Haters are going to hate, but sometimes you just need to shake it off. There is no question that Israel is under siege by critics who hate the Jewish state without cause. We have seen within the past year two professors at the University of Michigan withhold recommendations to students, solely because they wanted to study in Israel. Measures promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions—more familiarly called BDS—have become increasingly popular in academic and so-called progressive circles. It has become even more of a clear-and-present danger as this month three new representatives elected this past November, and sworn into Congress with the new year, clearly, and proudly, showed hostility, albeit to varying degrees, towards Israel.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is the sweetheart of the new “Democratic-Socialist” Party. The Democrat from the Bronx literally “dissed” old-guard retired former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. She fashions herself as a Western European-style leftist who says she wants a political system “similar to England or Sweden.” Like those countries, she is a fierce critic of Israel—but she has also been the least forthcoming in openly advocating for BDS against the Jewish state. Ocasio-Cortez has accused Israel of committing “war crimes.” However, when asked what she would do if a neighboring nation was continuously targeting her Bronx neighborhood with missiles, she backed down and admitted that she “has a lot to learn on the issue.” Still, she remains steadfast that “disproportionate violence” inflicted by Israel puts the nation on the wrong side of progressive justice. Only militarily weaker juntas can justly murder civilians including the elderly, infirm women and children, in the name of the international resistance, apparently.
Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are much less reticent than their higher-profile comrade. Tlaib is an American of Palestinian ancestry. She posed on election night with a Palestinian flag. She was sworn in with a Koran while wearing a pin reading “Palestine” and she decorated her new office with a map of the Middle East illustrating a state of Palestine, which notably omitted any mention of “Israel.” She would replace us. Tlaib also openly dined with Abbas Hamideh, a Hezbollah supporter and founder of Al Awda, which is Arabic for “right of return.” If there was any question as to what Hamideh was referring, it disappeared in his advocacy: “Criminal Zionism will eventually die just like Nazism. No racist and supremacist political ideology should maintain itself,” Hamideh tweeted. “Israel does not have a right to exist. The terrorist entity is illegal and has no basis to exist other than a delusional ISIS-like ideology,” he wrote. Ironically, Tlaib, who makes clear where her primary interests lie, stated in one of her first Congressional statements that American members of Congress who advocate on behalf of Israel “forget what country they represent.”
The third member of the triad is Ilhan Omar, a Somalian-born representative who won with the help of a large African Islamist diaspora in the Minneapolis region. She knows who she is representing: Omar tweeted in the wake of her election, and in support of BDS, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” So, for Omar, it is not merely a political choice to oppose Israel, it is a holy imperative in the name of Allah. At least no one can accuse her of dual loyalties.
Under the First Amendment, of course, there is a right to hate. But there is no right to discriminate. Israel’s supporters have once again found themselves on the defensive in the face of the new Congress. Civil libertarians, supported by the ACLU, have made inroads in undercutting anti-BDS legislation that has been passed by 26 states. It is a reasonable response to unreasonable hatred. The problem is that legislation supporting the American values promoted by Israel are vulnerable because they are too particularized.
The ACLU was recently successful in supporting a Palestinian-American speech therapist, Bahia Amawi, who refused to certify that she would not boycott Israel. She lost her job as a contractor with the Pflugerville, Texas, school district. Represented by the ACLU, a District Court judge sided with Amawi that the state of Texas had no right to fire her because she refuses to buy Sabra hummus at home. The new Democrat haters of Israel are now using Amawi as a rallying cry. BDS is not about hating Zionism—it is merely freedom of speech. Once again it is the Jews and their lobbyists picking on a poor public school employee.
Not so fast. Yes, perhaps the anti-BDS legislation overshot, but schools and other government entities have a right, and an interest, in making sure contract workers are not going to underserve Americans by avoiding Israeli-made products, which might just possibly be the most effective products on the market for particular conditions. For instance, Teva, an Israeli-based pharmaceutical company, manufactures and distributes some of the most technologically advanced medications in the world. Can you imagine if a school nurse, on the basis of free speech, was permitted to refuse to treat patients with prescribed medications, simply because it was Israeli in origin?
A better approach than Texas’ is probably South Carolina’s law, which unlike Texas, does not refer to BDS by name. The South Carolina statute, pushed by Nikki Haley when she was governor, simply prohibits state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott others “based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin.” While the effect is the same, as was its intention, the verbiage turns South Carolina’s certification into a policy, banning discrimination. If the ACLU were to advocate against this content-neutral provision, an advocate would be required to get in front of a judicial panel and argue that the First Amendment means that victims of discrimination cannot be protected. A hard sell, even for the most ardent of bullies.
Still, it does not mean that the new front of Israel bashing has not been opened. When Joe Lieberman (gently) chided Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recently for her advocacy of “moral clarity”—in effect her call for a litmus test of certain liberal orthodoxies in order to hold a place in the new Democratic party—Lieberman suggested that Democratic candidates did better in districts that Republicans picked up in 2016, but Dems won back in the most recent election by taking more centrist positions. Ocasio-Cortez dismissed him out of hand. She pithily taunted Lieberman, a party stalwart for a quarter century, by tweeting “New party, who dis?”
Indeed, a dis it was. Lieberman took the high road and at least publicly, did not take offense. He replied that her tweet while “clever,” was “silly.” How silly, clever or indicative of the future direction of the more liberal political movements in America remains to be seen. At one time, the Democratic party was a “big tent” that included urban ethnics including pro-choice Catholics, rural union factory workers and ethnic New Yorkers who believed in justice but also Jewish values. Whether that party still has a place as a broad national party is an open question. In its place may be a party that no longer respects a variety of beliefs, one that views a nation built on consensus and cooperation as dismissed and outdated—and as for someone who does not fit in in the new party: Who dis?
By Stephen Loeb