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Trump’s ‘weaponization’ of Israel to defend racism raises concerns 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump during a joint news conference at the White House on February 15, 2016 [File photo]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump during a joint news conference at the White House on February 15, 2016 [File photo]

US President Donald Trump has continued his extraordinary racist tirade against Muslim American Congresswoman Ilhan Oman by painting the Minnesota Democrat as a fan of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

Trump claimed during a campaign rally that Omar was “proud” of Al-Qaeda. “You say Al-Qaeda, it makes you [Omar] proud, Al-Qaeda makes you proud!” he is reported saying by NBC News. The remarks were made in reference to a recent interview in which Omar refused to answer questions about the spurious allegation which has been stoked up by the president’s followers and the right-wing media that she supports the terrorist group.

“When asked whether she supported Al-Qaeda, that’s our enemy — that’s our enemy she refused to answer. She didn’t want to give an answer to that question,” said Trump. His portrayal of what Omar actually said has been denounced as a complete misrepresentation and a further indication that the US president has made racist attacks on the four non-white Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Somali-born Ilhan Omar, a major strategy in his re-election.

Omar’s comments at news conference earlier this week came as a reaction to Trump’s repeated accusations that she is supportive of Al-Qaeda. “I will not dignify it with an answer,” Omar is reported saying.

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She continued: “I do not expect every time there is a white supremacist who attacks, or there is a white man who kills in a school or in a movie theatre or in a mosque or in a synagogue, I don’t expect my white community members to respond on whether they love that person or not. And so I think it is beyond time … to ask Muslims to condemn terrorists.”

Contrary to Trump’s claim, Omar in fact answered the question, though perhaps not in a way that he would have liked. Omar’s remarks were an appeal to be treated equally and not scapegoat an entire community for the heinous actions of mindless individuals.

Trump continued to misrepresent Omar, telling his followers that “Rep. Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in other people’s affairs.” The misrepresented comments were in reference to a 2013 interview in which Omar was having a broader conversation on terrorism and said that it was a reaction fuelled by war, invasion and US involvement in “other countries’ affairs”. Her remarks are widely understood to be an honest observation, especially in the aftermath of American invasion of Iraq in 2003 which analysts almost unanimously concede opened the flood gates of terrorism and war in the Middle East.

There is no evidence that Omar has said that she is proud of the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks. During her 2013 interview, Omar frequently refers to Al-Qaeda and terrorists groups as “evil” and “heinous”, but criticises Americans for painting all Muslims with the terrorism label.

Critics of Trump have pointed out that it is in fact Trump’s closest buddies in the Gulf that have helped terrorists groups like Al-Qaeda grow. “Pathetic @realDonaldTrump is now lying that @IlhanMN said positive things about Al Qaeda- 100% made up, as usual from the pathological liar. But reality is the Saudis have helped Al Qaeda numerous times and Trump aids and abets the friends of Al Qaeda, whereas Omar condemns them,” tweeted the host of Young Turk Cenk Uygur.

These connections became the subject of an Al Jazeera investigation which last week made the sensational discovery that Bahrain, one of America’s closest allies in the Gulf, had recruited Al-Qaeda fighters for secret plots to assassinate heads of opposition groups, prominent dissidents and activists.

Observers of Trump’s election strategy believe that he is attacking the four progressive Congresswomen in a desperate bid to remain president. They also claim that he is “weaponizing Israel” to defend his racist torrents against the Democrat candidates all of whom are strong critics of Israel.

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The latter issue has become a cause of concern for Liberal Jews in American. They say that Trump’s insertion of Israel into the melee, through a tweet in which he appeared to double down on his racist remark, was a bald attempt to use the issue of Israel as a wedge to bolster opposition to Omar and her three colleagues.

Trump’s reaction to the near universal condemnation of his racism was to assert his support for Israel. “So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.” He also demanded that the four Congresswomen apologise to Israel.

“He’s weaponizing support for Israel,” Aaron Keyak, a veteran Democratic operative who runs Bluelight Strategies, a DC-based consulting firm was reported saying in the Times of Israel. “Bringing in Israel on an issue that’s totally not related to Israel. That’s how you can tell he’s weaponizing it.”

Others fear that Trump’s use of Israel in this manner was likely to fuel anti-Semitism. “People like to say that Jews are privileged white people and who can’t engage in intersectional battles or social justice spaces. He [Trump] contributes so substantially to that dialogue, which is inherently anti-Semitic. And he is fuelling it by connecting Israel to his own white supremacist tweets that attack congresspeople of color,” said Amanda Berman, who heads the Zioness Movement, which is described as a “progressive Zionist organization”.

Some of Israel’s ardent campaigners in the US are deeply worried that Trump’s ploy will severely damage the bi-partisan support enjoyed by Israel in Washington. “Politicizing the widespread, bipartisan support for Israel and throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism is damaging to the security of Israel and the Jewish community. He [Trump] should lead by example, stop politicizing these issues and stop smearing members of Congress,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

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