The Democratic Party faces a test of character. Most mainstream institutions have failed such tests in recent years but, in the spirit of Samuel Beckett, let’s try again and fail better this time. The trial confronting the electoral vehicle of American liberalism is whether liberals still have a firm grip on the wheel or the extremists in the back are doing the driving.
This week, Donald Trump tweeted that Ilhan Omar, a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota’s fifth district and a Somali-born refugee who became a US citizen in 2000, and three other US-born congresswomen should ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. Trump’s tweets were racist and un-American and have inspired racist and un-American chanting. Republicans reluctant to condemn the President’s racism are cowardly enablers. But Trump’s baiting of her does not excuse Omar’s own baiting of Jews.
Omar has introduced a resolution in defence of boycotts. While the text doesn’t mention Israel explicitly, in her accompanying media comments Omar made it clear that she has in mind specifically the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS aims to isolate, stigmatise and delegitimise Israel in the political, commercial, academic and cultural sectors.
Boycotters refuse to work with Israelis or Israeli organisations, protest shops that sell Israeli goods and demand the cancelling of performances by Israeli artists. According to the left-wing anti-Zionist scholar Norman Finkelstein: ‘It’s not an accidental and unwitting omission that BDS does not mention Israel… [T]here’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.’
While BDS on its face appears merely anti-Israel, the Anti-Defamation League notes that ‘Many of the founding goals of the BDS movement… along with many of the strategies employed in BDS campaigns are anti-Semitic’. Organising boycotts of Jewish vendors or campaigning for special markings to be affixed to their products has long been a facet of anti-Semitism, most notoriously by the Nazis