Representative Ilhan Omar is outspoken; a woman; and a Muslim. Three strikes. She’s out. Omar receives beaucoup de flak for asserting that Zionism unduly influences U.S. foreign policy. She has only to open her mouth for kneejerk choruses of “anti-Semitism” to erupt. But much of what she says is clearly true. You’d have to be completely blind – or maybe disingenuous – to not perceive the oddly potent influence that pro-Israel interests – lobbyists, political action committees, etc. – exert in Washington. 

I’ve noticed that most of my Jewish acquaintances, when anyone censures or even just questions Israel’s behavior, fall silent or, sometimes, protest. Allegiance to “The Holy Land” is not negotiable. One can’t address this subject without thinking, at least briefly, of The Middle Eastern Mess – its history – particularly, the Israel / Palestine component. (A little like a powder keg, it’s always poised to pop.)

Seventy years ago, following WWII, Palestinian territory was given away to desperate Jewish refugees by a consortium of Western colonial powers who declared Israel “The Biblically-Appointed Jewish Homeland.” “Oh, really?” said the local people who’d been dispossessed. “What makes you gringos think it’s yours to give? (Your so-called Bible don’t mean squat to me!) Just give me back my olive grove — or bury me at Wounded Knee.”

Uniquely in the Middle East, Israel is a democracy. We in The West depend on that – and should. Both as idea and actuality, Israel is essential to the psychic security of most Jews. After centuries of bias, bigotry, expulsion, and arbitrary confiscation of their property throughout Russia and Europe, the Jews took great comfort from the establishment, at last, of a nominal Homeland. Perhaps we would never again feel quite so wholly exposed, so vulnerable to the demonstrably inextinguishable smolderings of anti-Jewish sentiment. 

Leaving aside the centuries of pogroms, prejudice, and self-serving xenophobia – the stuff that we call “populist” these days – if you consider only Hitler and the Nazi holocaust – just that one quaint indecency – it would not be hard to understand why we Jews are famously “clannish,” and famously hyper-vigilant. People who are routinely hunted down like vermin, violated, humiliated and exterminated do not respond with bonhomie or trust. (Just ask your Uighur or your Tutsi friends.) 

The Jewish Homeland, a lonely little place surrounded by passionately resentful neighbors, several of whom have ebulliently proposed Israel’s complete annihilation, seems and is extremely vulnerable. This generates intense concern among all those who hope it will not fail, which clearly means most Jews, of course, worldwide, and also, oddly numerous these days, those Christian Fundamentalists – so prophecy-obsessed – whose doggedly literal reading of The Bible keeps Israel very central to their mesmerized belief in what comes next. Vamos a ver.

To all of this, add A: The higher-than-average economic/educational status of Jews in the U.S. these days (a little like our counterparts in Germany, before the war) and B: our much-mistrusted influence on media and Hollywood, on Wall Street, and all that, and you’ve got yourself a powerful, unified, idealistic engine which wields more than its (demographically) fair share of influence. 

It’s natural to feel resentment when you’ve been coerced. Legislators pressured to endorse Israel (or to silently ignore her misbehaviors) are being pushed toward anti-Semitism – or, at least, toward legitimate anti-Zionism. I don’t know if Dame Omar, in her deepest Muslim heart, inclines toward anti-Jewish sentiment or not, but lots of what she says is clearly true, and those who deny it are either dishonest or dumb. Or, just scared.