Ilhan Omar Has a Point About AIPAC

It’s long past time that we moved towards the position that it’s okay to criticize the government of Israel. You can totally support the right of Israel to exist, as I do, and yet criticize a far-right government that’s used racism and has perhaps engaged in war crimes to maintain its position. Nor should we hesitate to criticize its leader, an individual unafraid to use racism to remain in power, nor it seems is he afraid to use allegedly corrupt actions to maintain that position either.

After all, we’re doing it in America about our leader right now.

It should not be something we dither about. Or worry about being called anti-Semitic by far-right individuals who want no criticism of the Israeli government. If this was any other country in the world, criticizing that government would not be seen as a hate crime.

Yes, we should also criticize the actions of corrupt and cruel organizations like Hamas, who has ruled the Gaza Strip with a relentless and brutal thirst for power of its own. Hamas hurts more than helps the Palestinian people. Its actions against the people of Israel also deserve to be condemned.

But it takes two to tango. And many the actions of the Netanyahu government and the Israeli Defense Forces are also relentless and cruel and if they are not war crimes they are very close to being so.

Nor should criticism of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) be off limits either. Which is why Democratic representative Ilhan Omar has a point. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington along with the NRA and the energy lobby. To deny this is to stick your head in the sand and ignore reality. And it should be noted that Ilhan Omar is not the first person to make this point. The Mearsheimer and Walt report of 2007 presented a strong case of how individuals and organizations work very hard to push US policy in the direction of Israel.

But I would argue that one step farther. I don’t think AIPAC pushes American policy towards “Israel” in a broad sense. I believe they want to push US policy in the direction of a certain kind of Israel, basically one run by a far-right Israeli government. I don’t think AIPAC has much interest in a more liberal form of government in Israel, as it would undermine many of the views AIPAC has promoted or the years. One only has to read Thomas Friedman’s piece in the New York Times this week, critical of both Omar and AIPAC, that outlines many of the actions taken by AIPAC that sought to undermine an American administration that it saw as “unfavorable” toward a far-right Israeli government.

Representative Omar and I may have different reasons for criticizing AIPAC and the actions of the Israeli government and perhaps she needs to learn to hone her criticism so that she does not open herself up so easily to charges of anti-Semitism but I am glad she has moved us in a more open direction. Criticizing the government of Israel or an American lobby group that promotes a far-right agenda does not mean that you “hate Jews.” In fact, one of the most encouraging signs that things are changing was the number of American Jews who actually defended Omar’s right to criticize AIPAC and pointed out how the far-right tries to smear anyone who makes the kind of comments that she did.

The people of Israel deserve far better than the government they have now which has only served to isolate them from the world and undermine their image as one of the great democracies. Open and honest criticism of a far-right Israeli government and of an American lobby group that support it is a step in the right direction.

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Conservatives and “Socialism”

Most Americans have probably never heard of Tommy Douglas. He was never prime minister of Canada, a big hockey star or a well-known entertainer. A few Americans might know him as the grandfather of American action-star Keifer Sutherland.

Yet in 2004, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) did a national show on who was the greatest Canadian of them all, Tommy Douglas won.

And he was a democratic socialist.

Born in Scotland, his family immigrated to Canada when he was six. When Douglas was a child, he injured his right knee and doctors thought they would have to amputate his leg. His family was poor and couldn’t pay the medical bills. It was only because a famous surgeon said he would treat Douglas for free if medical students could observe, was his injury treated successfully.

The experience changed him forever. Years later, Douglas said: “I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside.”

Eventually he became a Baptist minister but was horrified by what was happening to people during the depression. He became an activist and got into politics – as a democratic socialist.

In 1935, he was elected to parliament as a member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) the forerunner of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP). Eventually he switched to provincial politics and became the leader of the CCF in Saskatchewan. In 1944 he was elected premier and the head of the first democratic socialist government in North America.

He introduced a provincial bill of rights and was the first Canadian leader to call for a national bill of rights. (Which eventually happened in 1982 with the Charter of Right and Freedoms). He was the first politician in Canada to create a government-run utility that spread electricity into many rural areas of the province. And his party, which was re-elected five times, introduced the first program to offer free health care to all citizens of the province.

In 1961 he stepped down as premier and became the first leader of the newly formed NDP. Although never elected prime minister, he party held the balance of power during the terms of Lester Pearson who took many of Douglas’s ideas, like universal health care, and made them available to all Canadians.

For his many efforts to improve the life of all Canadians, Douglas was constantly dubbed a “communist’” or worse by the country’s conservative politicians and media pundits. It all became a joke to Douglas. There is a wonderful documentary showing Douglas debating a conservative, who is standing at the microphone using all the worse scare words he could think of to describe Douglas, while Douglas sits quietly sitting in the background, with a delightful smile on his face, looking over his notes, preparing to demolish this pompous idiot who had no idea of what he was talking about.

And speaking of pompous idiots with no idea of what they are talking about, that brings me to CPAC, the conservative gathering of Trumplodytes that happened this past weekend in DC. “Socialism” is their new bug-a-boo word designed to scare Americans into supporting their repressive, anti-democratic agenda.

Speaker after speaker ranted about “socialists” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who they say want to turn American into a Venzuela-like nightmare. They used almost the same words that the enemies of Tommy Douglas used back in the 30s and 40s to denounce him. That’s the thing about conservatives. Their lack of imagination means their vocabulary rarely differs from country to country, from era to era.

Here’s the thing about democratic socialism. The key word is democratic. Countries like Sweden or Norway use a combination of the best ideas of socialism (free health care, free or very cheap education, etc.) and strong market economies. The result is that they regularly record the highest standards of living in the world. The same for Canada, which led the OCED index of growth for many years.

And let’s not forget Germany, France, Denmark, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Belgium, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland or the Netherlands – all countries that have achieved a balance of democratic socialism and capitalism.

Democratic socialism argues that there is an important place for the role of government along with private industry. I find it amusing that so many Americans conservatives denounce the horrors of democratic socialist programs, when so many count on two of them – medicare and social security.

Unbridled capitalism is a lovely system for the top 1%. The gap between rich and poor in this country continues to grow larger and larger. If people are afraid of a Venezuela happening here, that will be the cause not democratic socialism.

The far-right twist words and ideas beyond all recognition and try to shove them down people’s throats to scare them. (For instance, the other day a Republican state representative in Arizona compared mandatory vaccination for measles to “communism.”)

The day when democratic socialism and capitalism work side by side in America is not far away. And America will be a much better country for all its citizens as a result.

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