Rabbi Avi Shafran: When Ilhan Omar attacks Jews, don’t bash non-Jews for defending us

Heavy security surrounded Montreal’s Jewish Public Library recently, for an address by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The former Muslim Brotherhood member, who abandoned her youthful embrace of militant Islamism and became an advocate for Muslim women’s rights, told those gathered something they didn’t particularly want to hear but that hardly surprised them.

While acknowledging the threat to Jews posed by the white supremacy movement, she insisted that “Islamist-driven anti-Semitism [is] the reigning anti-Semitism of the day.”

It is, she said, “the most zealous, most potent Jew hatred” in the world today.

Having grown up being told that Jews were evil subhuman enemies of all that is good, and having reflexively hated Jews despite never having met one, the Somali-born Ali, 49, has the credentials to know of what she speaks.

And she went on to criticize the tepid Congressional response to Representative Ilhan Omar’s infamous slurs of American Jews. What was originally conceived as a clear resolution focused on anti-Jewish tropes turned into an anodyne rejection of a laundry list of hatreds, including “Islamophobia,” signaling, Ms. Ali contended, that “there’s nothing exceptional about anti-Semitism.”


Ali’s contention that the world’s oldest, most persistent and most illogical murderous animus is a singular evil certainly resonates with people like me, Jews whose parents lost innumerable close relatives in the Holocaust.  Several of my children are named for grandparents, aunts and uncles who were murdered by the Nazis and their helpers. Visibly Jewish Jews like me, moreover, even today are targets of insults and slurs from people we don’t know – and who certainly don’t know us.

I’ve had pennies thrown at me on the street and “Heil Hitler!”s shouted at me (even uttered to me with a smirk earlier this year on a public bus). If I had just one of those pennies for every time someone in a passing car screamed at me, I’d be much closer to becoming one of “them rich Jews” that my fellow bus passenger went on to rail about.

But Ali’s courageous stance – speaking critically of a theology that celebrates the murders of “infidels” isn’t for the fainthearted – does more than resonate. It invigorates.

Knowing that someone who isn’t Jewish and has no connection to Judaism is willing to take a public, fearless stance against Jew-hatred is not something I take for granted. It is evidence of a humanitarian good will all too rare.

Meghan McCain is another heroine of mine here (heroism runs in the family).  Not long ago, on “The View,” she became emotional during a discussion of Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s offensive comments.


“Just because I don’t technically have Jewish family that are blood-related to me doesn’t mean that I don’t take this as seriously [as do Jews],” she said of Omar’s infamous “Benjamins” comment about Jewish money influencing Congress to support Israel.

“With the rise of anti-Semitism in this country, is it more important to defend party politics, or is it more important to [address] anti-Semitism?” she asked her fellow panelists. “If what Ilhan Omar has been saying for the past few weeks were said by a white Republican male,” she elaborated, “how would you be reacting to it right now?"

Ms. McCain teared up when mentioning former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, calling the couple – with whom her late and lamented father was famously friendly – her “family,” and adding that she takes “the hate crimes rising in this country incredibly seriously.”

And it wasn’t the first time Ms. McCain focused on anti-Semitism. Back in January, she called out “Women’s March” organizer Tamika Mallory for her association with the viperous Louis Farrakhan.


Less than invigorating, in fact downright disgusting, were some of the reactions to Ms. McCain’s “The View” sentiments.  A Jewish emotionally disturbed cartoonist who regularly portrays religious Jews and supporters of Israel in the most asinine and grotesque ways, ridiculed the conservative commentator for arrogating to herself the authority to speak out on Jewish issues just because of “her friendship with Joe and Hadassah Lieberman.”

The crazed caricaturist set pen to paper and produced a grotesque caricature of a bawling Ms. McCain holding a Nazi-era yellow “Jude” star and pouring “Matzo Ball Mix” into a bowl. And when Ms. McCain rightly criticized the ugly cartoon as anti-Semitic, the bilious caricaturist dismissed her judgment as “hilarious.” “A Christian woman,” he said contemptuously, “is saying a Jewish cartoonist is anti-Semitic.”

Well, yes, precisely. And she’s right. The Christian woman, and the formerly Muslim one, Ms. Ali, know exactly what anti-Semitism is.  And the Jewish cynic not only doesn’t, he promotes it.

A writer at the Jewish Forward echoed the cartoonist’s cartoonish sentiments.

“Meghan McCain,” she wrote, “is a religious Christian” and thus, “cannot be a victim of anti-Jewish hatred, because she is not Jewish.”

Ms. McCain never claimed, though, to be a “victim” of anti-Semitism, but rather a caring human being deeply pained by it. And her pain was amplified by her family’s friendship with, and respect for, a Jewish couple.  She has every right and reason to protest what she regards as hateful rhetoric.

And any Jewish American, like the cartoonist, who feels that she hasn’t is what the Talmud calls an “upender of a good deed,” or, rendered into simple English, an ingrate.

Personally, I’m grateful beyond words for every non-Jew who is concerned with my wellbeing and that of my fellow Jews.

The vast majority of American Jews know how fortunate we are to be citizens of this remarkable country. And nothing could better capture America’s promise and essence than the fact that non-Jewish public figures aren’t cowed by threats of violence and condescending snideness, and are willing to speak up on our behalf.