Over the weekend, freshman Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar sent a series of anti-Semitic tweets, accusing American politicians of supporting Israel because of the “Benjamins” and then (falsely) accusing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. The House Democratic leadership has rightly condemned Omar’s tweets and is calling on her to apologize, but with anti-Semitism increasingly rocking the American and British Left (and persisting in the white-nationalist right), it’s important to take a moment and gain a dash of historical perspective.
America’s long support for Israel — often in the face of fierce criticism from key allies and painful economic reprisal from the Arab world — represents an enduring, bipartisan commitment to moral clarity in the Middle East. For the quarter century following Israel’s founding, it was subjected to repeated, genocidal threats to its existence. It has served as a homeland for the Jewish people even as Arab nations rendered life intolerable for more than 800,000 of their Jewish citizens, sometimes destroying communities that existed for centuries. Israel took in hundreds of thousands of refugees, receiving them as the world’s only Jewish state.
When the attempts to invade Israel and destroy it with brute military force ended (for now, at least) with the signing of the Camp David accords, terror campaigns continued and escalated to a point that the United States (or its more anti-Israel allies) would never tolerate. Even today — with all its military might — its citizens live under a terror-threat level experienced by few other nations, and (unlike other nations) it exists in the midst of a region full of people who express feelings of outright hatred for its right to exist. Not long ago, an ADL survey found that a full 74 percent of citizens of North Africa and the Middle East harbored anti-Semitic attitudes.
Moreover, it faces a unique level of international hostility, with the United Nation Human Rights Council condemning its actions far more than it condemns all other nations combined. There exists a concerted international effort to boycott Israeli companies and academies, divest resources from Israel, and sanction Israel. Many of the founders and leaders of the BDS movement hope ultimately to eradicate Israel as a Jewish state.
At the same time, the citizens of Israel — Arab and Jewish alike — enjoy a greater degree of individual liberty than the citizens of any other Middle Eastern state. Israel is the most stable democracy in the Middle East. Generations of American politicians — from both parties — have seen these realities and have made the proper moral decision to support an embattled minority in the face of an avalanche of outright hate. Our nation has made that choice even when that choice has carried real costs, when a more pragmatic politics would dictate following in the path of nations like France, which yanked military support for Israel at a crucial moment in Israel’s history.
None of this is to argue that Israel is perfect or that its policies are beyond question, but it is simply a fact that the Left’s hatred and scrutiny of Israel exists at a level far beyond its real (and imagined) crimes. It is to our nation’s enduring credit that we’ve stood against that hate since Israel’s founding.
One of the dangers of simply labeling tweets like Omar’s as “anti-Semitic” and then moving on, confident that we’ve discredited the threat to our body politic, is that we forget to describe why our nation rejects this unreasoning hatred of Israel and why Republicans and Democrats alike have secured and strengthened the alliance. Our nations have a bond that endures beyond the fact that Israel has become a powerful and important ally — especially in our war against jihadists. It’s a bond that exists in part because our nation’s support for Israel in spite of the often significant strategic and economic incentives to abandon it to its fate demonstrates America as its best self — a nation characterized by its commitment to high ideals, not just to the raw exercise of influence and power.
A hostile Arab world has far more money and resources than the small Jewish state that it all too often seeks to eradicate. If cash is truly king, we would have thrown Israel under the bus in generations past. It is to our country’s credit that we’ve chosen morality over money since 1948. Unless we continue to teach Americans the lessons of the past, we cannot be assured we’ll make that choice in the years to come.