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House To Vote On Resolution That Condemns Anti-Semitism


This story begins with a tweet. A Minnesota member of Congress, Ilhan Omar, suggested that lawmakers support Israel because of money from a pro-Israel lobbying group. She later apologized for the wording of her message but not for her views of Israel. Then, Omar spoke again about Israel, saying, quote, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Her fellow House Democrats now plan a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism. Omar's defenders say you ought to be able to criticize Israel without being labeled a bigot. So when is a critique of Israel fair? Deborah Lipstadt is author of the book "Antisemitism: Here And Now," and she's on the line from New York City. Good morning.

DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to note that it is fairly common among conservatives to suggest that almost any criticism of Israel is almost by definition anti-Semitic. Do you think it is?

LIPSTADT: No, absolutely not. If you want to read criticism of Israel, all you have to do is go to, the Israeli daily, and you'll see criticism of Israel, or go to the Knesset floor, the Parliament floor, and you'll see criticism of Israeli policies. And there's nothing wrong with criticizing Israeli policies.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the policies that have been controversial in the United States, not to mention in the Middle East, center around Israeli treatment of Palestinians, who are still under Israeli control in many ways and do not have full rights in Israel.

LIPSTADT: Yes, in the occupied territories. Right. Exactly.

INSKEEP: Although conservatives will say, listen; it's still unfair to criticize Israel usually because you critics hold Israel to a much higher standard than most other countries around the world that are less democratic than Israel.

LIPSTADT: I think that is often true, but that's not to say that there aren't things wrong with Israeli policies. I'm a supporter of Israel, and I criticize Israeli policies all the time. I think the controversy in this case with Representative Omar really goes back to her using, her relying on anti-Semitic stereotypes, anti-Semitic tropes, anti-Semitic memes, when she wrote, you know, it's all about the Benjamins, baby, referring to hundred-dollar bills, which have Benjamin Franklin's picture on it, or saying - not even insinuating, but actually saying - that those people who support Israel have an allegiance to another country. I think those go back to, at their root, the notion of a Jewish conspiracy, Jewish dual loyalties.

And anti-Semitism - one of the mainstays of anti-Semitism has always been that Jews can't be trusted, that Jews conspire with one another, that they're - one of the code words often used is that they're cosmopolitan. They have more support of one another than they do of the country in which they live. And that's part of the anti-Semitic traditional accusation, and that was really what upset many people about her comment. I think if she had just criticized Israeli policies or questioned some of Israeli - American support, it wouldn't have ignited such a firestorm.

INSKEEP: What if her thought was, I'm looking across at you supporters of Israel, and I just think you're confusing Israel's idea of its interests or the Israeli government's current idea of its interest with the U.S. national interest? Is there any non-anti-Semitic way to express that thought at all?

LIPSTADT: Absolutely, and there are members of Congress who do it, there are journalists who do it, there are people on campuses - I work - I live on a campus. There are people on American campuses who do it, absolutely. But when you begin to suggest a conspiracy theory that Jews are in this for the money or that Jews are doing this because they are not patriotic, they have dual loyalties, when you begin to do something like that, you're really - whether she's doing it consciously or not, you're really crossing the line into what many people consider anti-Semitism.

INSKEEP: How do you respond to defenders of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who have suggested that perhaps she is being more harshly criticized not just for her words but because she happens to be Muslim?

LIPSTADT: That could very well be. I mean, she may ignite a storm. She's a woman, and she wears a hijab, a woman who - and a Muslim, obviously. And that could make her an easier target. But - and I would hope that's not the case. But there's something really disturbing about her words. Now, she has - to her credit, she has apologized. She has said she was wrong. She didn't realize the impact of her words. The problem is she's apologized, and then she's gone back to it a number of times.

But I think this really goes to - the core of the problem is that there are many people on the progressive left, not everyone but some - and we see this in the U.K. in the Labour Party - who look at Jews and see white people who are privileged and decide, ipso facto, they can't be victims of prejudice. And that's simply wrong. We know that it's the case that Jews can be victims of prejudice. It's funny the people in the right don't consider - on the far right don't consider Jews white, but that's beside the point. So the idea - in her mind and in the mind of, as I say, many people on the progressive left, there's a sense that when Jews claim anti-Semitism, they're trying to cover up. It's not true. Jews know that you can be a subject of anti-Semitism...

INSKEEP: It's real.

LIPSTADT: ...Even if you live comfortably, and even if you are not of a - you know, colored or have a different color skin than a white person.

INSKEEP: Deborah Lipstadt, thanks so much.

LIPSTADT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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