Over the past week, yet another recently-elected progressive congresswoman found herself in the eye of a media storm. On February 10, Somali-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar retweeted a posting by American journalist Glenn Greenwald which criticised attacks on her and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, adding, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
Shortly after Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor at the Jewish periodical The Forward, asked Omar to clarify who, she was suggesting, pays US politicians, to which the congresswoman responded with a single word “AIPAC”, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
AIPAC is a right-wing Zionist lobby group, which, as it declares on its website, “advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States”. As any other lobbyist operation, it raises funds and uses them to influence politicians. As an Al Jazeera documentary and other investigations have demonstrated, AIPAC leverages its large budget to gain influence over US politics. In this sense, there is nothing factually wrong about Omar’s assertion.
Yet Ungar-Sargon was quick to charge Omar with “anti-Semitism”, accusing her of peddling anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish conspiracies. A battle of accusations ensued, involving politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish advocacy groups.
Even US President Donald Trump became involved, hypocritically calling on Omar to resign, claiming “anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress”.
After facing mounting pressure, Omar caved in and needlessly apologised for her comment. Once again, the US political establishment and the mainstream media demonstrated that they cannot tolerate progressive, anti-Zionist voices like Omar’s and will persist in their relentless campaign to silence them with fake accusations of anti-Semitism.
However, this episode also elucidated two important facts: one, that “liberal Zionism” does not differ in substance from “right-wing Zionism”; and two, that intersectionality in politics and advocacy is increasingly becoming a grave threat to Zionists and their supporters in the US.
The ‘liberal Zionist’ fallacy
That Ungar-Sargon was among the first to accuse Omar of anti-Semitism should not come as a surprise.
The Forward claims to be “the most influential nationwide Jewish media outlet today” providing “rigorous reporting and balanced commentary on politics”. It is perceived to be “progressive” or “liberal” due to its occasional critique of Israeli government policies and tokenisation of marginalised voices.
Liberal Zionism presents itself as a left-wing political alternative to its more explicit fascistic version. In a recent article, Ungar-Sargon precisely expressed this false notion by attributing white supremacy exclusively to the right-wing branch of Zionism.
But the “liberal Zionism”, which Ungar-Sargon and The Forward represent, de facto serves to grease the machinations of Israel’s reactionary politics by sanitising the white supremacist essence of the Zionist movement, concealing its motivations and trajectory.
Thus, it was hardly surprising that Ungar-Sargon chose to accuse Omar of “anti-Semitism” by deploying Zionist propaganda which co-opts Judaism as a weapon of oppression and a shield against criticism, consequently labelling resistance to Zionism and Israeli policies as “anti-Semitic”.
As veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has said: “If you remain a Zionist, you can no longer be of the left; if you’re of the left, you can no longer be a Zionist.”
Or in other words, Ungar-Sargon’s feigned liberalism or left-wing slant far better represent oppressive and reactionary Zionist principles peppered with identity politics, than a genuine left-wing Jewish outlook.
All versions of Zionism, including The Forward’s liberal sort, lead to the same reactionary end of unbridled expansionism and continued settler colonial genocide of Palestinian people.
Zionism has always been a white supremacist, settler colonialist, anti-democratic, right-wing ideology, which has demanded a loyalty based on nationalist racism. Zionists of all sorts, including of the liberal kind, have collaborated with anti-Semitic forces towards a mutual goal of global apartheid, often at the expense of Jews who live outside Israel.
Zionism and its denialism appeals to white supremacists in the United States who similarly are in denial of the American genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of black Africans.
The ‘threat’ of intersectionality
This recent attack on Omar is part of the concentrated, fraudulent smearing campaign against her and Congresswoman Tlaib and is directly linked to the targeting of other pro-Palestinian men and women of colour (such as Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis).
What all of these people have in common is that they represent intersectional, anti-imperialist, leftist and feminist politics; that is, they all recognise that the sources of oppression they face in their everyday lives are interconnected and interdependent.
For someone like Omar – a black Somali Muslim woman – oppression manifests itself in the white supremacy that seeks to subjugate all non-white races, in the imperialism that has stoked war in her home country Somalia, in the Islamophobia which demonises and marginalises her Muslim community and the patriarchy which constantly tries to relegate women to a secondary, subordinate position in society.
Although she is not Palestinian, her experience of all these forms of oppression cannot but make her sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This is because all of them – white supremacy, imperialism, Islamophobia and patriarchy – lie at the very core of the Zionist movement which has victimised and brutalised Palestinians for more than seven decades now.
Seeing and resisting oppression through the lens of intersectionality galvanises lessons of past anti-colonial movements and helps break apart the fictitious political narratives of white supremacy, imperialism, racism and patriarchy. Furthermore, the recognition that various oppressed peoples have common enemies serves to reinforce solidarity between them and assists in principled grassroots movements, such as BDS.
The reason why Zionists consider intersectional solidarity dangerous and why they tend to attack viciously those who represent it (such as Omar, Hill, Davis, etc) is because it dispels fragmenting propaganda and empowers Palestinians and pro-Palestinian forces to build a wider front to challenge Zionism and the hegemonic powers which support it. It is able to mobilise an increasing number of people under the anti-Zionism banner who are unified in their call for justice in Palestine.
To maintain this united front, moving forward, it is important to retain clarity of vision and defy the pernicious conflation of Zionism and Judaism or anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
As Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and cofounder of BDS, once wrote: “In response to this fatal alliance of savage capitalism in the West with Israeli racism, exclusion and colonial subjugation, the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel presents not only a progressive, anti-racist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral and effective form of civil non-violent resistance, but also a real chance of becoming the political catalyst and moral anchor for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality and dignity and the right of nations to self determination.”