A Lonely Word on Behalf of Ilhan Omar

Antisemitism is alive and all too well. The moral imperative is to stand firmly and unequivocally against it. The terrible history of antisemitism places an additional burden on those of us who are critical of the government of Israel. We are obliged to speak thoughtfully and choose our words carefully. It is a burden from which we should not shy away.


Congresswoman Ilhan Omar did not speak thoughtfully or choose her words carefully enough when she made the comments about AIPAC and Israel for which she has been roundly condemned. Whether she was consciously invoking antisemitic tropes is not as evident to me as it is to some. Her subsequent apology rang true.


Omar's suggestion that Republic Party support for Israel is driven by campaign donations from AIPAC is simplistic and inaccurate. Corporate and interest-group money is a corrupting factor in politics, but it is more complex than the simple buying of votes and personal corruption. American attitudes about Israel are also complicated. The predisposition of many Americans to look favorably on Israel has nothing to do with conspiracies or cabals, corruption or money.

Criticism of Israel and of those who lobby for the policies of its government is not ipso facto antisemitic. Nonetheless there are those within and outside the US government who brand anything other than unwavering, unquestioning support for Israel as tantamount to antisemitism.


Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats were right to call Omar to account for her use of language that lends itself to antisemitic tropes. They were right to make it clear that there is no place for antisemitism in the Democratic Party or in our nation. They were wrong when they failed to make it equally clear that rejection of antisemitism does not preclude criticism of Israel.


I hope to take up this and other issues related to "zero tolerance," racism, misogyny, political correctionism, &c., in greater depth at a future date if I am capable hammering out a coherent essay on the topic.


By way of a side note: It is amusing to see the word "trope," a technical term of literary criticism, find its way into common parlance.


Memo from the Editorial Desk

re: the spelling of "antisemitism"

My default position is to defer to Merriam-Webster on questions of spelling unless there is good reason to do otherwise. Merriam-Webster uses the capitalized variant "anti-Semitism," as do many major publications. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance provides a rationale for the use of "antisemitism" (Memo on Spelling of Antisemitism) that I find convincing:

IHRA's concern is that the hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of something called 'Semitism', which not only legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.
The philological term ‘Semitic’ referred to a family of languages originating in the Middle East whose descendant languages today are spoken by millions of people mostly across Western Asia and North Africa. Following this semantic logic, the conjunction of the prefix 'anti' with 'Semitism' indicates antisemitism as referring to all people who speak Semitic languages or to all those classified as 'Semites'. The term has, however, since its inception referred to prejudice against Jews alone.
...
The unhyphenated spelling is favored by many scholars and institutions in order to dispel the idea that there is an entity 'Semitism' which 'anti-Semitism' opposes. Antisemitism should be read as a unified term so that the meaning of the generic term for modern Jew-hatred is clear.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

This piece has been updated and reposted to correct the spelling of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's name. Good grief, I could use an editor.

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David Matthews

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