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Common Dreams, February 27, 2019

As an American Jew and an American Muslim, we find the cycle of attacks on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Angela Davis, and others deeply troubling. These attacks reflect a weaponization of the “anti-Semitism” charge against certain individuals (especially Muslim and/or Black leaders supporting Palestinian human rights), which turns progressive allies against each other and ignores the real source of physical threat to our Jewish (and Muslim and Black) siblings.

There is no doubt that anti-Semitism is alive and well. The FBI reported a 37% increase in anti-Semitic crimes from 2016 to 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available). Islamophobia has also increased sharply in recent years, as we face some of the highest levels of anti-Muslim hate crimes in our nation’s history along with hateful rhetoric and policies from the highest levels of our government (such as the Muslim Ban). And Black Americans are still victims of hate crimes more than any other group in our country, with a 16% increase from 2016 to 2017.

With the Jewish, Muslim, and Black communities (among others) under increased attack, it is worth inquiring into the source of the threat. Research makes clear that it is predominantly white men from the extreme right who perpetrate hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, and Black Americans (not to mention against immigrants, Latinx people, Asians, transgender people, and other marginalized communities). The rhetoric, proposals and actions of the current administration have further provided fuel for the increased hate in our country, and constitute direct attacks on the rights of many marginalized communities.   

Despite all this, and even after a neo-Nazi gunman last year committed the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history (the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh), it is shocking that the main targets of outrage over anti-Semitism have been members of marginalized communities on the progressive left who are critical of the administration and Israeli policies, as opposed to those posing a real threat to Jews, Muslims, and Blacks alike in our country.  (Notably, the final straw that motivated the Pittsburgh shooter was the synagogue’s work with Muslim refugees.)

It is important to ask why marginalized community members are the main targets of outrage, and who benefits when marginalized groups are pitted against each other. Indeed, who benefits when progressive movements are undermined?

Rep. Ilhan Omar, an outspoken and successful American Muslim Black woman, embodies the very threat to patriarchal white supremacy and colonialism that many in power find so disturbing. That alone is enough to provoke predictable attacks against her from some. But she has further broken the majority silence by US politicians when it comes to pro-Israel lobby efforts, and -- with Rep. Rashida Tlaib -- openly supports the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Given the widespread support for Israel from politicians of both parties, her statements have also provoked attack from liberals, and it is these attacks that we find particularly disturbing -- and, indeed, dangerous to Jews, Muslims, Blacks, and other marginalized groups.

While we do not excuse, endorse, or seek to explain away all statements made by Muslim or Black leaders, it is crucial that we separate legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies from unwarranted accusations of anti-Semitism. Criticizing Israel (or lobby groups that promote pro-Israel policies) is not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish, just like criticizing Saudi Arabia (or lobby groups that promote pro-Saudi policies) is not Islamophobic or anti-Muslim. ...
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