I’ve become convinced that the most important image of early twenty-first century Jewry is a screengrab from YouTube purportedly taken from an introductory Yiddish lesson.
“The Jews are tired,” it says.
And right now, just this very moment, we’re not just tired. We’re exhausted.
It’s never easy being a Jew, but at this moment, stuck in a now near-continuous Ilhan Omar news cycle, being Jewish feels like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the rock being the whole gentile world and the hard place being every other Jew.
We were born to kvetch, as Michael Wex says, so let me share with you my list of grievances, the source of my current exhaustion.
I’ll start with Omar, although my irritation neither begins with her nor ends with her. Nonetheless, she is ground zero for this particular tale of tsuris, and should be addressed. Especially as she is my representative.
Opinion | The Jews Are Tired.
It bothers me that, despite repeated offerings from the Jewish community to educate her, despite having Jewish staffers, she acts like a cocky quick draw artist on Twitter whenever the subject of Israel comes up, shooting first and thinking about it later.
I don’t believe she is an anti-Semite. I think she is a typical American, not-especially educated about anti-Semitism, and is a typical lefty, believing that criticism of Israel is always valid, even if it brushes against ancient, murderous stereotypes about Jews.
It bothers me that this happened a month after the largest mass murder of Jews in American history. It bothers me because she represents a district where synagogues have armed guards and concrete barriers around them like federal buildings, where at least one synagogue I know of has a safe room for their front of house staff in case shooting starts.
It bothers me that those who would do violence against us are motivated by exactly the same ancient stereotypes that Omar seemed to allude to, that of dual loyalties and insidious, hidden control.
It bothers me that she didn’t check in with someone before tweeting to make sure she was being precise in her use of language.
But, more than that, it really bothers me that we’re still discussing this. This is the third time I have been asked to write about Omar, and who am I? Why is she so exciting that I’m being plucked off Twitter to discuss her?
Opinion | The Jews Are Tired.
Because, as I said, her ineptness and unconcern doesn’t make her special or notable. It doesn’t make her anti-Semitic. It just makes her a typical non-Jewish American lefty.
It is a little frustrating, because, as my elected official, I wish she were better about this. But that makes her exactly like, let me look around for a second, literally every other non-Jew in office today.
So here comes my other list of kvetches, and buckle in, friends, because they are legion.
I am absolutely, unambiguously furious about what this attention reveals. There is a sniff test that a lot of Jews do regarding criticism of Israel. We ask if that criticism is proportional. If not, we ask why Israel is receiving such undue attention while other things in other places go unnoticed.
Arguably, it’s a sort of whataboutism, but one rooted in self-preservation, because so often someone who is utterly, frothingly obsessed with Israel often proves to have issues with Jews in general.
Not always. Maybe not even most of the time. But often enough.
What is so special about Omar that she merits this amount of hand-wringing when, after all, she didn’t prompt the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation massacre, nobody on the left did.
The prompt came from the President of the United States. It came from him wielding exactly the same sort of tropes Omar is accused of, but to an audience that is armed and actively white nationalist. That seems, proportionally speaking, like a vastly bigger deal.
And let me get back to the word tropes. Holy cow. Jews haven’t been this worried about tropes since the month before their bar/bat mitzvahs. It’s thrown up as a sort of absolute defense — she wielded a trope! Anything that follows is now deserved!
Yes, she should have been more cautious, but our response doesn’t pass the sniff test. It is, at best, a demonstration of a typical failure of risk perception, where we are more afraid of sharks than, say, falling down a flight of stairs, even though the stairs will get you every time and the shark almost never.
Omar’s not creating new anti-Semites that anyone can point out. The only people who even listen for these tropes are Jews and existing anti-Semites, and it’s not like a Black immigrant in a hijab is going to encourage them to believe anything they don’t already believe.
So why have we made Omar the shark? It’s pretty hard not to see the Blackness, the status as an immigrant, and the hijab as the cause, especially when her predecessor, also a Black Muslim, was dogged by similarly disproportionate accusations of anti-Semitism.
Opinion | The Jews Are Tired.
It’s very hard not to see the disproportionate white Jewish response to Omar as revealing a profound, unaddressed, and utterly galling antiblackness and Islamophobia in that same Jewish community, some of it explicit (look at the comments section of any Jewish publication that mentions her for examples), sometimes tacit, and the latter is the most frustrating because it is often invisible to the people responsible.
We need to address this. Because we’re all being targeted by the same actual threat, the same murderous set of stairs, and it’s white supremacy. Omar needs to be a better ally to Jews, but, gevalt, Jews really, really need to be better allies too.
And after this, the deluge. I’ll keep it short, but everything else Omar-related is both whiplash- and vertigo-inducing, like crashing a bus off a mountain.
I am furious at the right wing for weaponizing legitimate Jewish concerns about this, which benefits them, benefits Israel, but does not benefit American Jews. I am beside myself at Zionist Jews and their enormous, calculating, and profoundly anti-Semitic Evangelical base of support for the years of work they have done to already weaponize the charge of anti-Semitism to deflect criticisms of Israel.
I am furious and disappointed at Democrats in Congress for how they have handled this. I am legitimately concerned that all they have succeeded in doing is cementing a general sense that Jews wield too much power and criticism of Israel is forbidden.
I am in an absolute tizzy at our supposedly leftist allies for not educating themselves enough to know the difference between genuine and spurious accusations of anti-Semitism, and so just dismissing them all.
And most of all I am angry at myself, as I have failed in every way that everyone else has, caught up in a maelstrom of online drama, screaming back and forth at allies for not taking anti-Semitism seriously enough and screaming at Jews for taking it too seriously, or taking it seriously in the wrong way, or taking it seriously in a manipulative and pernicious way.
And all of this was in place before Omar ever tweeted and, currently, it sure seems like it will be there after her.
I’m going to try to do better. It’s the only thing I have control over, and I have to, just for my own mental health, just to keep my blood pressure from elevating to a point that I explode like one of those overheated thermometers in cartoons.
But, holy crap, everyone else, everyone else in the world, could you just dial it back for a few minutes? Just long enough to catch our breath? We need a breather.
Max Sparber is a playwright and journalist