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It’s Time to Tell the Truth: Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy Supports Ilhan Omar’s Critique of Israel

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The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, white supremacy and other forms of hate, following a week of debate among congressional Democrats. The controversy began after some lawmakers accused Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar of invoking anti-Semitic tropes while questioning U.S. foreign policy on Israel. The House leadership initially drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in what was seen as a direct rebuke of Omar. But many progressive Democrats said Omar, one of the first two Muslim Congresswoman in U.S. history, was unfairly being singled out. The split within the Democratic Party forced the leadership to withdraw its initial resolution and then present a much broader one. Congressmember Ilhan Omar voted for and praised the new resolution in a joint statement with fellow Muslim lawmakers Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana. We speak with Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist and member of the newspaper’s editorial board. His latest piece is headlined “Keep It Up, Ilhan Omar.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. On Thursday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, white supremacy, and other forms of hate. The resolution, as initially written, was seen as a direct rebuke of Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar for her comments about U.S. foreign policy with Israel. The vote capped a week of intense debate among congressional Democrats about anti-Semitism and U.S. policy on Israel.

We’re joined now by three guests. In Tel Aviv, Gideon Levy, longtime Israeli journalist, Haaretz columnist, member of the newspaper’s editorial board, his latest piece headlined “Keep It Up, Ilhan Omar.” He’s also the author of The Punishment of Gaza.

Phyllis Bennis is with us in Washington, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace, her recent piece for In These Times headlined “Why False Accusations of Anti-Semitism Against Ilhan Omar Are So Harmful.”

And Remi Kanazi is with us here in New York, a Palestinian-American poet and activist, the author of a collection of poetry, Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s go to Tel Aviv first. Gideon Levy, your response to the debate and the final passage of the resolution on Thursday in the House of Representatives?

GIDEON LEVY: It’s wonderful that the House deals with anti-Semitism. It’s wonderful that the House condemns anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism should be condemned. But the context is very suspicious and very troubling. Let me be very frank with you, Amy. We have to say the truth: The Israeli lobby, the Jewish lobby, are, by far, too strong and too aggressive. It’s not good for the Jewish community. It’s not good for Israel.

What is happening now is that some kind of fresh air, some kind of new voices are emerging from Capitol Hill, raising legitimate questions about Israel, about America’s foreign policy toward Israel and about the Israeli lobby in the States. Those are very legitimate questions, and it is more than needed to raise them. But the Israeli propaganda and the Jewish propaganda in recent years made it as a systematic method, whenever anybody dares to raise questions or to criticize Israel, he is immediately and automatically labeled as anti-Semite, and then he has to shut his mouth, because after this, what can he say?

This vicious circle should be broken. And I really hope that great, great politicians, like Mrs. Omar and others, will be courageous enough to stand in front those accusations and to say, “Yes, it is legitimate to criticize Israel. Yes, it is legitimate to raise questions. And this does not mean that we are anti-Semites. We are not ready to play this game anymore, in which they shut our mouths with those accusations, which, in most of the cases, are hollow.”

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of effect does this debate—now, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and André Carson, the three Muslim congressmembers, applauded the final resolution, saying it’s the first time that there was this anti—basically, an anti-Islamophobia resolution that was passed by the House of Representatives, of course, in addition to the anti-Semitism issue. They broadened it out. What kind of effect does this debate have in Israel? And, you know, you’re just about to have your elections. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is just about to be indicted for corruption.

GIDEON LEVY: Yeah, as you probably know, Amy, the campaign in Israel deals only with one question: Netanyahu, yes or no? And many more important questions and crucial questions and fatal questions are even not being discussed.

But in any case, Mrs. Omar will be also portrayed in Israel, as in any other place in the Jewish communities, as an anti-Semite, as a dangerous woman, as an enemy of peace, an enemy of Israel, an enemy of the Jewish people. And, you know, the propaganda, this kind of propaganda, is very, very efficient.

And we just have—I just got so many emails after my last piece, and someone asked me, “How can a Jew support such a woman?” So I answered him: “Very easily. Very, very easily.” Because she seems to be courageous, and she seems to say the truth.

And it’s about time to say the truth, and, yes, Amy, to ask: Do we support automatically and blindly the occupation? Is it legitimate to criticize the occupation? Maybe it is legitimate to handle Israel as South Africa was handled. Maybe BDS is something that we should consider. Those questions are even not legitimate to raise in the United States. And maybe now this vicious circle will be broken, and people will have the courage, the guts and the power to ask questions. Yes, everything is questioned. Even God is questionable.

So, the relations with Israel is not questionable? I saw the other day a congressman say that nobody should question the relations between the United States and Israel. Excuse me? Nobody should question the relations between Israel and the United States? Here, from Tel Aviv, I claim that those relationships are corrupted and are bad for peace and bad for Israel for the long run, because the United States let Israel go crazy, continue the occupation, do whatever it wants, and gets this automatic and blind support.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy is speaking to us from Tel Aviv, a Jewish reporter with Haaretz newspaper, the Israeli newspaper, and on the editorial board there.

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Debate over Ilhan Omar Highlights New Willingness in U.S. to Question Power of Pro-Israeli Lobby

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