For months, Rep. Ilhan Omar has been the target of a slew of attacks for her criticism of the Israeli lobby. President Trump and the Republican establishment charge her with anti-Semitism. Establishment Democrats, consistent with their policy in the conflict, pile on the denunciations and also condemn her statements as anti-Semitic. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coordinated the condemnation of Omar’s words from the top five House Democratic Leaders. “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” the five said in their joint statement, in which they called on Omar to immediately apologize.
Where do this knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism come from? They are a product of important alliance between Israel and the American state. To denounce the crimes of Israel and to support the Palestinian people is to question the U.S. empire in the Middle East.
Donald Trump: The Islamophobic and Anti-Semitic President
Throughout his electoral campaign, Trump made several Islamophobic statements. “Our country,” he said, “cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” Moreover, he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
In his statement, he also quoted the think tank Center for Security Policy, founded by Frank Gaffney Jr.—one of the most notorious Islamophobes in the country—to argue that “large segments of the Muslim population have hatred for Americans.” Thus it was no surprise in January 2017 when Trump signed an executive order, the so-called Muslim ban, that barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The Muslim ban also suspended the United States’ refugee system for 120 days. So Islamophobic attacks have been commonplace during the Trump presidency.
What is perhaps more obscure but equally outrageous is the double-faced speech the president uses with the Jewish community. While Omar has been called an anti-Semite by both Democrats and Republicans, Trump called the neo-Nazis chanting, “Jews will not replace us” at the Charlottesville, Va., protests “very fine people.”
It has not gone unnoticed by many people, including parts of the Jewish community, that Trump has made anti-Semitic statements in the past, that he has associated with white supremacist groups and that his supporters have committed hate crimes against the Jewish community in the last two years. That is why last October, when the president arrived at Pittsburgh after the horrific slaughter of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, many protesters assembled to denounce Trump as the first and chief instigator of racial hatred.
There is no greater bigot and racist than the current occupant of the White House. In the case against Omar and Rashida Tlaib, however, Democrats and Republicans are united. The attempt to silence the voices of two Muslim congresswomen show how reactionary and rotten the Republican and Democratic establishment is.
No matter what, when a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee openly calls out Israel or AIPAC, it is natural to expect an angry reaction of both parties. The “democratic socialist” wing within the DP is aware of this. That is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Sanders were timidly “defending” Ilhan Omar four months ago.
AOC tweeted on the Omar controversy that “no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities” and praised Omar for “demonstrating a willingness to listen+work w/impacted communities.” Besides accepting the premise that Omar had somehow insulted Jewish people, AOC was careful not to say anything about the state of Israel or the Israeli lobby.
Speaking in the town hall hosted by Fox, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “I support a Muslim member of Congress not to be attacked every single day in outrageous, racists remarks.” But when Sanders was asked if he could understand why some Jewish Americans would have a problem with some of the language that Omar used, he said, “I think that that is not quite right. And I think that Ilhan has got to do maybe a better job in speaking to the Jewish community.”
These Democrats will not radically confront U.S. policy toward Israel. For Sanders, even the BDS movement is too radical to be supported.
In a recent interview with al-Jazeera, Sanders said he didn’t agree with the BDS movement and that he did not like “to see Israel attacked over and over again for human rights violations, which may be true.”
Sanders does not want to challenge the “holy alliance” between the United States and Israel, an alliance that it is encoded in the Democratic Party’s DNA.
Both parties respond in the first place to the state’s interest in maintaining a strategic alliance with Israel. The Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said it clearly to the media about the Omar affair: “Questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
In this regard, both parties share the notion that the survival of American hegemony in the Middle East is based on Israel’s existence. It is perhaps the question of Israel that most clearly demonstrates the imperialist character of U.S. bipartisanship.
The uncritical endorsement of Sanders by the largest nominally socialist organization in America, the Democratic Socialists of America, hides the importance of anti-imperialism.
One Cannot Be a Socialist Without Being Anti-Imperialist
The United States and Israel have a criminal alliance to colonize Palestine entirely and to shatter Palestinian resistance to Israeli domination. Strategically, Israel’s mighty army and its apartheid regime guarantee the United States an imperial ally against the regional powers that have interests in the Middle East. This alliance also ensures a strong political and military presence to prevent the possible eruption of the Arab masses, which have historically questioned imperialist domination.
The Democratic and Republican administrations have shared this objective for decades. For the Palestinian population, this has meant the dispossession of their lands, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to refugee camps, the constant Israeli harassment of Gaza and the West Bank and the systematic repression of the Palestinian people, which includes torture and the imprisonment of children. Although the policy is the same, with Trump, the offensive on Palestine is even more aggressive.
The American left has to put forward the defense of the Palestinian people at the center of its policy, denouncing imperialist atrocities committed by Democrats and Republicans in the Middle East.
It is a contradiction that while dozens of DSA members are active in the BDS movement or organized with the Palestinian community, the hard line of their party will be supporting Sanders. The Vermont senator has struck a more critical tone toward the right-wing government of Netanyahu, but he remains steadfastly committed to the Israeli state.
We cannot accept the argument that we should tolerate Sanders’ sof position on Israel right now because we should concentrate on winning reforms for the American working class.
Workers in America cannot liberate themselves if they are blind and deaf in the face of the oppression of their government over other peoples. Just as the radicalized youth of the 1970s mobilized against the Vietnam War in the United States and in support of the Algerian revolution in France, today’s socialists have to build strong opposition in the streets to American imperialism.
Socialists fight against anti-Semitism in all its forms. At the moment, however, the establishment (Democratic and Republican) is trying to redefine anti-Semitism as opposition to the state of Israel and its extreme-right government. This turns the definition on its head: Disgusting anti-Semites like Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Hungarian President Viktor Orban are declared clean because of their consistent support for Israeli apartheid. At the same time, even Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists are smeared as “anti-Semites.”
The struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination requires the support of the international working class. The occupation of Palestine is part of the imperialist domination of the Middle East. A mass movement of working people in the region is necessary to beat back the Zionist state, to expel imperialism and to put the region’s wealth under the control of the masses.