Sunday, March 8, 2020

Juan Cole Feels the Bern

University of Michigan comedian Juan Cole is apparently all in with Bernie Sanders, which is not surprising. In this piece written for his curiously-named blog, Informed Comment, Cole takes us to Dearborn, where Sanders recently spoke at a rally attended by (surprise!) largely Arab-Americans.

Surely, Cole, who lives and works in nearby Ann Arbor, must be aware that Dearborn is home to the largest Arab-American and Muslim communities in the US, but I guess he just forgot to mention that to his uninformed readers (no pun intended).

Cole then goes on to recite how Arab-Americans and Muslims in general became Democrats after George W Bush's inexplicable attacks on the Muslim world. (He didn't even mention 9-11 or the other Islamic-inspired attacks since then.) Is there a certain amount of prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in the US? Of course there is, but Americans have done a remarkable job, by and large, of not lashing out at their Muslim fellow citizens after 9-11 although there are legitimate arguments to be made about the nexus between horrific acts of terror and Islamic teaching. If free speech is to survive in this country, those arguments must be allowed to find expression- without violence and vandalism, naturally.

But back to George W Bush.

"Bush’s demonization of Muslims during his “War on Terror” and his wars on Muslim countries drove almost all Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans into the Democratic Party, a process helped along by Trump’s bigoted treatment of them."

Bush did not demonize Muslims. He rightfully sent the troops into Afghanistan after 9-11 to root out al Qaeda when the Taliban government refused to hand  Usama bin Laden and his killers over to justice. Yet, he met with Muslim leaders, many of whom, most notably Southern California imam Muzammil Siddiqi, he erroneously thought were moderates. He referred to Islam as "peace". Say what you will about the wisdom of the Iraq war, but virtually every intelligence service worth mentioning was convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was not a war against Islam.

Cole, who recently wrote a book on the Prophet Mohammad entitled, Mohammad-Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, is very partial to Islam, which is his right. If he wants to take offense at any and all expressions critical of Islam, the Prophet, the Koran or CAIR, that is also his right. Yet, I question why Cole, a noted opponent of Israel and advocate for the Palestinian cause, would make comments like these in his op-ed:

 "The sad reality is that anti-Arab prejudice has often deliberately been promoted by Jewish Americans strongly tied to the Israel lobbies. They were aiming to deny Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans a voice in American politics, lest public criticism of Israeli policy become legitimized. (It is still controversial in such circles whether Israel can ever be legitimately criticized, although apparently all the other 194 countries in the world can be brutally criticized, especially Palestine)."

"In any case, Sanders has ushered the Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans onto the campaign stage, and the days of candidates snarkily returning their checks to please AIPAC are likely over with."

Of course, Israel can be legitimately criticized. But when you single out Israel for supposed human rights abuses while ignoring much worse abuses by its neighbors, others may draw the appropriate conclusion. When you blame Jews in the US or elsewhere for Israel's shortcomings, others may draw the appropriate conclusion. When you call Jews "the new Nazis", that is beyond the pale. These examples are included in the US State Department's definition of anti-Semitism, by the way.

I would also take exception to Cole's suggestion that Jewish-Americans are behind anti-Arab prejudice. Go to any university campus and watch the interaction between Jewish students and Arab and/or Muslim students during those anti-Israel circuses that are a regular staple of campus life these days. Jewish students who support Israel regularly try to engage in civilized dialogue with pro-Palestinian supporters, and they are regularly rebuffed. It is the Jewish students who are bullied on campus, not the Muslim students. It is the swastikas that are showing up on campus after campus, not images of anti-Arab/Muslim feeling.

And Cole knows that the Jewish community is not so monolithic that all American Jews are enthusiastic supporters of Israel. In my days as a campus activists, I have come up against Jews who are fierce opponents of Israel-so much so they would walk arm in arm with people who want to wipe Israel off the map. Jewish Voice for Peace and the Neturei Karta branch of Judaism come to mind. I have seen them both in action, and I regard them as misfits.

Anti-Semitism has exploded on the world stage. Some of it comes from white nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke. Much more of it comes from Islamic quarters. Yet, the 56-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest voting bloc in the UN, has been pushing for years for worldwide legislation that would make criticism of Islam a crime-as it is in so much of the Islamic world. In Europe, where Jews are being abused by Muslim immigrants daily, criticism of Islam, Muslims, or Muslim immigration can get you fired from your job and even hauled into court.

If Professor Cole wants to support Bernie Sanders, which he clearly does, that is his right. But Sanders himself, who is of Jewish origin, has made a series of statements that show he not only is a critic of Israel, but has questionable attitudes about Jews themselves. Note his recent comment about American Jews who have money and influence. Note his embrace of anti-Semitic figures like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. What kind of message does it send for Sanders to hold a rally in a place like Dearborn? Talk about symbolism!

Final point:   ".....(It is still controversial in such circles whether Israel can ever be legitimately criticized, although apparently all the other 194 countries in the world can be brutally criticized, especially Palestine)."

Sorry, Professor: Make that 193 countries. Palestine is not a country any more than New England is not a country. It has never been a country. And as long as it embraces terrorism and Jew-hatred, I suspect it never will be a country-and can be "brutally" criticized.

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