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Omar and AOC Don’t Get To Get To Define Anti-Semitism


Every few days I get a call from my dad. Last week, after catching up on family stuff and moving to the news, he asked me what a trope is, and why he’s been hearing the word so much in the past few weeks. I joked that “trope” is a word that is primarily used to make anti-Semitism sound not so bad.

That is to say, that when Rep. Ilhan Omar consistently says things that most Jews say are hurtful, it’s supposedly not anti-Semitic, but rather her “engaging in anti-Semitic tropes.”

So, what is a trope? Technically, it is the metaphorical or figurative use of a word or expression. So, in fact, my satirical definition wasn’t far off the mark. When the news media suggests that Omar is merely trading in tropes, they are absolving her of actual anti-Semitism. And it does seem to be uniquely used in this context — nobody suggested that by wearing blackface in the 1980s, Ralph Northam was engaging in a racist trope. He was just being a racist.

Omar, her colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many others on the far left have argued that there is no anti-Semitism here. They say Omar is merely criticizing Israel and America’s policies towards it.

It is certainly true that one can criticize policy without being anti-Semitic, but that’s not what is going on here. Omar, for one, has said two very specific things that are flat-out anti-Semitic.

The first, harkening back to her claims that Israel is “hypnotizing the world,” is that Jews are using their money to buy off the American government’s support of Israel. She has falsely claimed that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has paid politicians to ignore right and wrong and simply do what their Jewish benefactors demand. This claim is absurd on its face and makes reference to centuries-old claims that greedy Jews are subverting decent society with their big bags of shekels.

The second claim is that American Jews who support Israel are engaged in dual loyalty. That their real allegiance is not to the United States but to Israel and Judaism. This is also an ancient and disquieting claim, one that Nazis used to great effect in convincing Germans that Jews weren’t really on their side.

Neither of these vicious and pernicious claims has the slightest thing to do with actual American policy towards Israel — a subject on which Omar and Ocasio-Cortez are oddly quiet, for all their cackling about Jewish influence. Rather, they are blatant attacks on Jews that claim they are not acting in good faith. The idea here is that Jews and others who support Israel don’t actually care about preserving a homeland for a historically marginalized global minority, but seek only to oppress Palestinians.

In no way, shape, or form is saying that Jews are buying off the government and have dual loyalty mere tropes. They aren’t metaphors, they aren’t figurative, they are literal statements, and, yes, they are very anti-Semitic. But frankly, as bad as the anti-Semitism itself is, arguably worse is that they are telling Jews that it isn’t. They are arrogantly claiming to understand what anti-Semitism is better than Jews do themselves.

Who gets to decide what is anti-Semitic? Who gets to decide what is racist, or sexist? Do the targets of the slurs and attacks get any say in this? If a black person tells a white person she said something racist and hurtful, is it appropriate to say, “That’s just a metaphor, and by the way my broader point is correct?” It obviously is not, and that’s something that Omar and AOC would undoubtedly agree with.

But we’re just talking about Jews. You can say whatever you want about Jews. After all, as Ocasio-Cortez recently said, Jews are basically just white people complicit in white supremacy, a bizarre claim that helps elucidate why she turns a blind eye to Omar’s anti-Semitism.

Yet, as progressives who usually claim to be worried about the harmful impact of hurtful words, they seem not to care in the least that the largest rise (by far) in hate crimes in the United States over the past few years have been against Jews. In AOC’s own city of New York there is an epidemic of anti-Semitic assaults on ultra-Orthodox Jews. Is it possible––and I’m just spit-balling here––that the kind of rhetoric they use about greedy Jews abusing the system fuels some of this hatred? Do they care?

When I was in middle school, I played on a local football team. One day we arrived for a game and found banners full of insults and curse words directed at our team, presumably done by the other team. My dad, who worked as a private investigator, quickly sussed out that our coaches had put them there. He confronted them, and a scuffle ensued. I will never forget a coach yelling at my dad that he was a Jew who should go back to his own country before punching him the face. That has become almost a weekly occurrence in Brooklyn.

As someone of Jewish descent, I want to make one thing perfectly clear to both Omar and Ocasio-Cortez: You don’t get to decide what is and isn’t anti-Semitic. Claiming that Jews are buying influence and are not loyal Americans is anti-Semitic. It’s not a trope, it’s a slur.

Each and every time Omar says this, she puts Jews in danger, and she needs to stop it. Now. Here’s a simple hint: When lots of Jews of all political stripes say you are being anti-Semitic, you probably are. Omar and Ocasio-Cortez must cease defending these insults, and listen to the millions of American Jews they are insulting.