Make us like the other nations

The controversy surrounding Ilhan Omar’s remarks about pro-Israel lobbying activity is enragingly stupid. Mainstream Democrats want the diversity of the food court. They’re pleased to be able to point to different skin tones and exotic names — but once someone actually draws on their experience in a way that makes a difference? Horror…. All the Democrats lining up to scapegoat a Muslim-American woman should be ashamed of themselves. It’s an absolute fucking disgrace.

One question worth asking here is: Why do pro-Israel lobbying groups spend so much money to influence US politicians? I can think of some reasons.

First, the US is a super corrupt country and it works. Second, the special relationship of Israel to the US is the only thing standing between them and pariah status. Israel is engaged in appalling, obviously criminal behavior in the Occupied Territories — the kind of thing that an opportunistic US administration might seize upon for humanitarian cred some day. Hence you need a constant, wall-to-wall, bipartisan propaganda effort. You know how people say Kim Jong Il looked at what happened to Qaddafi and decided he needed to get nukes at all costs? What if the Israelis looked at what happened in South Africa when they lost unconditional US support and decided: “that can’t happen to us”?

None of this has anything to do with the figure of the Jew from conventional anti-Semitism. This is all standard nation-state behavior — especially among settler colonies. What makes Israel unique is its late start. That’s it. Saying that Israel spends a lot of money to influence the US is no more anti-Semitic than it is Islamophobic to say that Saudi Arabia spends a lot of money to influence the US. This is just standard nation-state stuff. It’s one way nation-states relate to each other.

In general, people need to think a bit more carefully about how much old-school anti-Semitism was centered on suspicion of Jews as members of a trans-national, diasporic, unassimilated community. Mapping that onto the nation-state of Israel is not 100% straightforward. The paranoia surrounding Soros actually better fits the mold of old-school anti-Semitism — picturing him as a rootless cosmopolitan, whose money flows promiscuously from one country to the next, corrupting the innocent for some unclear but surely sinister aim…

Yes, there are circles where critiques of Israel draw on the well of anti-Semitic tropes — though I hesitate to classify “Jewish people sometimes use money” as an “anti-Semitic trope” — and that is horrible and racist and inexcusable. But most contemporary anti-Semites focus their ire on diasporic and/or liberal Jews (or people like me, whom they believe to be passing as white despite being secretly Jewish), in keeping with the historic pattern. Those are the people throwing bombs and organizing online harassment campaigns. The people criticizing Israel — which is, I want to emphasize, engaged in constant appalling crimes against humanity — are mostly writing strongly-worded op-eds and organizing boycotts. Not exactly the kind of behavior I associate with Nazis.

All of this would, of course, be much easier to parse — if not for the well-known, highly successful propaganda efforts that aim to distract the American public and political class from Israel’s crimes and tar anyone who draws attention to those crimes as a despicable anti-Semite, which is obviously the kind of thing that a Muslim-American member of Congress would object to. She made the choice to apologize for the supposed “anti-Semitic trope” of Jews occasionally using money, which I believe was a mistake. The liars and scoundrels who drum up these kinds of false controversies will take any apology, however qualified and partial, as total vindication. What she should have said instead is that most popular of all internet tropes: thank you for proving my point for me.

One thought on “Make us like the other nations

  1. It’s almost as if Joseph Massad is right that Arabs are “the last of the Semites,” i.e. that the position in Western racist ideology occupied by traditional anti-Semitic figure of the Jew (transnational infiltrators from the East, scheming to infect the West with the sinister taint of Oriental barbarity) has now largely been transferred to the figure of the Muslim Arab.

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