs are not an aberrant hatred, but simply reality itself.
This antisemitism is profoundly, almost organically intertwined with the Western left and its doctrine of intersectionality. Omar, after all, refers to herself on her Twitter page as an “intersectional feminist.” Intersectionality proposes that all forms of racism and oppression are interlinked, and must be fought as a single phenomenon. But in its contempt for Israel and view of the Jews as a privileged “white” community, it consciously excludes the Jews and demeans 2,000 years of Jewish oppression and suffering, and thus both betrays its own ideology and is inherently based in antisemitism.
This was nowhere more clearly shown than in the scandals surrounding the Women’s March leadership, in which it was revealed that activists like Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour had embraced reactionary antisemite Louis Farrakhan, and continued to defend him despite his genocidal rhetoric, such as calling the Jews “termites.” The fact that termites are usually exterminated did not move them. Instead we saw obfuscation, collaboration, and finally outrage at the possibility that some might disapprove of such rhetoric. It was even revealed that the Women’s March leaders had viciously berated a Jewish activist, accusing the Jews of, among other things, being responsible for the African slave trade. Sarsour was later caught claiming that Jews who support Israel cannot be real progressives. And Mallory expressly stated that “white” Jews enjoy white privilege. In the Manichean lexicon of intersectionality, in other words, the Jews are evil.
It was this intersectional antisemitism that was on display in the reaction to Omar’s racist statements. With the prominent collaboration of, tragically, the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive rock star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congressional condemnation of Omar was essentially erased. A milquetoast bill that buried antisemitism amidst a score of other malfeasances finally passed after being expunged of almost any rebuke of antisemitism generally and Omar in particular. At the same time, presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris either obfuscated the issue or outright defended antisemitism as legitimate “criticism” of Israel and its supporters. The Democratic leadership, in other words, had a chance to do the essential and essentially moral thing and condemn the axis of antisemitism. Instead they betrayed American Jews — most of whom are fiercely loyal Democrats — and debased one of America’s most cherished institutions.
At the same time, ostensibly progressive organizations and Ocasio-Cortez in particular have doubled down, charging that there is a conspiracy by Israel supporters like AIPAC against progressives, and have even begun fundraising on this basis. And this is quite conscious. Antisemitism is a powerful force, and the axis of antisemitism even more so. There are money and votes to be found in hating the Jews. Intersectional and Muslim antisemitism, in other words, have scored their first victory, and it will not be their last. Like Donald Trump, they have declared that there are “fine people on both sides” of a “debate” over Jewish power, Jewish money, and Jewish allegiance.
Faced with this axis of antisemitism, as well as a president who has thus far refused to effectively deal with his antisemitic supporters on the alt-right, one must ask where America’s Jews can go. The answer, it seems, is into the fray. American Jews must make a stand, even against those they have previously considered their natural allies, much as British Jews have created a determined, courageous, and often successful movement against antisemitic Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.
And this is not only a moral and even physical necessity, but a calling to a greater struggle, a struggle for America itself. We cannot forget that, if history has taught us anything, it is that the mainstreaming of antisemitism is always a sign of the end. Civilization, and especially democratic civilization, cannot survive antisemitism. It is a disease, and if not quickly and effectively treated, a fatal one. The battle for America’s soul has now begun.
Benjamin Kerstein is the Algemeiner’s Israel Correspondent.