March 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed with an overwhelming majority an anti-hate measure in response to freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's anti-Israel comments. She accused Israel supporters of having "allegiance to a foreign government."
Those comments were seen, if not totally anti-Semitic, as containing tropes of anti-Semitism. In one tweet she says: "It is all about the Benjamins." She is wrong on that, as a very prominent "Benjamin," Bernie Sanders, if "Jews" are intended by "Benjamins," came to her defense. Omar, D-Minn., just apologized and kept quiet. Instead, she should have issued a statement and went to the media to explain what she meant. In a way, her failure to properly clarify her position and statements gave ammunition to the Israeli government defenders who claim that any criticism of Israel is a form of hatred expression against the Jews. Her comments pushed to the public discourse the issue of anti-Semitism. Some Republicans who did not vote on the resolution objected because it did not single out Omar and it placed anti-Semitism on par with other forms of bigotry.
However, Omar's remarks reveal a changing public opinion toward Israel. Even Thomas Friedman, in an op-ed critical of Omar published in The New York Times, said that the congresswoman is saying what others want to say but are too scared to, including members of Congress. Today, many people question the special treatment Israel is getting. They argue that Israel should no longer be treated like a victim of the Holocaust and should be held accountable like any other country.
The Democratic House Majority Whip James Clyburn defended the freshman congresswoman, saying that Omar's experience as a refugee who fled her native Somalia and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya is "more personal" than those whose parents suffered the Holocaust. Even the face of the Jewish community in the United States is changing. More and more American Jewish groups such as J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace are emerging critical of Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians.
Staunch defenders of Israel have matched Israel with the Jews and portrayed any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. This attitude has created in the public perception an equivalence between Jews and Israel. However, this equality is a double-edged sword. As public opinion is changing toward Israel, it could have a spillover on the image of Jews. Two generations ago, born a "Jew" or a "Hebrew" was a stigma. Today, being a Jew is a privilege. People look up to this community that brought to world some of its most brilliant scientists, artists, academics, activists, businessmen and philanthropists.
This is why Omar's comments should be treated as a wake-up call to the Jewish community in the United States. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government treats occupation as a normality, exercises collective punishment, demolishes homes and throws families in the street and humiliates an entire population day in and day out. Against international laws, Israel's government continues to build illegal settlements. Additionally, Netanyahu is racist toward a large minority in the country: the Arab citizens of Israel. All those factors have helped paint Israel as an apartheid state. In Europe, the image has changed and leaders are more and more vocal in their criticism of Israel. We see today the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement gaining steam to prove this fact.
Despite the organized effort of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the various media and social organizations affiliated with it, the image has started to change in the United States. The pro-Likud lobby (AIPAC) that is helping the Netanyahu government maintain the current course of action will lead Israel and the American Jewish community toward disaster. It is time for the Jewish community to realize that the goodwill it has cultivated through centuries of outstanding achievements can be washed away by Netanyahu's brutal policies.
Aware of this fact, the Jewish community should start showing Israel's government some tough love and should start supporting politicians who are pro-peace. It is time for the Jewish Americans to show Netanyahu the door. May be at the end, the Jewish American community will think Omar's comments were not as bad as they seemed. A least they helped them grasp the reality of the changing image of Israel before it is too late.
Dania Koleilat Khatib is an affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in U.S.-Arab relations and researches sectarianism, extremism and governance. Her book "The Arab Lobby and the U.S.: Factors for Success and Failure" was published by Routledge UK and translated to Arabic.