This piece originally appeared in Juedische Allgemeine.

By Remko Leemhuis

These are hard times for those who reject the polarization of public discourse. Not only in the U.S.A., but also in Germany, there is practically no room left for nuance and differentiation. Political issues have become “friend-enemy” distinctions, just as political philosopher Carl Schmitt conceived them. One no longer takes a variety of approaches to a problem. Instead, where we stand determines whether we are progressive or reactionary, whether we stand for “the Good” or “the Evil”. In short: whether one is a good or bad person.

The most recent example of this fatal development can be seen in the American president’s verbal attacks against four Congresswomen. At the center of these attacks is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who fled to the U.S.A. as a child, escaping the civil war in Somalia. Last week, attacks on Omar culminated in shouts of “Send her back!” from the crowds at a Trump campaign event. These verbal assaults are abhorrent, not only because they are racist, but also because they challenge the very foundation on which the U.S.A. stands. In contrast to German identity, to be “American” is not a question of tradition, origin, or religion. To be American is to pledge allegiance to the idea of the United States. 

There is, however, another side to this story: Ilhan Omar has repeatedly attracted attention with her antisemitic remarks and initiatives. Just last week, in the middle of this controversy, she introduced a BDS resolution which compares the right to boycott Israel with the right to boycott Nazi Germany. And recently, Omar spread the age-old antisemitic stereotype of American Jews’ money buying pro-Israeli  “influence” in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. Since the beginning of this controversy, there are only two positions, as can be seen in social media discourse, in Germany as in the U.S.A.. However, it is, in fact, necessary to take a third position: On the one hand, the attacks on Omar cannot be accepted, and, on the other hand, her antisemitic statements deserve to be held up to criticism. She cannot be walled off from scrutiny simply because any challenge to her views is deemed unacceptable. This is all the more urgent, because the current polarization provides the ideal breeding ground for antisemitism.

The author is the Assistant Director for Policy and Public Affairs in AJC Berlin.

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