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The new Congress should help re-evaluate America’s position in the world

           The tangible growth in diversity (in relation to gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.) I can already sense will be of positive impact in Washington. While I, like hopefully everyone, would never vote for candidates based on what identities they hold, it is refreshing to see that the House more genuinely reflects the diversity of the country. With new communities represented, new insight can arise, which can affect policy matters. For the sake of this piece, I will focus on one particular policy issue.

           There has been a lot of attention given to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, representatives from Minnesota and Michigan respectively, who are the first Muslim women in Congress. Since winning their elections, both of them have confirmed their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For those who don’t know, the BDS movement is meant for organizing numerous forms of boycott against Israel until it complies with international laws, particularly in regard to the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Designed by Palestinians and in consideration of the nuanced challenges comprising the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, BDS is based on similar boycott measures organized during the time of Apartheid in South Africa. Each of these women has a unique basis for supporting BDS. Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and she still has many family members that live in the West Bank. Omar, as a former refugee from Somalia, has explained how she can relate to the Palestinian experience of displacement.

The movement remains heavily controversial, with some figures calling it anti-Semitic or even a form of terrorism. To debunk both those claims, BDS targets Israel, not Jews. As someone who was raised Jewish, it irritates me when Jews are constantly equated with Israel, as they are somehow intertwined with one another. Known anti-Semites like Richard Spencer and Rep. Steve King have been known for their strong support for Israel. On the other hand, many Jewish groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace advocate for BDS, recognizing that occupation is not a Jewish value. There is even an Orthodox Jewish group, called Neturei Karta, who argue that Zionism violates Jewish law. Similar to how it is not Islamophobic to criticize Saudi Arabia, it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. Period.

As for the second point, boycotting is a non-violent form of protest that has led to positive social change in various movements throughout history. Supporting the literal bombing of Israel would be an example of terrorism. It baffles me that numerous politicians are suggesting that boycotting and bombing are of similar nature. Beyond these particular claims, I feel like many politicians, as well as the general public, are alarmed by the idea that there is an ongoing effort to boycott what is considered a close ally to the US. Just because there is this alliance with Israel doesn’t mean that American citizens, companies, and even politicians cannot choose to follow the BDS movement. Historically, the US has advocated for human rights causes worldwide. If our country wants to continue this fight in an honest light, it better support human right causes even when they seem politically inconvenient. This idea includes recognizing human rights abuses within our country as well.

Furthermore, I am tired of people referring to the United Nations as “biased,” particularly when it comes to resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation. I mean of course, the UN is biased, like every single political institution on the planet. Show me one institution that is neutral (claiming to be neutral and being neutral in reality are two separate things).

As evidenced by the two world wars that occurred in the first half of the 20thcentury, a strong system of international collaboration is crucial. If the bias is slanted in a way that makes the Israeli occupation a topic of common discussion, so be it. Are countries like North Korea and Iran guilty of human rights abuses? Yes. However, neither of these countries position themselves as liberal democracies, unlike Israel. Shocker! Liberal democracies can commit human rights abuses too and neither partisanship nor alliances should hinder any of these investigations.

The US I think has a chance, with a historically diverse Congress, to re-evaluate its unconditional support of the Israeli occupation. Support for BDS and other pressures on Israel are not some extreme far-left positions. Growing support for these causes has been found through polls and organizational policy changes like AirBnB recently pulling out of the settlements. Through figures like Omar and Tlaib, I hope there will be a stronger challenge of the status quo and push for change.

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