Philly Jewish leaders explain why certain language may be considered anti-Semitic

Hadas Kuznits
March 08, 2019 - 12:33 pm

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As tweets from Rep. Ilhan Omar stir up the debate among Democrats as to whether she was using anti-Semitic language, members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia discuss what is anti-Jewish hate speech. 

House speaker Nancy Pelosi denied that Rep. Ilhan Omar's tweets came from a place of anti-Semitism. 

"These words have a history and a cultural impact that may have been unknown to her," Pelosi said. 

But Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, says lack of awareness is no excuse. 

"Identifying whether something is anti-Semitic has to be done in context, and if the person who's an elected official doesn't understand the history behind their words, they have to take the time to figure it out," Adler said. 

READ: House broadly condemns hate after anti-Semitism dispute 

Laura Frank with the Jewish Federation explains the history of anti-Semitic speech. 

"What anti-Semitism comes from is hating the Jewish people and making the Jewish people the 'other' and a lot of the history of Jewish 'hatred,' I guess you could say, is using certain stereotypes. The Jewish people don't belong in our country because their allegiance is elsewhere is a classic anti-Semitic trope," Frank said. 

Particularly in the melting pot of America.

"The majority of the people who live in this country are from somewhere else. Everyday in Philadelphia, people celebrate their heritage," Frank said. "There is this double standard that's given to Jews who want to come out and celebrate their homeland and their connection to Israel. They're met with political opposition."

READ: Rep. Omar apologizes for tweets on AIPAC's influence

Frank explains the United States has a partnership with Israel for a multitude of reasons. 

"They're a democracy, they're doing incredible things in terms of tech innovation.  They live by democratic principles of LGBTQ equality and women's rights," she said. 

So what's the line between legitimate criticism versus anti-Semitic language? 

"You can criticize Israel policy and Israel government and Israel structure, like we do any other country in the world; but to deny it its own right to exist, to deny its heritage, it's history and to deny its people, that is going against individuals, it's not going against the government and that's anti-Semitic," Frank said.