Ltte: Responding to Reif

Shmuel Berman

Last Friday, The Observer ran an opinion column that was mainly a defense of statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mn.) which extended to a disappointingly one-sided analysis of the complex Middle East conflict. This column came after a week and a half of back-and-forth controversy over Omar’s statements. One tweet, in particular, has drawn bipartisan criticism as anti-Semitic. The fact that anybody is still willing to defend Omar’s words, even after she apologized and retracted her statement, is appalling to me for a number of reasons.

The beginning of last week’s column recognizes that the tweet in question drew heavy criticism from all sides. “Congress members [from] across the political spectrum about Israeli-American relations,” came forward to call out the implicit anti-Semitism in Omar’s tweet. In an increasingly divided country, such bipartisan agreement is rare. When Democrats and Republicans come together to condemn something troubling, it is a clear sign that what Omar said was wrong.

However, it doesn’t really matter if lawmakers came together against what was said or not. The fact is that neither Omar nor almost any other politician is in a position to decide whether or not a particular statement is anti-Semitic. There is only one group who can decide that: the Jewish people.

It would be ridiculous and unacceptable for a cisgender straight male to tell a member of the LGBTQ community whether something is homophobic, transphobic or not. Why then has it become acceptable for the progressive movement to dictate what is and isn’t anti-Semitic? It certainly wasn’t the place of The Observer’s column to do so, especially considering its lack of nuance.

The column last week also contained a heavily slanted version of recent history between Israel and the Palestinians. Only the facts that are intended to demonize Israel were presented. I would implore the reader to continue to research the reality of the situation in the Middle East, and I hope that they come to the same conclusion as I have: It’s complicated. Neither side is fully victim or perpetrator, and both have greatly wronged the other. This reality is drastically different from the picture presented in the column last week.

In my time reading The Observer, I have come to expect well-researched and thoughtful journalism, and last week’s column was a large step backward for that reputation.