Levine: Hijacked by hate

Deborah Levine / Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter

No public relations firm could have rocketed the new Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar onto the national scene as quickly as her comments on Israel, Jews, and pay-offs.

Congress' debate on how to censure her use of centuries-old stereotypes ended with a general denouncement of hate groups, but she remained front and center. I saw Congress' official response to Omar's words as a wishy-washy, no-brainer attempt to avoid a statement regarding Israelis and Palestinians. They should be able to do more than echo the Monty Python joke, "Run Away! Run Away!"

photo Deborah Levine

I have some sympathy for Congress. I experienced the urge to run away on a trip to Jerusalem when Iran threatened to bomb Israel out of existence. The TV news advised us to have our gas masks handy and to check out the nearest bomb shelter. I ran panicked down to the hotel cafeteria, yelling for our tour guides. Used to threats, they almost yawned in my face. They told me to calm down and have some breakfast, pouring chocolate sauce all over a pile of pancakes. Chocolate is the national stress cure of choice. No surprise that Israelis have more gall bladder operations than any country on the planet.

On my next trip, I became deathly ill, ending up in the emergency room next to a young Palestinian who, in despair, had tried to commit suicide. He was a vivid reminder of the toll on Palestinians as we lay almost comatose side-by-side. How can we resolve this conflict over the Land of Israel? Five generations of my family have journeyed to Israel and my four grandchildren live there now. I must, and always will, have hope that both sides can somehow opt for peace.

But I have lost hope for any diminishing of the anti-Semitism that is wrapped around the concept of Israel. Maybe I'm pessimistic because my website has been hacked and threatened with, "Death to the Jews. Death to the Zionist M---F---". Or maybe it's because of the response to my articles protesting the renewal of centuries-old stereotype of Jews as global financiers responsible for the world's ills. I was targeted by neo-Nazi and White Supremacist websites that live by these stereotypes.

My jaw dropped when supremacist David Duke announced that Omar was the most important figure in Congress. I suspect that Omar had the same reaction to getting a hug from the KKK. We know that white supremacists waste no love on Muslims or Jews and that Omar and I have that in common.

Since Congress' debate over Omar, our common dilemma has taken on new meaning with the massacre at Christchurch mosques. The New Zealand perpetrator attacks Muslim houses of worship, cites the inspiration of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, and commends the views of white supremacists, citing President Trump as an icon of those views. We cannot ignore or dismiss how violent extremism is spreading world-wide with deadly intensity. Hate has gone global and viral, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been hijacked to add to its reach.

I'll always advocate for a peaceful resolution for Israelis and Palestinians and reject any attempt to merge anti-Semitism with Israel. But, it turns out that Congress' words denouncing hate groups isn't as wishy washy as I thought. While the context was undeniably questionable, calling out hate groups and denouncing their supremacist extremism should be done loudly, frequently and without equivocation. Congress, the Senate and elected officials at every level of government should be side-by-side on this. And the loudest voice against supremacist-inspired hate should be the president himself.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@diversityreport.com.