OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

From Bill Maher to Gloria Steinem: Celebrities jump into Tlaib-Omar fray

The flap concerning the decision of Israel to deny entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on the grounds that they are supporters of the BDS movement has attracted the input of celebrities of all stripes.

“Ms. Magazine” co-founder Gloria Steinem chimed in on the mushrooming Tlaib-Omar issue by claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “bully,” and that she refuses to visit Israel while he is still in office. 
Credit: Shutterstock.
“Ms. Magazine” co-founder Gloria Steinem chimed in on the mushrooming Tlaib-Omar issue by claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “bully,” and that she refuses to visit Israel while he is still in office. Credit: Shutterstock.
Fern Sidman

On his HBO program last Friday night, irreverent comedian and pundit Bill Maher pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of the BDS apologists and proffered some cogent arguments in defense of his position. He chastised the BDS proponents for their willingness to ignore their own biases and tendentious posture towards Israel while theorizing that their natural inclination is to take the side of the Palestinians in the protracted Middle East conflict because of their skin color, religion and ethnicity.

Of the BDS movement, Maher said on his program: “It’s predicated on this notion, I think—it’s very shallow thinking—that the Jews in Israel, mostly white, and the Palestinians are browner, so they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong. As if the occupation came right out of the blue, that these completely peaceful people found themselves occupied.”

Maher also called out the mainstream media for not offering even a modicum of coverage to the flip side of the BDS movement and for cavalierly dismissing Israel’s position on the Tlaib-Omar imbroglio.

Immediately subsequent to Maher’s biting commentary, Tlaib responded to Maher by calling for a boycott of his program because he publicly disagreed with her strident animus towards Israel and that of her colleague, Omar.

Taking to Twitter on Saturday night, Tlaib referenced Maher’s statement by saying, “I am tired of folks discrediting a form of speech that is centered on equality and freedom. This is exactly how they tried to discredit & stop the boycott to stand up against the apartheid in S. Africa. It didn’t work then and it won’t now.”

On Sunday, Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, issued a press release saying that his organization finds Tlaib’s suggestion of a boycott of Maher’s program “deeply disturbing.”

Focusing on Tlaib’s vocal support for the BDS movement, Lauder said: “Serious questions need to be asked about Tlaib’s motivation in supporting the extremist BDS movement, which is allied with terrorists and is not shy about its ultimate aim of destroying Israel.”

If that were not enough, other cultural icons piped up to add their opinions on the growing controversy.

Last Sunday, it was reported that Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem had also chimed in on the mushrooming Tlaib-Omar issue by claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “bully,” and that she refuses to visit Israel while he is still in office.

In a Tweet posted on Saturday, Steinem addressed her scathing criticism directly to Netanyahu, and said that his decision to bar a visit from Tlaib and Omar was “a welcome sign that I never have to enter any country or place under your authority.”

Steinem also said that during the 1980s when Netanyahu served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, she once joined him at his New York dinner table. She opined that he was a “conversational bully to his guests then, just as you are a bully to these two elected women leaders now.”

She also claimed that U.S President Donald Trump is “drawn to successful bullies, from Russia to Saudi Arabia,” but told Netanyahu that she “hoped that as leader of a nation dedicated to democracy and free speech, you would support the same rights for two elected leaders from my country.”

She concluded her tweet to Netanyahu by saying, “If you and Trump continue to imitate each other, you will eventually be alone together at the table. I could wish both of you no greater punishment than that.”

Responding to Steinem’s harsh critique of Netanyahu on Twitter was second-wave feminist icon and prolific author Phyllis Chesler. Speaking to the Jewish Voice, Chesler challenged Steinem’s double standard by saying, “Leaders and icons are rarely perfect. Great artistic talent does not spare artists from harboring rude and common prejudice. Gloria is not perfect—no surprise here. However, in this case, her singling out only one prime minister from among a world filled with genuinely awful tyrants is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. Gloria has called Netanyahu a ‘bully.’ If so, how does she describe the mullahs of Teheran? The leaders of ISIS and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria? The torturers-in-chief in Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia?”

Chesler added that “for the record: I was the one who got Gloria’s signature on the resolution opposing the U.N.’s Zionism=Racism, and I was the one who first invited both Gloria and [another co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Letty [Cottin] Pogrebin to the first-ever feminist Passover Seder, which we held at my home. Attending a few such sedarim does not constitute expertise on Israel, Judaism or the Middle East. If Gloria can proudly stand with [Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior Linda] Sarsour, Tlaib and Omar, that confirms that she is totally, blindly indoctrinated about Middle East reality. It is also an example of the way in which feminism has been co-opted, ‘occupied’ and ‘Palestinianized’ by anti-Semitic myths.”

Fern Sidman is a staff writer for the Jewish Voice (www.jewishvoiceny.com) and a former New York correspondent for Arutz Sheva. Her articles have appeared in numerous Jewish publications.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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