I’m Jewish, and I’m ashamed of how we’re treating Ilhan Omar

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is being accused of anti-Semitism not because criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, but because the pro-Israel lobby has done a great job of making the American public and Congress believe that story.

By Scott Brown

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The House of Representatives is set to bring a resolution to the floor on Thursday to confront Ilhan Omar’s comments on the influence of Israel and the Israel lobby in American politics, a controversy that has escalated rapidly since her Tweets about AIPAC’s influence on certain Congress members on February 10.

At the same time, most Democratic leaders have been deafeningly silent about a poster connecting Ilhan Omar to the 9/11 attacks that was posted at a Republican celebration in West Virginia last weekend.

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But just as silent have been mainstream Jewish institutions. In response to Omar’s comments, organizations claiming to stand against hate and defend Jewish people, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Center, have written assertive public letters addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling for another condemnation of Omar’s comments, and even for her to be stripped of her role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, their response to the Islamophobic poster? Silence. Or a singular tweet.

I am deeply angered and ashamed at the response of Jewish institutions to Ilhan Omar. As a white American Jew who has simultaneously experienced hate and enjoyed white privilege, I believe I cannot claim to stand for things like safety and justice for all without both understanding and showing up in solidarity with the struggles of others. To my fellow Jews, I say if that feels true for you too, then ask yourself: what does it say that the mainstream Jewish community is attacking people like the first black Muslim woman in Congress for criticizing Israel?

Have we taken the time to learn her story of escaping the Somali civil war and surviving refugee camps as a child? Have we looked at her impressive record as a state legislator, human rights activist, and advocate for women and children? Have we taken into consideration how all of these experiences may have actually given her a deep understanding of what oppression and injustice looks like, including for Jewish people?

Or have we reactionarily condemned black leaders as Jew-haters because we’re unable to differentiate between critique of Israel and anti-Semitism?

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A few weeks ago, I was at a dialogue group I’ve been participating in for the past six months that brings together black and Jewish DC residents to increase understanding and confront tensions between our communities. After one discussion about the lack of trust between our communities, one friend approached me and asked: “Are there any prominent Jewish leaders at all that speak out against Israel?” I’m a white Jew; he’s black and not Jewish.

His question hit me in the gut because it shed light for me on how some people outside the Jewish community perceive Jews: unapologetic supporters of a state with a record of egregious human rights abuses and violations of international law. This is a perception that we as a Jewish community have enabled by accepting and advocating the idea that being Jewish means embracing and defending Israel, and conversely, that criticism of Israel is the same as anti-Semitism.

That same misunderstanding is at the root of the ongoing controversy around Ilhan Omar’s statements, the public attacks on Professor Marc Lamont Hill after speaking on Palestinian liberation at the UN, and Angela Davis having a human rights award revoked due to her support of Palestine.

Jewish people do not become safer when we divide ourselves from people like Ilhan Omar, Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis. All we do is further endanger these leaders, who are already putting their livelihoods — and lives — at risk for taking controversial political stances as black public figures. Condemning those who criticize Israel in the name of safety for Jews, as many white Jewish leaders do, while failing to say a thing about Islamophobic attacks like those on Omar, is shameful and deeply hypocritical.

I, too, once thought that part of being Jewish was loyally supporting Israel. In the hall where we worshipped at my synagogue, there was an American flag on one side of the stage and an Israeli flag on the other. We sang Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, as part of our Hebrew school singing lessons.

That experience is not uncommon in American Jewish communities. And much of that Israel-centric education is facilitated by institutions with similar aims as the political lobbies like AIPAC that Ilhan Omar is criticizing. Their goal is to build strong relationships between Americans and Israel, not just on a political level, but also within our communities. In Jewish communities, that means creating a deep, unquestioned sense of loyalty to Israel as a part of Jewish identity.

One example is the educational programs that organizations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) bring into American Jewish communities. As a the self-declared largest provider of Israel education in America, the JNF states it believes “investing in education is critical to creating the next generation of Israel supporters.” At the same time, large portions of the millions the JNF raises in donations in the United States are directed to projects in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

So it’s not much of a surprise that when someone like Ilhan Omar pushes back against the pressure for American politicians to support Israel, that so many, Jews and non-Jews, would condemn this as anti-Semitism. But how do these condemnations look when we investigate and see that Eliot Engel, who publicly demanded Omar apologize for her statements, was the 5th highest recipient of donations from the pro-Israel lobby in 2018? Or when we look closer at the Democratic House members who signed the last statement condemning Omar, and find that every single one of them except Nancy Pelosi received money from pro-Israel lobbies in 2018 too?

AIPAC is not the only one doing this lobbying; Evangelical Zionist groups like Christians United for Israel and the U.S. defense industry that makes untold amounts off of Israel military contracts do the same. AIPAC is just doing it really well. The fact that so many Congress members came running to defend them when they were called out by Omar shows just how effective they’ve been at their work. Whether or not these politicians truly believe that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, it is in their interest and their donors’ interest to buy into that narrative.

Omar, Hill, and Davis were attacked with accusations of anti-Semitism not because criticizing Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, but because the pro-Israel lobby has done a great job of making both the public and Congress believe that story.

So as I stood there, looking into my friend’s eyes as he asked me if any prominent Jewish leaders speak out against the actions of Israel, the only honest answer I could give is “not enough.”

Scott Brown is a queer, Jewish organizer in Washington, DC passionate about justice, community-building and glitter. He organizes with Jewish Voice for Peace-DC Metro and Occupation Free DC. Find him on Twitter: @scottbrown545.

The post I’m Jewish, and I’m ashamed of how we’re treating Ilhan Omar appeared first on +972 Magazine.

Trump Mar-a-Lago Buddy Wrote Policy Pitch. The President Sent It to VA Chief.

by Isaac Arnsdorf

In late 2017, on one of President Donald Trump’s retreats to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, he caught up with an old friend: Albert Hazzouri.

When Hazzouri is not at Mar-a-Lago, he’s a cosmetic dentist in Scranton, Pennsylvania. At a campaign rally there in 2016, Trump gave him a shoutout: “Stand up, Albert. Where the hell are you, Albert? Stand up, Albert. He’s a good golfer, but I’m actually a better golfer than him. Right?”

Shortly after Hazzouri and Trump saw each other in late 2017, Hazzouri followed up with a message, scrawled on Mar-a-Lago stationery. Here’s the letter:

In a telephone interview, Hazzouri said he sent the note as a favor to the 163,000-member American Dental Association. He said he had only the vaguest sense of what proposal he was vouching for.

“I’m really not involved in any politics, I’m just a small-time dentist,” he said. “I guess there’s a lot of money spent on veterans’ care and American Native Indians’ care, and I guess they wanted to have a little hand in it, the American Dental Association, to try to guide what’s going on or whatever.”

The idea seemed to intrigue Trump. He took a thick marker and wrote on top of Hazzouri’s note, “Send to David S at the V.A.,” referring to David Shulkin, then the secretary of veterans affairs. Next to the Mar-a-Lago coat of arms, an aide stamped: “The president has seen.”

It was not the first time Mar-a-Lago membership had bestowed access to the VA. As ProPublica revealed last year, Trump handed sweeping influence over the department to club member Ike Perlmutter, who is the chairman of Marvel Entertainment and was a major donor supporting Trump’s campaign, along with a physician and a lawyer who are regular guests at the resort. The trio, known as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd,” acted as a shadow leadership for the department, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions, including budgeting and contracting. The House veterans committee is now investigating the trio’s “alleged improper influence.”

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Beyond the VA, Trump’s presidency has been rife with examples of special interests seeking influence through business associates or friends and family, rather than going through the normal channels. Shortly after the election, the Australian ambassador reportedly managed to contact Trump not through the State Department but thanks to golfer Greg Norman, and Trump’s post-election call with the Vietnamese premier was facilitated by Marc Kasowitz, a personal lawyer for Trump. Megadonor Sheldon Adelson helped a friend’s obscure company secure a research deal with the Environmental Protection Agency, and inaugural chairman Tom Barrack provided support to a company seeking to export nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia.

In Hazzouri’s case, the details of his pitch to “create an oversight committee” are murky. A spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, Katherine Merullo, declined to elaborate on the proposal. Michael Graham, who leads the ADA’s Washington office, recalled that one of his staffers raised the topic with Hazzouri, but Graham said he didn’t know the details. In general, Graham said, the organization wants the government to pay for more dental services.

“The ADA has been looking into how we can get involved in veterans’ issues,” Graham said. “Lots of vets may not be eligible but need care.”

The VA provides dental care only in limited instances, primarily when veterans have a dental injury related to their service. Many veterans also have Medicare, but that doesn’t cover most dental services either. The ADA has lobbied on bills that would expand dental services for veterans, arguing that better dental care leads to better health overall. Of course, it would also lead to more billable patients for the ADA’s members.

Hazzouri’s overture doesn’t appear to have succeeded. Shulkin, who was fired in March 2018, said in an email that he did not recall having received the message. Hazzouri said neither he nor the ADA ever got a meeting.

Hazzouri did, however, reference the proposal a few months later, in an effort to open an office in Florida.

“My intention is to establish a small office in order to treat the President, his family and visitors who may have dental needs while conducting official business,” Hazzouri wrote to the Florida Board of Dentistry in a February 2018 letter published by Politico. “An additional intention is to have the office serve as a dental delivery site on selected dates for U.S. veterans or children from underserved populations.”

Despite invoking the project as part of a bid to expand his business, Hazzouri said he wasn’t pursuing any personal benefit by pitching the ADA’s proposal to Trump. “I wasn’t doing this for any opportunity,” he said. “There are areas in Florida where they said it would be awesome to donate time.”

Hazzouri’s Florida office never materialized either: According to the minutes of his board hearing, Hazzouri hadn’t completed a required examination and withdrew his application for a license to practice in the state.

Hazzouri declined to explain why his note to Trump addressed him as “King,” calling it an inside joke from long before Trump became president. “I call other people King,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.”

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Mexican TV network criticised for brownface parody of Roma star Yalitza Aparicio

Loser! Pendejo

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Televisa’s Yeka Rosales posted videos of herself on social media wearing brown skin paint in an apparent parody of the indigenous actress

A television personality for the Mexican-based Televisa network is facing criticism for dressing up in brownface and wearing a prosthetic nose to make fun of indigenous Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio.

Televisa’s Yeka Rosales posted photos and videos of herself on social media wearing brown skin paint in an apparent parody of Aparicio, who attended the Oscars last week after being nominated for best actress for her role in Roma.

The stunt, designed to promote Televisa’s season premiere of the comedy show La Parodia, highlights the racism some scholars say indigenous people in Latin America still face in the media.

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Salvini crackdown: bulldozers demolish Italian camp housing 1,500 refugees

fascisti!

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San Ferdinando shanty town cleared in first major eviction after launch of hardline immigration measures

More than 1,500 people are being ousted from the refugee camp at San Ferdinando, in southern Italy, in the largest eviction since Italy’s rightwing populist government’s immigration measures kicked in.

On Wednesday morning, almost 1,000 paramilitary police officers surrounded the 400 shacks where the migrants have lived since the camp was established in 2010, near Gioia Tauro, in Calabria. As people were ushered out clutching their few possessions, bulldozers demolished the shanty town of cardboard and wood huts in a matter of hours.

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‘We want to live with them’: wolves airdropped into US to tackle moose problem

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With the wolf population dwindling in a Michigan park, four were trapped in Ontario and transported by helicopter

At a remote national park, four Canadians were recently airdropped into a dizzying new life in America.

They are expert moose hunters, accustomed to cold climates, and covered in fur.

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How many tampons do you need? This man will explain

what was he thinking?

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The astonishing misplaced confidence of some men has been on show again, with one very clever chap attempting to mansplain menstruation to women – using maths

This week, mansplaining on the internet reached giddy new heights as one man tried to calculate just how many tampons are necessitated by “the average period”.

A Twitter user shared a screengrab of a comment, posted on PinkNews’s Facebook page by a plucky gentleman outlining how women might be able to manage their periods affordably with only his trusty man-brain and the power of maths. To his credit, the maths was correct – it was just everything else that was wildly wrong.

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Former Trudeau aide at centre of scandal denies he pressured ex-minister

Gerald Butts said he had one short conversation with Jody Wilson-Raybould at the time about helping SNC-Lavalin Group Inc

A former key aide of Justin Trudeau, who is at the centre of a major political crisis, has denied he had pressured the then justice minister to allow a major firm to avoid a corruption trial last year.

Related: Justin Trudeau’s cabinet rallies behind him after second resignation

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Mark Zuckerberg lays out new ‘privacy-focused’ vision for Facebook

too little, too late #timeisup

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The company has weathered a series of revelations in the last two years about its private data collection and misuse

For 15 years, Facebook has pushed, prodded, cajoled, lured and tricked billions of people into sharing the most intimate details of their lives online, all purportedly in service of making the world “more open and connected”.

On Wednesday, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg put forward a new idea: doing the opposite.

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