Last Monday, The New York Times reported that Democrats are “showing zero tolerance for bad behavior in their own ranks.” The article came as Democratic leaders demanded the resignation of Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia following the disclosure of a 35-year-old picture on his page in his medical school yearbook depicting a man in black face and a second one dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. We would no doubt be appalled if a picture surfaced of the Governor of New York dressed in chasidic garb with another person dressed as a Nazi storm trooper. The passage of time does not make the photo any more acceptable, and the condemnation of Governor Northam is well deserved.
But on the same day that The New York Times first reported on the Northam yearbook photo, it also featured a front-page article on divisions in the Democratic Party over Israel. It focused in large part on Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Speaking about supporters of legislation to protect states that have adopted anti-BDS legislation, Representative Tlaib said, “They forgot what country they represent,” using the anti-Semitic canard that Jews have “dual loyalty.” This, coming from a woman who celebrated her Congressional victory by dancing with the Palestinian flag. Even J Street withdrew its support for her when she said that Israel has no right to exist.
Representative Omar has tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” When questioned by CNN about what her message would be to Jewish Americans who were offended, she replied that she did not see why Jews should be offended. More recently, Representative Omar said, “when I see Israel institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it and we still uphold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost want to chuckle.”
Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. But the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave several examples of anti-Semitism, including:
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination, e.g. by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it what is not expected or demanded of other democratic nations.
Using the symbols associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policies to that of the Nazis.
By those standards, Representatives Tlaib and Omar can both be fairly labeled as anti-Semitic.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has defended Representatives Tlaib and Omar as “thoughtful colleagues.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a reliable supporter of Israel, said, “I don’t know that I draw the conclusion that these two members are anti-Semitic.” I can understand why Congressmen Hoyer and Jeffries reacted as they did. Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are freshmen members of the House of Representatives and relatively minor figures in the Democratic power structure. To label them as anti-Semitic would give them even greater attention. Better to make clear, as they did, that the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus supports Israel and that they strongly disagree with the positions of Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, while essentially punting on the question of whether they are anti-Semitic. But the response of Democrats towards anti-Semitism in their own ranks is a far cry from the “zero tolerance” shown towards other forms of bigotry.
Given the rising amount of hostility towards Israel and outright anti-Semitism on the political left, it is understandable that we would want to disengage from the Democratic Party. That would be a mistake of historic proportions. Next week I will explain why.
Manny Behar is the former Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council and was a senior aide to several public officials. He can be reached at email@example.com.