On a quiet Jerusalem morning, I stood at the Western Wall with my Jewish friend Caleb — one hand clasping his shoulder, the other grasping the ancient stones of the wall. In that moment, the affinity for Israel I’d been raised to appreciate solidified.
My upbringing as an evangelical Christian encouraged in me a certain unwavering deference to the land and to the people of Israel. And my upbringing as a descendant of slaves, an immediate relative of people who survived the Jim Crow South, and a member of a staunchly Democratic family encouraged in me a ubiquitous disdain for intolerance and bigotry.
I don’t speak for all Christians, Democrats, or African-Americans. Lord knows, they don’t all speak for me. My opinions are my own and informed by the posture that has defined U.S. relations with Israel. With that said:
Rep. Omar was wrong. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) tweets were coated in anti-Semitic tropes. I was offended for my dear friends who are Jewish Americans. I was offended as a proud member of the Democratic Party. I was offended as an American. She knew better, but she didn’t do better. And I was encouraged that my party — from the leadership to the rank-and-file — rebuked the remarks in unequivocal fashion.
Critique is OK. This new Democratic Congress is the most diverse in history. Because there are more perspectives being voiced from a broader swath of America, we are hearing not more, but louder, critiques of current Israeli government. We should not let Omar’s ill-advised approach to criticism muddy the waters between anti-Semitism and reasonable critical analysis of Israeli policies. In fact, many of my Jewish American friends do not perceive criticism of the Israeli government as inconsistent support for Israel.
No one party has a monopoly on moral high ground. Neither party is immune from criticism for lackluster confrontation against hateful rhetoric.In the same way that the Democrats should rebuke people like Nation of Islam leader Rev. Louis Farrakhan, Sr., and groups like the Black Hebrew Israelites for their unabashed anti-Semitism, Republicans should castigate the many racist comments from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) regarding Mexicans, his alignment with white supremacists, and his self-description as a white nationalist. Republicans should have expressed total outrage over Holocaust denier Arthur Jones winning the Republican primary and running in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional district. And Republicans should have condemned the leader of their party, Donald J. Trump, who praised as “good people” the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville chanting “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Hate is the main thing. Rep. Omar would have been wiser to articulate her point of view sans phrases that many — myself included — heard as anti-Semitic dog whistles. That incident withstanding, we need a broader conversation and a narrower focus on combatting the bigger issue at hand: the issue of hate. These ills in America are, as my grandma would say, nothing new under the sun. Prejudice, bigotry, and racism preceded even the principles of “liberty and justice for all.”
So, are resolutions the answer? We can’t resolution our way out of hate. However, I am pleased that 100 percent of House Democrats joined in taking a step toward what is right by voting for a resolution against all forms of hate. In contrast, 23 Republicans voted against the resolution. Regardless of the motivation of each individual — whether it was a refusal to stand against hate, or insistence that Omar’s comments warranted a singularly focused resolution addressing anti-Semitism — this was one of many instances when both parties have shown a willingness to put an asterisk next to certain kinds of hate, while only having a squinting concern for others.
I am sympathetic to the critique that a one-size-fits-all approach effectively did little to stand strongly against Omar’s words or hate in general. Perhaps we should have had a week of standalone resolutions addressing varying kinds of hate in America. Five legislative days, five Congressional resolutions against prevalent types of bigotry we face in our country: racism, sexual and gender orientation, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism. A week against hate, rather than being weak against hate.
We missed a rare golden opportunity of bipartisan agreement where instead of attacking each other, Republicans and Democrats could have joined together in a united front to attack the root of our problems.
I suffer no illusion that hate will be completely uprooted in this country. You can’t legislate the heart, and hate is a matter of the heart. But we sure can make it as uncomfortable as possible to outwardly express it.
By Tremayne Smith
A native of Salisbury, North Carolina, Tremayne Smith is a 2011 music education and political science double major alumnus of East Carolina University. He hold a master's degree in political management from The George Washington University.
Formerly a Congressional staffer, Smith now words at JPMorgan Chase. He is a national speaker for the Jewish National Fund, speaking about his Caravan for Democracy leadership mission and the importance of allies.