By Jeff Mackler and Bruce Lesnick, from Socialist Action, April 2, 2019
In a new campaign reminiscent of the McCarthy era witch-hunt, politicians and media pundits have taken to smearing pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS activists as anti-Semitic. Singled out for special attention are those, like Somali-born Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who happen to be people of color.
A typical incident began when journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted:
“GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation [Israel] even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Omar reposted Greenwald’s tweet and commented, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
“Benjamins” is taken from a 1996 rap song and a 2002 movie and is slang for $100 bills that are faced with the image of American independence leader Benjamin Franklin. Someone named Batya Ungar-Sargon then tweeted,
“Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”
Omar replied, “AIPAC!” AIPAC refers to the American Israel Political Action Committee, a lobbying group that, according to the Wall Street Journal, spends $100 million per year lobbying U.S. politicians to support U.S. policy in the Middle East. Immediately, defenders of Israel and Zionism piled on to charge Omar with anti-Semitism. Nothing Omar said was untrue, and her remarks were clearly aimed at Israeli policy and its promoters, not Jews.
The false and furious accusations against Omar paralleled the ongoing campaign by the British media and corporate politicians to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labor Party as anti-Semitic because of Corbyn’s vocal support for Palestinian rights. Socialist Action rejects any and all notions that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism.
While anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry must be unequivocally opposed, we recognize this reactionary witch-hunt equation for the dangerous diversion that it is. Indeed, false charges of anti-Semitism undermine the real fight against racism and bigotry.
Zionist efforts to demonize college professors and leading human rights activists and scholars as anti-Semites, most recently Angela Davis and Alice Walker, as well as Omar and Tlaib, have generally backfired. But that did not happen without the Zionists having had some success in pressuring university administrations to fire anti-Zionist professors, expel protesting students and even implement campus rules restricting what groups like Students for Justice in Palestine can advocate without being subject to dismemberment, discipline, or expulsion.
Pressured to have the U.S. Congress condemn Ilhan Omar’s remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was compelled to back off and, instead, submit an omnibus resolution that condemned racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other manifestations of hate and discrimination, without mentioning Omar. This, in itself, was a potent and inadvertent recognition that condemning Omar, a Muslim woman who spoke the truth, while ignoring the society’s more generalized racist, sexist, and homophobic prejudices, was no longer acceptable in U.S. society. A condemnation of Omar, in the eyes of factional Democrats, might also be seen as supporting President Trump’s overt Islamophobia.
The slandered Omar is no anti-Semite. Neither is she a revolutionary, but rather a bright capitalist politician and reformist spokeswoman for the oppressed and persecuted Minneapolis Somali Community. Her recent statements supporting a “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine and her weak, if not retrogressive, statements on Venezuela and Syria, inform us that, as with Ocasio-Cortez, or any other Democrats, she has no intention of fundamentally challenging the Democratic Party’s imperialist views.
Ocasio-Cortez, for example, was undoubtedly pressured immediately following her Democratic Party primary victory to take down from her website criticism of the Zionist state, a prerequisite for her playing politics in the pro-Zionist Democratic Party, the former party of the Southern slaveocracy, many of whose offspring continue to operate, in more civilized fashion, of course, as “Blue Dogs” or “social conservatives”—that is, modern-day racist Democrats.
U.S. imperialism’s relations with Zionist Israel
The assumption that any lobbyist group or individual, AIPAC included, determines U.S. policy in any matter is fundamentally flawed. However, AIPAC and similar groups do act as self-appointed enforcers for U.S. capitalist policy, ensuring that “freely elected” representatives toe the imperial line.
Since its formation in 1948, when historic Palestine was forcefully partitioned and half granted to the small minority Jewish population, backed and armed by the departing British “mandate” imperialists at the expense of the vast majority of the Palestinian people, U.S. imperialism has viewed Israel as its central weapon in the Middle East to advance its interests against the people of that region. That the Israel military is funded by the U.S. government at $2-3 billion annually, the largest amount of foreign aid granted to any country, has everything to do with its role as the U.S. imperial surrogate in the region and nothing to do with AIPAC or any other lobbying group.
More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland or murdered, their property confiscated, and their rights denied in the process of Israel’s colonial establishment. The U.S. government supported that policy then and has continued to do so with regard to every successive and monstrous assault on the Palestinian masses to this date.
Revolutionary socialists in our tradition have always refused to lend any legitimacy to the 1948 partition and colonization of Palestine, in the same manner that we refused any legitimacy to the imperial colonization of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In those cases, the world’s superpowers divided up whole continents and decreed that their conquests were part of the imperial “mother country”—declaring that the peoples and resources of the colonized were the property of their slave-master overseers.
Today in the U.S., Zionist-led groups, from AIPAC to the Anti-defamation League of the B’nai B’rith, focus their attention on degrading and attacking every effort to condemn Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian masses and efforts to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel. Recent B’nai B’rith statements, in mid-March 2019, condemn the Brown University student body for voting for university divestment in Israel. They condemn the UN Human Rights Commission that they claim “consistently singles out Israel for passing endless resolutions that solely and falsely allege Israel misdeeds.”
On March 22, the B’nai Brith “welcomed President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Israel’s control over the Israeli conquered and occupied Golan Heights [in Syria] which reflects the longtime strategic reality in the region.” Of course, “strategic reality” means nothing less than Israel’s role as U.S. imperialism’s colonial enforcer.
AIPAC and B’nai B’rith today focus on promoting the lie that opposition to the racist Zionist state is synonymous with anti-Semitism. They do so in the context of a rising (if not majority) recognition in the U.S. that the Palestinian people are oppressed, discriminated against and murdered, as in Gaza, by Israel. In fact, March 30 marked the first anniversary of the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians at the Gaza border who peacefully mobilized in the thousands to demand their land and the right to return to it.
Growing support for the Palestinian cause is reflected in the passage of ongoing university student BDS efforts, in the major faith-based organizations that adopted BDS resolutions and even in the actions of some U.S. corporations that followed suit. Strikingly, today, perhaps a majority of the American people rejects a “two-state” solution wherein the future Palestinian state, at best, is envisioned as akin to a tiny isolated non-viable Bantustan under near total Israeli control. In truth, even this colonial conception is inimical to today’s Zionist racist Israeli leaders whose “final solution” is the total extrication of all Palestinians from their ancestral Palestinian homeland.
The growing popularity of our historic advocacy of a democratic secular Palestine with the right of expelled Palestinians and their families to return is increasing seen as the only realistic “solution.” This, of course, implies the illegitimacy of the present Zionist state, a view long championed by Socialist Action. It envisions a new Palestine where Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and all nationalities can live together in peace in the context of a democratic society.
Our view is that the true liberation and freedom of the oppressed, artificially divided, and still imperialist-dominated Middle Eastern region can best be accomplished in the context of a fight for a United Socialist States of the Middle East, as opposed to the present Gulf State monarchy-dominated, subservient mini-states and tiny enclaves previously carved up and established by the European conquerors.
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action, a Trotskyist political party. He was the nominee of Socialist Action for United States Senate in 2006 and President of the United States in the 2016 election. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal