Progressive Jews worry that criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar will stifle debate about Israel

Many see value in the conversation Ilhan Omar spurs and defend her right to freely raise these questions without enduring attacks herself.

By Eugene Scott | The Washington Post | Mar 7, 2019

‘We are concerned that the timing of this resolution will be seen as singling out and focusing special condemnation on a Muslim woman of color — as if her views and insensitive comments pose a greater threat than the torrent of hatred that the white nationalist right continues to level against Jews, Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minority groups in our country.
‘It is also our view that the far greater threat to the Jewish community — to its security and its values — comes from the surge of ethno-nationalism and racism that forces on the right, including President Trump, have unleashed here and across the globe.’
— J Street statement

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D.-Minn.) has drawn attention — and criticism — for her statements about Israel. Many people, including top lawmakers, have condemned Omar’s comments as anti-Semitic and called on her to apologize.

But she has also received messages of support from members of the Jewish community, who are critical of Israel’s policies and worry that the blowback against Omar will stifle debate.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which advocates for Israel to pull out of the West Bank, wrote that critiques of Israel like Omar’s are essential:

“It has never been more important to be able to distinguish between the critique — even the harshest critique — of a state’s policies (Israel), and discrimination against a people (Jews),” she said. “Israel does not represent all Jews. Not all Jews support Israel. Speaking out for Palestinian human rights and their yearning for freedom is in no way related to anti-Semitism, though the Israeli government does its best to obscure that.”

Educator Jonah S. Boyarin wrote in Jewish Currents, a liberal Jewish magazine, that Ilhan’s comments shed light on broader concerns about U.S. foreign policy.

“Progressives hoping to effectively tackle the US–Israel relationship need to address the broader constellation of interests that drive US policy in the Middle East, including the national security state, defense companies, and the Christian right, all of which deserve similar scrutiny,” he wrote.

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