Can one criticize the Israeli government without being anti-Israel or anti-Jewish? Were Republicans anti-American when they criticized President Barack Obama? Is President Donald Trump anti-Venezuela because he doesn’t support President Nicolas Maduro and is trying to push him out of power? These are silly questions. However, silly is the state of our politics these days.
Americans should be free to criticize the government of Israel and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recently told by his attorney general that he is likely to indict Netanyahu on “several criminal charges.” One can be anti-Netanyahu and be supportive of the State of Israel, just as the majority of Americans don’t approve of Trump but still remain supportive of the United States.
These are the arguments promoted by Trump who recently stated that “Democrats hate Jews” because some Democrats in Congress have been outspoken against Netanyahu’s government and Trump’s blind support of him. If, as Trump has stated, “Democrats hate Jews,” no one has told Jewish Americans who, according to data from FiveThirtyEight, have voted overwhelmingly Democratic for decades. “In 2004, the Jewish vote was about 74-25 percent in favor of Democrats” according to FiveThirtyEight. In 2016, it was 71-23, and after two years of Trump, “Democrats again won the Jewish vote 79-17 in 2018.”
Trump is projecting, perhaps. Let’s face it, he has not been a significant voice against the KKK, white supremacists groups, and other known anti-Jewish groups who have supported him and his policies from the start. One must ask and wonder: Why do these groups overwhelmingly support Trump?
This debate, which is older than the current administration, resurfaced when Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota stated that American politicians are essentially required to declare allegiance to Israel and Netanyahu despite his corruption or actions on the world stage. Many Republicans jumped on this as anti-Semitic. In fact, for years many Democrats and Republicans have voiced concern over Netanyahu’s behavior toward the Palestinians and his apparent lack of interest in a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Like Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric used to feed his base to maintain their support, Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric feeds his base and keeps him in power. Peace with the Palestinians would mean, after all, that Israel no longer needs a hardliner like Netanyahu. Fear is a powerful motivator for both right-wing Americans and right-wing Israelis, even if the fear is manufactured or exaggerated.
If Trump thinks Jewish Americans will become more Republicans because Congresswoman Omar is critical of Netanyahu, good luck with that. Jewish Americans are more concerned with the significant rise of anti-Jewish attacks from Trump supporters here at home and around the world.
Thirty-four out of 535 members of the House and Senate are Jewish. Eight are serving in the Senate and all of them are Democrats (although Sen. Bernie Sanders is technically an independent). Twenty-four of the 26 Jewish members of the House are Democrats. If any party has problems with Jewish voters or Jewish representation, it’s certainly not the Democrats.
To show their blind admiration for Netanyahu and Israel, Republicans went so far as to propose a bill in Congress that would allow state governments to cut ties with companies who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the government of Israel as a form of protest for their treatment of Palestinians and their continued development of settlements on occupied Palestinian land. So much for freedom of speech.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was raised Christian by her Jewish parents in order to protect her and who had multiple relatives killed in the Holocaust, says that we should be able to objectively criticize the actions of Netanyahu and his government without the comments being labeled anti-Semitic. She referred to those who made this link as “unjustified” and “people who search for simplistic arguments.” She went on to say, “I think that the truth is that in every country, there’s something to criticize." She also reminded us that “friends do that a lot to each other,” and “I do wish that there were policies that Israel is involved in that they weren’t.” Sanders, the first serious Jewish presidential candidate of either party, has also defended his right to criticize Israel. The list goes on.
The irony is that Netanyahu is not doing Israel any favors and, like his friend in the White House, seems to be more interested in protecting his own position of power than looking out for the long-term interest of his nation.