Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Politics - Like Acting and Aging - Ain't For Sissies

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

There is an old Hollywood axiom which states “. . . even more than talent, charisma or looks, the prime ingredient in becoming a star is the ability to accept rejection.” To a great extent the same axiom can be applied to both politics and writing. One week you’re up and finding favor; the next you’re down and being accused of callowness, insensitivity and yes, even treachery. In contemporary politics, once one has gone off the rhetorical rails, the opposition frequently - and gleefully - turns that person (or people) into the face of an entire political party. And those who, for whatever reason - fail to launch a twenty kiloton broadside against the political miscreants - are likewise accused of being in league with - and for all intents and purposes -agreeing with them.

Take the case of the three most widely publicized members of the newly-elected 116th Congress: Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and the Somali-born Ilhan Omar (MN). Without question, they are young, relatively inexperienced and have an awful lot to learn about the world - despite the fact that all three managed to get themselves elected to Congress . . . no mean feat. As a result of their perceived “differentness,” – and many of the things they have both said and proposed -  the three have garnered far, far more publicity than the rest of their large freshman class, made up of 59 Democrats and 29 Republicans. Besides the fact that both Tlaib and Omar are practicing Muslims (Tlaib wears a hijab) and the 29-year old Ocasio-Cortez is a self-proclaimed Socialist, the 3 have also made statements both to the press and via social media regarding Israel which are at odds with the majority of Democrats and virtually all Republicans. All three support the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement and have made comments which many take as being anti-Semitic.

About a week ago, Rep. Omar tweeted that American politicians’ unequivocal support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” ($100.00 bills). This comment drew an immediate condemnatory rebuke from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership. Within hours of her tweet, the Speaker and the leadership issued a joint statement calling Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive and insisted on an apology. In response, Omar said her intention was never to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. . . . This is why I unequivocally apologize.” Many Democratic members have urged holding a House vote on a ceremonial resolution condemning anti-Semitism. As of yesterday, there were no concrete plans to consider one. For his part, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to believe Rep. Omar’s apology. The president, who rejected her apology, went even further calling for her resignation from Congress.  “Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress . . . she is terrible” the president said during a Cabinet meeting.  Rep. Omar quickly fired back “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?"

Personally, I received an email from a longtime reader two days ago who angrily (and sadly) wanted to know why I never condemn “anti-Semitic Democrats,” write about the BDS movement, or have condemned Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar. Actually, I started writing about the noxious anti-Israel BDS campaign nearly 3 years ago in a blog entitled While BDS Is NOT a Gastric Condition, It IS a Bloody Pain in the Rear. And I have been crystal-clear about my absolute revulsion when it comes to the hatred of Jews. However, many have a far broader understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism. They tend to view those who favor a two-state solution (myself included), are against expanding settlements on the West Bank (again, myself included) or are highly critical of the Netanyahu administration (שוב, אני עצמי) as being anti Zionist at least, anti-Semitic at worst.  Believe me; I have been called both an “anti-Semite” and a “self-hating Jew” on more occasions than I care to count. It’s at times like these that instead of taking a stiff drink, I look up on the wall where proudly hangs my now 40-year old  סמיכ לרבנות  - rabbinic ordination.  

Without question, Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib are permitted to speak their minds; that’s what free speech is all about. Then too, those who oppose what they say and believe via their speeches, tweets and YouTubes have every right to push back and express their extreme revulsion. Many of the newest Democratic members of Congress come from a different generation . . . born after Vietnam, Watergate and the Iranian Revolution. Many of them have different worldviews and expectations from their elders. In short, they have an awful lot to learn. If they wish to have an impact on Congress and the future of America, they will have to take counsel from a far broader spectrum than they have  up to this point. But at the same time, there are, among the many, many new members of Congress, a larger number of combat veterans than we have seen in decades. They too bring a new face to Congress.

Republicans are already hard at work transforming Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar into the new face of the Democratic Party. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg noted: In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite. That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.  Although what Republican strategists are attempting to do is far from the truth, it is nothing new.   Remember,  politics, like acting and aging, ain’t for sissies.   “So why don’t Democrats give ‘em a taste of their own poison and make Reps. Steve King and Louis Gohmert - along with the likes of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and presidential adviser Stephen Miller into the face of the G.O.P?  Why not tag them with being pro-white nationalists, racists, and anti-immigration autocrats whose major constituency is under-educated white Christian men?  It is likely because Democrats just aren’t as skilled as their Republican counterparts when it comes to blowing dog whistles or bare-knuckle brawling.  

Unquestionably, anti-Semitism - which has never been eliminated - is once again on the rise - in America, Europe, the Middle East and South America. Just yesterday, seven British parliamentarians quit the Labour Party over the European Union and anti-Semitism- both being largely attributable to party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians.  In many parts of the world, anti-Semitism is the “gift that keeps on giving” - a handy ism which keeps governments and businesses from being blamed for social, educational and financial inequality.  And although the hatred of Jews and Israel is not nearly so virulent in the United States as in other parts of the world, it is fast becoming a meme for the misbegotten - a trope for Trumpsters . . .

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “He who would engage in politics must first develop the hide of a rhinoceros.”

623 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone