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Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali American, initiated the nationwide dialogue over basic justice issues in the Israeli/Palestine conflict.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali American, initiated the nationwide dialogue over basic justice issues in the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Photo: Free Wikimedia

Rep. Ilhan Omar Sparks
A Necessary National Dialogue

Apr 4, 2019


By Therese Mughannam, Lois Pearlman and Mary Moore

It was refreshing to see Wednesday’s paper with two items re: Rep. Ilhan Omar and the nationwide dialogue she has started over basic justice issues in the Israeli/Palestine conflict that has gone on for over seven decades.

The thrust of the news story was framed as a generational divide in Congress (House Move Reveals Schism) and the opinion piece by Dana Milbank (Ilhan Omar is Copying Trump’s Playbook) was well, opinion.

There is so much to the story of how we came to this great divide however the fact that a serious public dialogue has started on an issue that has been closeted both in Congress and in the greater mainstream press, is cause for celebration.

As three long time activists in Sonoma County we would like to add some overlooked points to this dialogue.  On MSNBC recently this question arose: “Is it possible to criticize the Israeli Government and not be Anti Semitic?” That started a much overdue conversation.

A total of 44 Palestinian schools across the West Bank have pending "stop work" or demolition orders. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 2018
It is crucial to understand how many in the pro-Israel camp label criticism of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people as anti-Semitism. Not only is there a vast difference between bigotry against Jews as a group and legitimate concern for the human and civil rights of Palestinians. But the word “anti-Semitism” itself is a misnomer.

It was popularized in 1879 Germany to give a pseudo-scientific basis for Jew-hatred. The root is Semite, which identifies people from the Middle East and North Africa. Of course the Jews of Europe were, well, European, but, if you are planning to hate someone logic just gets in the way.

Despite its dubious origins anti-Semitism is still the word people use to describe prejudice against Jews, something that is clearly on the rise lately along with all other forms of bigotry against people who are seen as “other.” However, in Israel the reverse is true, for it has officially declared itself a Jewish state and people who are not Jews are the ones who get the short end.

For the most part that means Palestinians, who live under a brutal Israeli military occupation that has left them with only 22 percent of their original homeland. Understandably many people around the world  — including many Jews — find the Israeli Zionists’ behavior inexcusable, and are advocating for a just resolution to this intolerable situation.

Zionists, both inside and outside of Israel often deflect this genuine criticism by calling it anti-Semitic. That’s what we saw a few weeks ago when many of the long-time leaders in Congress attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar for making allegedly anti-Semitic comments, even though she was criticizing the Israel Lobby, not Jewish people.

We must make the distinction between anti Semitism and anti Zionism, which is a criticism of the policies of the Israeli government.

There is a vast difference between bigotry against Jews as a group and legitimate concern for the human and civil rights of Palestinians. Photo by Stephen Melkisethian - Free use CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Until now an honest, open discussion of the Palestine/Israel conflict has been largely verboten in both the U.S. Congress and the American mainstream media because of this influence and for other political reasons. But even as Omar weathered backlash from many of her colleagues, she opened the floodgate on an issue that has been one-sided in America for far too long.  

While this much needed conversation is finally beginning to happen in the US, daily life under Israeli military occupation, whether in the West Bank or Gaza, is becoming increasingly unbearable.

Just today, for example, ordinary Palestinians were forbidden by the Israeli military to enter their holy site, Al Aqsa masjid, to pray. Targeted assassinations were routinely carried out by the IDF.  Peaceful protesters in Gaza were met with live fire from Israeli snipers, killing 23 year-old Tamer Khaled Arafat, and injuring 42 others with live fire – bringing the total  killed to 210 and injured 23,000 since the Great March of Return began less than a year ago.

We must not lose sight of the reasons why the conflict in Palestine/Israel continues 71 years after Israel was established.

Tragic incidents are reported by the main press without context or explanation as to WHY this turmoil continues to destroy so many innocent lives. Who would not protest if their lands and properties were snatched from them and they are forced to live under a brutal military occupation without any recourse to real justice and human rights.

Israel and its supporters do not want our attention drawn to this reality and have used the label of anti semitism on anyone attempting to speak the truth about how the Palestinians are being denied their basic human rights under Israeli rule.




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