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Unfair attacks

Our moral convictions and faith values demand that we speak out and challenge injustice anywhere. We therefore strongly criticize the injustices of the Israeli occupation and discriminatory laws and policies against Palestinians.

Rep Omar’s critiques of pro-Israel lobby efforts are especially necessary given ongoing efforts to silence criticism of Israel. Five days before the storm of attacks on Rep Omar, the Senate passed a bill, S 1, which would provide federal protection to states that pass laws penalizing Americans who participate in boycotts aimed at Israel and its illegal settlements in occupied territories. The ACLU and others have condemned anti-free speech, anti-BDS bills like this. But unfortunately, 77 Senators voted to support it. This bill was backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the US and the one explicitly mentioned by Rep Omar in her tweet.

Bills like S 1 – and the allegations of anti-Semitism targeting those who have spoken out against the bill or who otherwise support the BDS movement – are particularly dangerous, since they risk dividing progressive movements that should otherwise be allies in seeking justice for all.

While we fully expect some on the political right to target progressives in this way, it is discouraging to see similar attacks come from those on the left – in the case of S 1, from Democratic politicians and mainstream Jewish organizations (even as some internally recognize how such efforts hurt Jews, too). When those on the left join the chorus of criticism, they play into the divide-and-conquer strategy that those in power have used again and again to undermine the struggle for justice and equity for all.

Further, by focusing on progressive figures such as Omar, Tlaib, Sarsour, and others who speak out against the Israeli government and their lobbying allies in the US, we risk ignoring and simultaneously emboldening those who actually hate Jews and pose a physical threat to our communities. We need to accept in our American political discourse that anti-Zionism does not equate to anti-Semitism. When we fail to do this and instead conflate the two, the American Jewish community becomes less safe.

We must stand with those who speak truth to power, and we cannot allow progressive communities to be divided. Nor can we accept the concept of ‘progressive except Palestine’ anymore. Instead, it is long past “time to break the silence on Palestine,” as Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow) wrote last month. Because it is only when we recognize that our various forms of struggle are connected and we advocate for the liberation of all that we will truly be free.

From our own experiences, we know that things can – and must – be different. In our work, we help Muslims and Jews (and others) come together to solve the challenges in our cities, while also supporting those among us who are most vulnerable, including immigrants, refugees, people of color, and more. We educate people to reduce Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and all forms of hate. And we know first-hand that while discourse around Israel and Palestine is fraught and emotional, we must engage deeply and honestly if we truly believe in justice for all.

If we are to be successful in building a just and equitable society, one that lives up to our American ideals, we must not forget where the threat really lies. If we attack those who are our allies, we will never achieve freedom and liberation for all.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Progressives Must Stop Weaponizing Charges of Anti-Semitism Against Critics of Israel’.


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