In light of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D- Minn.) recent anti-Semitic statements, The Israel Project CEO and President, Joshua S. Block, told PBS in a TV interview Thursday that the congresswoman had used “specific language that seeks to marginalize and stigmatize Jewish participation in the political process, in a way that’s very dangerous for Jews.”
While Block clarified to host Nick Schifrin that “there is nothing wrong with making policy concerns about Israel known,” he warned that the situation in the British Labour Party must serve as an example for Americans for what happens when “a climate that’s unsafe for Jews” replaces civilized political debate.
“I think we need to be very conscious here,” Block said, “of the need to stand up and make sure that the kinds of anti-Semitic language, tropes, ideas don’t cloud the conversation when it comes to the discussion of Israel, which is a legitimate and important policy conversation to have.”
Omar recently drew criticism from both parties after suggesting political support for Israel entails “allegiance to a foreign country.” Democrats later came under fire from within their own ranks when Rep. Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) blasted the party for condemning all forms of hatred in a resolution, rather than solely condemning anti-Semitism, in light of recent comments made by Omar.
In response to a comment from fellow panelist Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street – where he suggested that the toxic atmosphere for Jews in the country had “started at the top with the president of the United States” – Block fired back: “It’s not just since the election of — this last presidential election. We need to be honest about the virality of this hate and confront it on both sides.”
He noted that “Jews are targeted six out of 10 times by religiously motivated hate crimes. They are the number-one target of those crimes per capita in the country. Unfortunately, that’s been the case for two decades.”
Block also rejected an assertion of host Nick Schifrin that “the Israeli government has encouraged the idea that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic.”
“I think it’s a specious argument to suggest that there’s no criticism of Israel or that criticism of Israel is regularly stifled by such accusations,” Block replied. “In fact, I think what we see is, again, the weaponization of this dialogue by folks on both the left and the right who are seeking to advance their political gain.”
While Block pointed out that critics of Omar, who sparked the debate with her anti-Semitic comments, were members of the Democratic Party, he also observed, “I’m deeply alarmed by the resistance that we all saw in the Democratic Caucus to moving forward swiftly and clearly in a denunciation. The circus that took place is a concern.
“I think, for American Jews, those of us who have believed that for, however many decades, that the elected officials of the United States would act unequivocally and forcefully without delay in any way to confront these things, we should pause for a moment and really reflect on where we are as a society and how much more we have to do,” he added.
Block concluded on a positive note, saying, “We see a strong bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. The U.S.’ relationship isn’t reduced to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is much more there. And so I think we will see a robust relationship for many years to come.”
[Photo: PBS NewsHour / YouTube ]