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Letter to the Editor: Stop demonizing Ilhan and let it be a lesson learned

by Dean Zimmerman

South Africa had a policy of Apartheid. Lots of people boycotted, marched and protested what was going on in South Africa. South African Officials were chosen in a democracy – well, a democracy for whites, not Colored, Blacks or Indians. Nobody ever said you are anti-South African for protesting this. 

Mississippi had a policy of Jim Crow. Lots of people boycotted, marched and protested what was going on in Mississippi. Mississippi officials were chosen in a democracy – well a democracy for whites, not Blacks. Nobody ever said you are anti-Mississippian for protesting this.  

Israel is a country which embraces, for lack of a better word, apartheid; it is even complete with a wall. But to point this out, to boycott or protest is somehow anti-Semitic. 

America is so racist that to protest racism, such as not standing for the National Anthem, is equated with protesting against America itself. And it seems, that to protest against apartheid in Israel is now equated with being anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. I hear people criticize folks for having a blind eye to Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism; ironic how these are the same people who have a blind eye to the apartheid in Israel.

Yes,  anti-Semitism is alive and well in the USA. and getting uglier every day, along with your run of the mill racism. 

I believe Ilhan Omar’s use of the word Hypnotism was unfortunate and totally innocent. Not everyone is aware that the Nazis promoted an older idea that Jews, somehow, had some magical power to hypnotize people. A better word would have been “duped”.  She now knows something that she did not know before.  I like that in a congressperson.

Not everyone knows every hidden meaning and nuisance of every phrase in the English language. A couple of examples:

• Not everyone knows that the term “paddywagon” has to do with hauling away the drunken Irishmen.

• Recently, a 60 year old woman with a long history of progressive activism and who is a convert to Judaism said to me, “That was very white of you.” Hmmm,” she said,  “that is a funny expression, I wonder where it comes from.”  She really had no idea that it was a racist phrase, and was surprised about its origin when I pointed it out to her.

• When I was working in the backcountry of Mississippi in the 1960s, I used the phrase “by the way.” A very devout Christian woman asked me to stop taking the name of God in vain.  What???  In this woman’s thinking, because Jesus said, “I am the way….”, therefore the word “way” was synonymous with “God”. Wow, I did not see that one coming. Did that make me anti-Christian?

I have seen in any number of posts on Facebook, words to the effect: “Ilhan Omar knew that she was using anti-sematic language.”   We cannot really know what others know. Really, we can’t.

Let us lighten up and help one another to grow and to confront our own racism and the institutional racism that surrounds us, and stop demonizing our friends and neighbors. Everything I now know, I once did not know, I’m assuming that is true for everyone, except the self-righteous of course. 

Dean Zimmerman is a former member of the Minneapolis City Council.

Editor’s note: Readers are cautioned that quotes taken out of the context of whole conversations can be misleading, so further reading of whole encounters is recommended.   Following her initial statement on Twitter, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said her intention was never to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. . . . This is why I unequivocally apologize. At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

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One Response to “Letter to the Editor: Stop demonizing Ilhan and let it be a lesson learned”

  1. Mark Lubinsky says:

    Rep. Omar ignores Apartheid by Arab countries and devastating effects on Palestinians. From Aljazeera (!) (Palestinians in Lebanon: ‘It’s like living in a prison’): “Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are treated as second-class residents, restricted from working in most fields, banned from owning property, forced to live in run-down camps and barred from formal education.” Jordan stripped citizenship rights from over a million Palestinians in 1988. Rep. Omar’s willingness to attack Israel while remaining silent on far worse violations by neighboring states seems to be obvious anti-Semitism. This applies to many others who have similarly cited Israel as an Apartheid state while ignoring true Apartheid next door.

    The wall in Israel was built to keep out infiltrators who targeted civilians. And in this respect, it is remarkable that Palestians have recently honored as a ‘martyr’ Khaled Nazzal, the mastermind of the Ma’alot massacre of 22 school children.

    With this, Mr. Zimmerman states that we cannot really know what others know, so his support for Rep. Omar’s attacks that single out Israeli “Apartheid” while letting far worse Arab Apartheid go unchallenged, and his misrepresentation of the wall, may have a reasonable explanation. And here, I would agree with his point about not demonizing others, and my reactions may be unwarranted. With this, I would be interested in any response he might have.

    With best regards,

    Mark

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