Can you be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic, or are the two so tightly entwined as to be inseparable?
The question arises after Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said support for Israel in Congress is bought and paid for. It was not Omar's first anti-Israel comment, and she did apologize after being tarred as an anti-Semite on social media. But is being anti-Israel actually synonymous with being anti-Semitic?
"They are the same," says Steve Feldman, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America's Philadelphia district. A ferocious defender of Israel, Feldman says of Omar: "I believe she is anti-Jewish."
I differ with Feldman, because I can't read Omar's mind. I find charges of anti-Semitism — and racism — to be so serious that they require indisputable proof. Omar knows she's having a bad week when she is scolded by Nancy Pelosi, hears a demand she resign from President Donald Trump, and wins support from Holocaust denier and ex-KKK leader David Duke.
The reaction of the Anti-Defamation League's regional director, Nancy Baron-Baer, is more nuanced than Feldman's.
Anti-Israel and anti-Semitism "can be separable," she says, "but they often become one and the same."
She gives this example: When a U.N. committee lumps Israel together with other countries for human-rights abuses — including North Korea, China, Iran, and Cuba — that is anti-Israel. If it condemns only one country, and that country is the only Jewish state, "that's a problem," she says. And it's a problem that happens regularly.
"Words matter, and we expect our politicians will condemn bigotry when they see it," Baron-Baer says.
Omar gets bipartisan grief from two Philly-area colleagues in Congress.
First District U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, says Omar should be stripped of her committee assignments, as was Republican Steve King over accusations of racism. "Silence is acquiescence," Fitzpatrick tells me.
Second District U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat, believes, as do I, that "one can criticize the Israeli government without necessarily being anti-Semitic. Just like one can criticize the U.S. government without necessarily being anti-American."
In November, when Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill was fired by CNN for comments that were taken to be anti-Israel, I stood up for him. I found Hill's comments to be anti-Israel, but not anti-Semitic. I fought on social media with Jews and others who disagreed.
As for Omar, I had been proud of her story — elected to Congress after coming to the U.S. as a child from Somalia, a hellhole wracked by civil war. That is an amazing tribute to America. As Barack Obama once said: Where else would this story be possible?
Then Omar started shooting off her mouth, pouring venom on Israel, with some of it spilling onto the shoes of American Jews. Pushing the vile trope of Jewish cash — that's evil.
"Linking Jews to money control hearkens back to the Nazi era and previously was used to persecute Jews," says Naomi Adler, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Omar's most recent attack was similar to comments she has made before, criticizing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an effective pro-Israel lobby. Feldman says Omar is anti-Jewish to single out AIPAC "when there are also Arab lobbies and Islamic lobbies."
That seems to be the fault line, echoing the point made by Baron-Baer: If Israel is singled out for criticism, it will look like a people, not a nation, is being targeted.
That's where Omar went, and got burned.