NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on April 3, 2019. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN Image Credit: AFP

Defenders of Israel are usually quick to confront the new ideas and mobilise all their energies and ‘lobbies’ (especially inside and outside the current American administration) to affirm unconditional support for the Zionist state and its policies. What happened with the Democratic Party deputy Ilhan Omar is the biggest proof. She was accused of anti-Semitism following statements that Jewish money (referring to AIPAC) is behind US support and allegiance to Israel.

Omar’s insinuation that money fuels American support for Israel — “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” she wrote on Twitter, specifically citing AIPAC — revived a fraught debate in Washington over whether the pro-Israel lobbying behemoth has too much sway over American policy in the Middle East. The backlash was fierce, with many accusing her of trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes, the New York Times reported.

The US President, Donald Trump, called for her resignation, while Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an apology for the use of “anti-Semitic language”! Things went further when the Republican Party placed a poster on the building of the West Virginia State Council, linking Omar to the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks, putting her photo alongside the World Trade Center towers. “Never forget” a caption was added in reference to the attacks.

In a remarkable development, American attitudes are no longer along the same lines on Israel as “the oasis of democracy amid an old Arab quagmire!” While some saw an emerging trend as an escalation in hostility towards the Zionist state, others considered it merely a rejection of Israeli policies represented by its occupation of the Palestinian lands, its construction of illegal colonies and its siege of the Gaza Strip. Indeed, in an article by The New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander titled “Breaking the Silence on Palestine,” the writer concluded: “There is an ever-increasing understanding that criticising the policies and practices of the Israeli government is apparently no longer an act of anti-Semitism in itself.” She said “two sitting members in the US Congress having expressed their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the change of attitudes of young American voters — including young Jews — towards supporting the Palestinian cause would not have happened a few years ago.”

American journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in New York Times, “the conflict over the young Congresswomen showed a growing generation rift within the Democratic party; the old guard support Israel while the rising wing of young liberals, including Jewish youth, are ready to accuse Israel of violating human rights and even demand movement to establish a Palestinian state.” Recently, the American ‘Intercept’ website published a report saying “there are indications that a shift may be taking place in the Americans’ view of the State of Israel and its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.” “The Democrats and young American voters — including Jewish voters — have begun to adopt a more pro-Palestinian stance that has nothing to do with what they call anti-Semitism”, Intercept added. Indeed, Jim Norman reported from the most recent Gallup Poll that: “For the first time since 2012, at least half of Americans favour the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Growing support among Americans for an independent Palestine is occurring amid a national debate in the US about Israel’s handling of the conflict and the US government’s ongoing support for Israel.”

As Democrats moved to issue a draft resolution to condemn Omar over statements on the role of the pro-Israel lobby in American politics, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez the youngest US Representative, described the draft plan as offensive. She said on Twitter: “What hurts more about condemning Ilhan is that no such condemnation is made when statements are made on people of Latin origin or from other communities.” Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill expressed support: “she voiced concern at the US support to Israel’s murderous racist government and the American policies serving a foreign power agenda. She deserves our defence.” The New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali also expressed his displeasure at the proposed draft resolution. “At a time when the White Republicans anti-Semitic statements are being overlooked, Omar is receiving horrifying anti-Muslim comments and death threats, and is being subjected to poor, shameful and double standards,” he said.

It is indeed an unprecedented stage in which we live, as the door seems now to be strongly open to criticise Israel with a rejection of its policies.

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.