Swarthy Levantines Fighting

I wouldn’t dream of attributing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s concern about Palestinians to her having loyalties divided between the US and a Muslim caliphate, so I don’t accept her attributing Jews’ concern about the survival of the Jewish state to our having loyalties divided between the US and Israel.

If by any chance this analogy helps the Congresswoman grasp why her criticism has been taken ill, that would be swell; because otherwise we Dems are engaged in a pointless display of “Let’s you and him fight.” [Almost] needless to say, it wasn’t Jews who decided to blacken her name by connecting her with 9/11 in a scurrilous poster; it was West Virginia Evangelicals who voted for Trump. So let’s keep eyes on the prize here: most people who hate Jews hate Muslims just as much, if not more, so don’t give them ammunition by talking about the divided loyalty of any subgroup of swarthy Levantines.

That canard—not criticism of Israel—is the anti-Semitism we’re complaining about. (The ‘divided loyalty’ smear has gotten quite a workout in American history: because he was Catholic, John F. Kennedy was accused of being in thrall to the Pope.) Yes, Bibi is awful and should be in jail; yes, AIPAC represents the most retrograde right-wing notions about how to protect Israel. No, I don’t have to endorse BDS to acknowledge Likud’s shortcomings, any more than you (Congresswoman) have to get up every morning and say “9/11 was terrible” before you can be listened to about American policy in the Middle East.

As it is written: in a democracy one should neither give offense lightly, nor take it. I’m prepared not to take offense, provided you’re prepared to acknowledge that you might have given offense without meaning to. I realize you’ve already done this once, after your comment about Jews’ financial power, and that repeated demands for apology are irksome; but perhaps that will give you pause the next time you get ready to stereotype people—allies on every other subject—with whom you disagree.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

22 thoughts on “Swarthy Levantines Fighting”

  1. Somalis aren’t Levantines, or did you confuse Ilhan Omar with Rashida Tlaib? In fact, notions of “Arabness” are actually quite controversial in Minnesota’s Somali community, with many Somalis believing that adopting Arab dress, specific religious practices, and/or language are antithetical to notions of Somalinimo, while others do so enthusiasticly.

    Maybe you didn’t understand the long standing controversy you stepped into, or maybe you intentionally wanted to denigrate Somali culture by activating the bigoted trope of Somali inferiority to Arabs. I guess nobody should take offense as long as you apologize?

    1. M. Kokoras: You’re right: I wasn’t aware of the hornet’s nest I was stepping in, and I’m grateful to be schooled. I apologize for having given offense to Somalis and Somali-Americans. When I wrote about “swarthy Levantines,” I was actually thinking of Palestinians and Israelis, the object of the conversation rather than the subject, but by writing carelessly I gave air-time to a slur, which was not at all my intention and for which I apologize.

      See how easy that was?

      1. And in so doing, managed to misspell my name. See how hard it is to get it right?

  2. Let us imagine — hypothetically, but I believe certainly representing reality — a loyal American citizen X who also has ties of birth, ancestry and citizenship to a country Y, not the United States and far from the Middle East. X asserts full loyalty to both the United States and Country Y; sees no conflict in that now and expects none in the future; and asserts an intention to deal intelligently and reasonably with any such conflict in the unlikely event that it occurs. May X’s position be described as dual loyalty? Or as divided loyalty? Or is there some other short description that is preferable? Or is it not proper to try to describe it all, and if not, is that solely because it could by analogy complicate the concerns of American Jews? Or for some other reason? Or is there an argument that this situation does not and cannot exist?

    1. Nice try but no cigar. The subject at hand is a specific congressperson and her habit of either 1) putting her foot in her mouth OR 2) trying to be slick (and failing).

      I am not sure yet but it won’t surprise me if it turns out to be door number 2.

      Trying to make this into a hypothetical does seem like an attempt at distraction and/or trolling, per Chait.

      But if you are a nice person and actually meant this, then, yes that situation might frequently occur. Who cares? Why would we in our polyglot nation bother worrying about it *in the abstract?*

      Have a nice day.

  3. Just lay off her. She didn’t say anything intellectually indefensible, and it was not just Jews she was complaining about having dual loyalty. She may or may not be an anti-Semite (personally I doubt it), but that case is far from proven by the quotes being used against her.

    1. I am happy to lay off of herself. Imo, she has used up 12 of her 15 minutes. If she manages to stay out of trouble, great. We’ll see. (I doubt it though.)

      But the larger issue? No way. Almost everyone agrees that it is, and should remain, possible to criticize the policies of the Israeli government. That is not uncommon. But if people cannot manage to do that without offending a big part of the population, we are in trouble. I think the Dems embarrassed themselves badly.

      Moreover, for a person of color to keep making these errors is particularly sad bc of how important Jewish Americans have been in the fight for civil rights. It’s just so ignorant!

      1. I’m prepared to accept your good faith but not necessarily that of most Republicans, such as Trump, who seem to have significant ulterior motives. But you are proceeding from the assumption that not clear specifically how Omar crossed the boundaries of what you say you’ll accept as permissible criticism of Israel.

        I, for, have no forgotten how the Israelis insulted and disrespected my vice president when he visited their country. Neither have I forgotten the vitriol hurled at President Obama or the insult of an Israeli president coming to my country in an effort to humiliate him. These are not the actions of a friendly country.

        As an American I haven’t forgotten the way in which the Israelis have repeatedly interfered in my country’s politics on behalf of the Republicans, even though they are associated with the most vile Jew haters in this country. I also haven’t forgotten that it was a MAGA gunman who recently massacred innocent Jew in a synagogue. And yet, Israel continues to support the Republicans and all things MAGA.

        And certainly I cannot overlook the danger that Israel presents to Jews outside its borders. Israel is aligned with extreme right wing leaders in a number of countries such as Hungry, who Jew are under threat by Israel’s friends.

        There’s a reason why so many of Omar’s defenders are liberal American Jew who no longer consider Israel to be a friend of our country or of the Jewish diaspora.

  4. Any country that accepts dual nationality structurally rejects the absurd “single loyalty” standard. Patriotism is more like parenting (n open) than marriage (n=1). It’s actually useful for a country to have citizens with strong ties of culture and affection to other parts of the world: they add a layer of empathy and knowledge that’s hard to get otherwise.

    Dual citizenship should not be, and in sensible countries (not including Australia) is not, a disqualification for serving in sensitive and responsible public offices (diplomats, spooks, military officers, elected office). Dual citizenship is no doubt incompatible with the highest levels of leadership such as the Presidency or Cabinet office. Obviously the dual citizenship creates no-go areas lower down: you can’t put your Icelandic-American diplomat in a job, say on fishing rights, where US interests are likely to clash with those of Iceland. Estonia is harder than Iceland, because of Russian designs on Estonia and the important NATO commitment.

    Israel is much the hardest case for the USA, because of the intensity of feelings on all sides, the high political engagement of American Jews, and the extremely complex web of coincident and divergent American and Israel interests. Not to mention the longstanding abuse of the special relationship, and the exploitation of the American Jewish community, by the Israeli hard right and its agents in AIPAC. I read their aim as to silence legitimate concerns like Ms Omar’s for the Palestinians, and to make unconditional and uncritical support for Israeli policy a purity test for American politicians.

    BTW, I am at loss to understand Kelly’s reference to ISIS. The “caliphate” was an absurd stunt by a handful of millenarian fanatics, and it achieved no more international recognition during its thankfully short existence than Jan of Leyden’s universal kingdom achieved in Münster in 1536, that is zero. Not has Ms Omar, nor SFIK any other American politician ever shown any sign of supporting it. The suggestion, even as a thought experiment, is a slur.

    I am both a British and a European citizen. My European patriotism has been trashed and defiled by the xenophobic little-England Brexiters, God rot them. I question their British patriotism, as they are putting at risk the Union in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    1. James, you’re right, there is no such thing as a Muslim caliphate; I wasn’t suggesting that there was. I was drawing as close an analogy as I could think of to the Jewish/Israeli issue, while knowing that Somalis are not Arabs (see above) and not wanting to put Ms. Omar in even the hypothetical position of defending Saudi Arabia. If in doing so I repeated a slur, I apologize.

      It’s very useful for me to experience what a land-mine it is to discuss this issue; it makes me more empathetic to Congresswoman Omar. I still believe she needs more awareness of anti-Semitic tropes so she can avoid them, just as I apparently need more awareness of slurs against Muslims or Somalis so I can avoid them.

      Again: In a democracy one should neither give offense lightly, nor take it. If I gave offense, it was out of ignorance; it was not done lightly or to gain political advantage. I trust and believe the same is true of the Congresswoman, and that we can move on from here. It’s the 23 Republicans opposed to condemning hatred who should worry us all.

    2. I guess I view things from the other angle. Dual loyalties are only an issue if there is about to be a war. The US has no reason to have a war with Israel or with Palestinians. The way I think of it is this - Israel is my brother, Palestinians are more like friends. There is no good reason that both groups can’t have peace and prosperity and I think it’s entirely possible that this could someday happen. (Though I don’t have anything helpful to say about *how* it will happen - other than, while we wait, maybe we should airlift some sandwiches or something.)

      And I’m sorry but it doesn’t seem to me to be that difficult to say - “I have disagreements with some Israeli policies.” The sky is still up there - what is so hard about this?

      Therefore, when I see some people repeatedly *not* managing to make this simple distinction … I get suspicious. And then when I see the DP fall all over itself, I get a bit depressed. What a bunch of numbnuts. A metaphorical slight cold on all of them.

    3. “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;…”

      Does that sound like the naturalization oath of a country that accepts dual nationality?

  5. It seems to me that there are a number of threads in Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments that ought to be teased apart.

    First is her rhetoric. There is no question that it was, at best, ill-considered. It dredges up the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty.

    However, the manner in which she framed her comments not only misses the point, but effectively immunizes Netanyahu and his cabal from criticism. It is clear that they and their American apologists are now able to use the anti-Semitism card as a protective cloak to ward off legitimate criticism. As Gideon Levy put it in a column in Haaretz: “There is anti-Semitism one must fight, and there is criticism of Israel and the Jewish establishment it is imperative to support. Manipulations exercised by the Israeli propaganda machine and the Jewish establishment have managed to make the two issues identical.” https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-keep-it-up-ilhan-omar-1.6999623

    But Levy gets it wrong too. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments make it clear that she’s not ready for prime time. When one is critical of X, make certain that one’s comments are narrowly drawn to hit the target, not create collateral damage.

    1. But we are leaving out the voters. We can’t just talk about them like they are children and nothing can be expected of them. Or, did you mean Congress? Who is being manipulated by this “establishment,” and how exactly? I kind of feel like you just changed the topic. I don’t know who the establishment is anymore - oligarchs? Billionaires?

      If you just mean lobbyists, then I don’t know what to tell you. Legally there’s nothing that can be done about them. I strongly dislike lying, but the only way to fix that is with good journalists.

  6. I’d like to take a slightly different perspective on the situation. Back when I was in college, a friend and I, both studying linguistics, observed that a mutual friend-let’s call him “Ralph”-was not picking up on some expressions that we found commonplace. They weren’t the current expressions of our generation but those of our parents’ generation, and Ralph’s parents were immigrants whose language was not English and whose culture was not American. My own mother, raised by non-English-speaking immigrants, had no trouble with the expressions of her generation, but was confused by expressions that her peers with English-speaking parents were familiar with, having heard them at the dinner table.

    Rep. Omar is an immigrant who comes late to American culture, including awareness of its long history of anti-semitic dog-whistles. It’s the nature of dog-whistles that they rely on very specific phrasing. Personally, I’m inclined to cut a non-native speaker some slack, particularly as some of those shouting most loudly in horror at Rep. Omar’s statements are themselves guilty of far worse. (Or of not calling their colleagues out on far worse.)

    Dr. Kleiman’s point that “[i]n a democracy one should neither give offense lightly, nor take it” is, in my view, the take-away.

    1. And, with all that said, footnotes are required.
      (1) I don’t wish to appear to downplay the problematic nature of Rep. Omar’s remarks. She may not have intended the dog-whistles, but that doesn’t change the fact that for many hearers they’re there.
      (2) Nothing wrong with coming late to American culture, a fact which was drilled into me by my grandfather, whose response to any debate about politics in which we differed was to remind me that he was a better American than I was: after all, he had chosen this country-I had just been born here and couldn’t claim credit for that.
      (3) One group I see left out of the discussion is a group that really does seem to act like it has a greater allegiance to Israel: the evangelical Christians who are focused on the “End Times.” Indeed, most of the evangelicals I know (and I know a good few) tend to quote a Bible verse, Genesis 12:3, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee,” as if it’s the final word in any discussion about Israel’s policies. It’s pretty much “Israel, right or wrong.” That said, it’s probably as well that no one is raising the question about whether Rep. Omar might have been referring to evangelical Christians. That’s a whole different kettle of fish.
      (4) I hope she’s being gently mentored by some of the higher-ranking Democrats. I think the management of the Resolution was skillful, and I think in particular that the 23 Republicans who voted no gave Democrats a potentially useful parry should Rep. Omar’s comments be brought up.

  7. Rep. Omar most emphatically did not attribute “Jews’ concern about the survival of the Jewish state to [our] having loyalties divided between the US and Israel”. Here is her relevant assertion (from the fuller quote below):

    “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

    The word “allegiance” is akward in this context, but substitute the word “support” and the awkwardness evaporates without changing the meaning of the sentence. This poor word choice, in a context where Rep. Omar was clearly trying to be conciliatory while explaining herself, does not seem to justify the ensuing level of condemnation.

    ———- Full Quote (copied from Vox) ———————————-
    What I’m fearful of — because Rashida [Tlaib] and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim. And so to me, it’s something that becomes designed to end the debate because you get in this space of — yes, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, “The words you used, Ilhan, are resemblance [sic] of intolerance.” And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that.

    But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something regardless of what it is we say that is supposed to be about foreign policy or engagement or advocacy about ending oppression or the freeing of every human life and wanting dignity, we get to be labeled something, and that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine. So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it okay for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby?

    1. The full text is useful. “Allegiance” is a precise mediaeval concept: it’s the duty a vassal owes his lord (or in rare cases lady), a well-defined package of mutual of asymmetrical duties. (Quaere to emore expert commenters: did serfs owe allegiance or merely obedience? Their subjection was involuntary and inherited, unlike that of a baron.) In a monarchy, allegiance is to the person of the king or queen as holder of the office, possibly to the abstracted institution (the Crown). The notion of allegiance to a country is ill-defined, and the idea of allegiance to a flag, as in the bizarre US “Pledge of Allegiance”, strikes this Brit as a simple category mistake. You can no more promise to obey the lawful orders of a flag than those of a coffee machine.

    2. Right. She doesn’t like that Israel has a lobby here. Tough luck.

      If you want to have a conversation about Palestine … start a new thread?

      1. Look, you understand, I am referring to the First Amendment, right? You get that?

        And why doesn’t the congressperson, who presumably swore to uphold it already, when she took office?

        This is basic stuff, isn’t it? What am I missing?

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