WASHINGTON – Rep. Andy Levin, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, said antisemitism cannot be confronted unless Palestinian human rights are respected, adding that “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”
Addressing the IfNotNow progressive Jewish organization on Tuesday, Levin noted that he has long advocated for the United States to fight Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
“Over 30 years ago, I was part of a little group of Jews and Christians and Muslims that organized an interfaith delegation to Israel and Palestine from Metro Detroit. ... We went to Gaza, we went to the West Bank, and I wrote a piece in The Detroit Jewish News saying ‘There’s no time left,’” Levin said, adding that he “took a lot of crap in my community.”
“And now it’s 30 years later and we have to change things right now. We have to find the language to talk about this in a grounded way,” Levin said, drawing a comparison to the recent coup in Myanmar.
“The Burmese military just conducted a coup and ended Burma’s fragile, 10-year experiment with democratic self-governance. During those 10 years, the rights of the Rohingya and the Karen and other minority peoples of Burma were never recognized at all,” he said.
“And there was even a genocide of the Rohingya and more broadly the rights of minority peoples there were oppressed. ... We cannot accept a situation where we consider Burma to be a democracy when the rights of its minority peoples were never even established. Of course, it’s highly imperfect, but an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Unless Palestinian human rights are respected, we cannot fight antisemitism.”
The second-term congressman said he wants to “blow up the whole idea” of Jewish identity. “In Detroit, we’re really pushing to sort of question stereotypes about what it means to be Jewish, centering Jews of color and listening to Jews of all different experiences,” he said. “People need to ... do progressive organizing proudly of who you are as a Jew and claim your own Judaism, and speak your own heart about your life and your commitment to human rights.”
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Setting a good example
Levin said he hoped the diversification of Congress could be a springboard to combating racism. “I came in with a class with the first two Native American women ever in Congress and the first two Muslim women ever, including the first Palestinian – my sister from Michigan Rashida Tlaib,” he said.
“There was a lot of turmoil about that. ... The most important thing I could do was just personally try to gather the progressive members of Congress – Muslim and Jewish and Christian members of Congress – [and] have a dialogue about racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism.”
He said antisemitism and disinformation had been weaponized to stoke fear. “When that pairing happens, it can result in violence,” Levin told the group, noting that the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 came days after Donald Trump claimed that George Soros and other wealthy Jews were financing Central American migrant caravans and efforts to undermine the U.S. government.
“For years, Donald Trump uses the same antisemitic lie to stoke fear among his supporters. His enablers in Congress didn’t call him out for that antisemitism, a massacre incited by the antisemitic trope occurs and less than a week later, Trump’s repeating the same trope,” Levin said.
The congressman, who replaced his father Rep. Sander Levin after the latter's 36-year career and was mooted as a possible cabinet member in the new administration, has long focused on social justice issues; he was a founding member of Detroit Jews for Justice.
At home and abroad
Levin says he holds the Republican leadership just as responsible, if not more so, for the January 6 violence at the Capitol than the mob itself. In his talk, he reflected on his experiences encountering violent interference with elections in Haiti in 1987 and China in 1989.
“I’ve tasted a lot of tear gas in my life and seen people die fighting for democracy. I never dreamed that I would see an armed insurrection against democracy in the Capitol,” he said.
“This was not an argument about policy or procedure between Democrats and Republicans. This was people pursuing a course of action that would mean the end of our 232-year experiment with democratic self-government.”
Levin criticized Trump’s Republican allies for perpetuating antisemitic rhetoric, as well. “Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama has been accused of helping to plan the January 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. Less than two years ago, he went to the House floor to literally read from ‘Mein Kampf’ and compare the Nazis’ Big Lie to Democratic efforts to investigate foreign interference in the 2016 election,” Levin said.
“The attack on January 6 was a result of a years-long campaign fueled by the machinery we’re talking about. Donald Trump used racism, antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and other tools of white supremacy to animate his supporters,” Levin said, adding that he hoped the Biden administration would appoint a special envoy to combat antisemitism, someone who recognizes the broader far-right threat.
Despite data showing that the majority of attacks and plots in America come from the right, the last administration refused to even acknowledge the threat, he added.
“We have to loudly and consistently call out antisemitism in all its forms, whether it comes from adversaries or countries that are our friends and whether it’s promulgated intentionally or unknowingly,” Levin said.
As he put it, “The fight against antisemitism and white supremacy needs to be a global one. ... The special envoy sits in the State Department, so they’re positioned uniquely to combat this global threat. And I want someone committed to that fight, who wants to work globally and fight antisemitism in the context of the global fight against white supremacy.”