“Rep. Ilhan Omar's Tweet (Bonus)” Transcript
Guest: Dr. Peter Glick
Betty Teng: Welcome to a special bonus episode of Mind of State. I’m Betty Teng.
Michael Epstein: And I’m Michael Epstein. And together, we are your hosts. Here at Mind of State, we don’t so much discuss the news as psychoanalyze it by talking to some of the smartest, most interesting minds in the mental health and social sciences. Hi Betty.
Betty: Hey, Michael.
Michael: How are you?
Betty: I’m good.
Michael: Well, today, actually, we’re going to really live by that moniker of not so much discussing the news as psychoanalyzing it. We are bringing back with us today, Peter, can you say, are you here?
Peter Glick: Yeah, I’m here.
Michael: All right.
Betty: Welcome back.
Michael: So, Peter Glick, welcome back, Peter.
Peter: Thank you.
Michael: So Peter Glick joined us with his colleague Susan Fiske earlier this week to talk about the psychology of prejudice and in particular anti-Semitism. And we recorded that episode before all of the controversy on Twitter with Representative Ilhan Omar and her tweet about Israel. And as soon as it happened and everything I, you know, I went back to the podcast, Peter, and listened to it again. And it was so helpful for me to understand it. I felt well, I felt the need to bring you back, as did Betty.
Betty: Yeah. It was very grounding. So we wanted to ground more.
Michael: Yeah, you know, to walk onto the hot lava of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Semitism, which you’re very brave to do. So, welcome back to Mind of State.
Peter: Thanks. Thanks for making me a special bonus.
Betty: You are a special bonus. Every day.
Michael: Exactly. So listen, for those who don’t know, I can’t imagine at this point if you’re a listener to this podcast, but, you know, earlier this week, I think over the weekend, there were a series of tweets from Representative Omar, who represents Minnesota in the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives. She was initially responding to a tweet from Glenn Greenwald, who is a reporter, used to write for The Guardian, now he’s with The Intercept, I think. And his tweet was fairly innocuous. But I’ll read it out loud to give everybody some grounding. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for Representative Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are both, by the way, two of the first, I believe Muslim–
Betty: Muslim congresswomen.
Michael: Right. Over criticisms of Israel. It is stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans. And then there was a link to Haaretz. So basically, Glenn Greenwald was criticizing Kevin McCarthy, who’s the Republican leader in the House, for attacking Representative Omar and Representative Tlaib. Representative Omar then retweeted it with a comment. And that comment was, it’s all about the Benjamins baby. And then somebody from the Jewish Daily Forward asked her on Twitter what she meant by that. And she responded, AIPAC with I think an exclamation point. So, Peter, I guess the first thing is, just emotionally, if you can, how you took it, how you felt when you saw it. What was your response before anything else?
Peter: Yeah, I guess maybe my first response is here we go again, right. So, you know, just I mean, I think the tweet, that Representative Omar’s tweet was bad, but I don’t want to pile onto her at this point. I think that, you know, she’s made an apology. And I think we should talk about this whole sort of cycle of tweets and apologies and all of that. You know, as some commentators have pointed out, it’s very rich that McCarthy was calling for this punishment when he is subscribed to–
Michael: Oh, he’s trafficked in the same thing.
Peter: Right. So know there’s a lot of, you know, I’m shocked to find that anti-Semitism is going on around here, kind of rhetoric. Now, it’s become really a political football. And I know what you two and I want to do is to kind of pull back and think about, you know, how do we pick apart where we might draw some lines and where is legitimate criticism of Israel, of lobbyists for Israel, you know, a policy toward Palestinians, I mean, all of that is, you know, really legitimate stuff to criticize. And I–
Michael: I think the reason we brought you back, Peter, was because I think there’s a fair amount of confusion and nobody really feels at this point anymore, there’s no value in name calling. And, you know, like you, we want to really dive in, and I think that there were two things for me, because I had a lot of conversations this week with friends and family and, you know, the first thing is why were people offended? Why? Because a lot of people don’t think that she was trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes. So where is the argument to start with for people who were upset or offended?
Peter: Right. So, you know, we’ve talked about this on the earlier podcast. The stereotype of Jews as this kind of cabal with greater influence in the world, you know, using money to corrupt and to buy influence. And so, you know, it really feeds in. It’s, you know, if you understand the context and the history, then her tweet that it was all about the money, you know, really feeds into that conspiracy theory kind of view. And then, you know, piling it all onto AIPAC, as, you know, that, you know, Jewish lobbyists control American policy. And, you know, the same thing with Greenwald saying that and I’m kind of assuming he’s Jewish, actually, at least by birth. You know, piling on, you know, in that way that also raises those specters. Now, I think, you know, it’s something to be sensitive to, but it shouldn’t be quashing criticism of Israel. It shouldn’t be quashing criticism of lobbyists or any of that sort of thing. But it’s generalizing it in a way and, of course, Twitter is not really conducive to, you know, a really–
Betty: Deep nuanced inquiry.
Peter: –nuanced kind of discussion.
Michael: Really? I find it very subtle. And you know.
Betty: I mean, this goes to your, I believe we talked about this in the podcast about how social media spins us, and part of our goal here is to stop the spin and to analyze rather than react. And so what you’re saying, Peter, is that the cabal, the conspiracy is that Jews are this competent minority and therefore as competent, as we said in the podcast, threatening. And they have this money and they drive, there’s this grand sort of power that they they possess with banking and money under their control.
Michael: Right. I think that’s the question, right. Can you put the all about the Benjamins in the context of how you look at, in your stereotype context, and, you know the–
Peter: Right, right. Well, you know, it’s very similar to the kind of conspiracy theories that McCarthy also, you know, has been endorsing that there are these Jewish bankers, Jewish financiers, that they control all this money and they therefore have outsized influence when, okay, we also have people who are not Jewish, who have a lot of money, who have this kind of influence. But it’s, you know, the question is, is there kind of a moral double standard that’s subtly baked into the comments? Is it, kind of, drawing out a wider stereotype and this implication that Jews are out there as this particularly powerful minority group that, you know, is involved in these secretive conspiracies by which they wield outsized influence over everything? And, of course, you know, it’s hard to know sometimes where to draw these lines. So, you know, there is, you know, a lobby for Israel that might be more powerful than a lot of other lobbies. There’s also the NRA, which is an extremely powerful lobby, but it’s not associated with a particular ethnic or religious group. So–
Betty: And it’s not having conspiracy theories drawn about the NRA. Well, there are some narratives about the NRA.
Michael: You know, I think that’s interesting that you bring that up because a lot of people say, well all she is doing is criticizing lobbyists. So how is it okay to criticize the NRA? How is it okay to criticize, say, big oil if you’re an environmentalist and not okay to criticize AIPAC? She’s just calling out lobbyists for what they do. How is that anti-Semitic?
Peter: Right. And I don’t think if it’s just calling out lobbyists for what they do, I don’t think it is anti-Semitic and I don’t think that you can, you know, shield yourself from any criticism by, you know, just claiming that any criticism of your group or of your nation’s policies is reflecting, you know, is racist, anti-Semitic, whatever. So I think that, you know, we have to draw those lines and where those lines exactly occur, that can be subtle and difficult. And we could legitimately disagree on how bad the comment is. So, you know, the question, and again, Twitter, I mean I feel in some ways, I think, you know, politicians are under a lot of pressure to use Twitter. It got Trump elected, arguably, and AOC, right. She’s, you know, become very adept. She’s very adept at social media. And she’s gotten tons of attention. And so really using social media and sites like Twitter is something that has become really incentivized for politicians. And it demands this kind of fast reaction which gets people in trouble. So, you know–
Betty: Well, it also precludes thinking because it’s just all reaction, action, reaction, tweet, comment, and repartee. That’s dangerous it seems like in this context, in this situation.
Michael: Well, certainly, you know, she’s had a, I mean, she’s apologized previously. And I don’t mean to pile on here, but there is the context for her prior tweet from several years earlier, the Jews had hypnotized people to support Israel or at least that was the sort of implication. I think she used the word hypnotize.
Betty: Well, that–
Peter: That seems to resonate with this kind of secret cabal sort of thing. I mean, it’s hard because I think we’re taking, you know, very short comments and we’re also reading something into them. But when that’s there in the background, this kind of cultural stereotypes with a very, you know, bad history, you can see why Jews would be very sensitized to them. You know, if she’d written an extensive criticism of AIPAC and, you know, stuck to the facts, I think she could have a very powerful argument about the influence of this particular lobby group. I don’t think she, I don’t think she should be precluded or censored in any way from making a specific criticism of a specific lobby, not just having to talk about lobbyists in general. I have no problem with her, you know, criticizing AIPAC and talking about it in a kind of factual way that really makes the case. The problem is when you make these overarching kinds of comments that connects to–
Michael: Well it’s the language you use.
Peter: –these stereotypes.
Betty: And the manner in which she used it, it was like the language, whatever the content of it was was quick and flip and–
Michael: and resident of–
Michael: –something that is pernicious and ugly. I mean, I think it’s interesting. If we can flip the conversation for a sec, because I think the Jewish community, of which I am a member, you know, I would have defended her criticizing AIPAC and I would have defended her criticisms of Israel and Netanyahu government. I mean, it’s very hard to believe in a social contract and inalienable rights and to not look at the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and not think that, at the very minimum, the status quo must change. So, you know, but criticisms of Israel, criticisms of AIPAC on the other side, you know, are too often conflated with anti-Semitism. And I wonder if you could speak to that, because in some ways, I think that’s just as much a part of this dynamic. And I think it’s part of why we can’t talk about this now and why people couldn’t see why this language was so dangerous. Because they also look at it and say oh so now, you know, any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. So I can’t say anything. Is that what you’re telling me?
Peter: Right. And I think you’re absolutely right, that’s a very dangerous road to go down, is to say that, you know, we can’t have any kind of criticism. I think, again, it’s sort of criticism that sticks to the facts, that builds a case without implying motives on the part of a broad group of people. And that, you know, and it’s, you know, it’s like dog whistles in politics. And we talk about racist dog whistles. You know, they can be subtle or more overt. And the more subtle ones, you know, you have to see that connection in historical context and you have to be aware of that. And that’s, you know, to Representative Omar’s credit, you know, she, you know, that’s what she said in her apology, is like thinking about the context of these stereotypes and this history, that that’s why she apologized. So I think that’s, you know, that’s really good. And I don’t think she should be ostracized any further.
Michael: For sure not.
Peter: And I think it’s, you know, this should be a kind of a moment where we reflect on this and where how do we want to frame these debates so that we can have legitimate discussion and criticism of, for instance, lobbyists and, you know, and the state of Israel and all of that.
Michael: As I said to somebody, if she came up supportive of BDS, the movement to–
Betty: Support the Palestinians–
Michael: –through a boycott, you know, I would have defended that right. I may have even, you know what I mean? It’s there’s too many of these hot button toxic things where all of a sudden I think people are quick to charge anti-Semitism so that when it shows up, it’s like the boy who cried wolf. When it comes up, you don’t have a language anymore to discuss it.
Betty: Well, and we go back to Greenwald’s comment and McCarthy’s criticism of Omar and Representative Tlaib. You know, these are two freshman women, congresswomen, who are the first Muslims to sit in the House. And the significance of their identity can’t be obscured here, that McCarthy was calling them out for criticism of Israel. And I think that the situation was sitting on a tinderbox from the beginning.
Michael: Exactly. And he’s trafficking in terrible stereotypes too.
Betty: Absolutely. And that he’s stoking something and as you put it, Peter, there was a political football that’s getting tossed back and forth. Or I think it’s a flaming baton. And who’s going to get burned? And underneath it is what we’re missing, which is the meaning of all of this. And it’s, the drama is distracting all of us, of all this finger pointing and this incendiary language and implications all being looked at between the lines. And, you know, David Duke enters into the fray and that’s, you know–
Michael: All the confirmation you need.
Betty: –another Molotov cocktail into it with his calling the Jews gorillas, Zionist gorillas, which is abhorrent and–
Michael: And a mixed metaphor, man.
Michael: Get your racism straight. Get your racism straight, dude.
Betty: I didn’t even get that. That sort of stopped me when I saw that.
Michael: Actually, yeah, Peter, could you do us a favor? Can you–
Betty: Is it an elephant in the room? What are we talking about here?
Michael: Can you go back and help us understand, at least as you and Susan and others like Amy Cuddy, look at something like antisemitism and why it is so–
Betty: Hot button.
Michael: Well, and also why it just sort of holds, you know, no political party. Everybody can pick that baton up, as you put it, and be anti-Semitic. The left, the right, doesn’t really, you know, have any domain. What is the dynamic, as you see it, of anti-Semitism? Again, I know we did it on Tuesday.
Michael: And could you put it then in the context of it’s all about the Benjamins.
Peter: Right. So, I mean, we can go into the deeper dive, which would be really the historical circumstances that have always seemed to conspire to put the Jews in, what we call, the envious prejudice category. That is of a perceived competent, in fact, maybe even hyper competent and powerful group, that is seen, though, also as having ill intent toward the rest of society. And that really traces back through two thousand years of history. I mean, you know, as we all know, Jesus was a Jew. Christianity came out of Judaism. Judaism was the parent religion. And one of the big tasks of early Christianity was to, you know, was, as improbable that it survived and did, historically, one of the big tasks was to explain how Jesus was the Messiah, when most Jews at the time rejected his Messiah-hood. And that really, you know, the answer to that was well you’re denying the son of God. You must be evil. You must be, you know, sons of the devil, right. And we get into early Christian writings, including to the New Testament, some anti-Semitic statements, because, you know, because of this close relationship, and Judaism, you know, if we think back then, you know, now Christianity is the powerful religion. Back then, Judaism was the parent religion and Christianity was this small breakaway sect that had to establish itself and give itself credibility. So we know right from the start we have that and that led to, you know, Jews as this having this evil intent. I mean, and literally being allied with the devil through most of history from the founding of Christianity.
And that’s, so that’s kind of the beginning of it. And then, you know, this got changed also. This is kind of like, the historical circumstances changed in ways that still conspired to put Jews into the same categories. You know, if you’re allied with the devil, you must be powerful, right. And, you know, plague was being blamed on witches. It was also blamed on the Jews as allies of the devil. You could potentially somehow mysteriously have these occult powers to cause the plague. And then, of course, you know, Jews also became moneylenders because there was a Christian prohibition against doing that. And it became a space that Jews were allowed to occupy. Well, that’s not a great space to be in. Nobody likes the person who lends them money and charges them interest. And so, you know, there, too, and, of course, then you get some prominent Jews in banking and that’s, you know, that’s, again, that middle man minority that, you know, that envious prejudice category. And then, you know, we go through more recently with the establishment of the state of Israel. And, you know, it’s a powerful little country. So, you know, there, too, it now becomes potentially seen as the oppressor and this minority that has, or the small country that has, more power than other countries its size, influence in the United States. And so all of these really keep Jews in that same category and it becomes all, you know, again, I think the key thing is this perception of ill intent.
And if you generalize that intention, that’s very different than saying, okay here’s some policies that really are wrong, you know, immoral. I don’t have any problems with saying, you know, some of the current Israeli policies toward Palestinians are immoral and you make the case and you build it on the facts. But when you start to imply that Jews have evil intent, right, that’s where you’re starting to cross that line. Where exactly does that happen? I think we could debate that in any specific instance. Some will be more obvious than others. But that’s where I think it goes over the line and feeds into all this whole historical context that, you know, generated the Holocaust, for example. I mean, the Nazis, if you ever, I do a course on the Holocaust and one of the things I show is the film The Eternal Jew, which is banned in Germany. But you can find a copy of this film. And, you know, one of the things that the Nazis complained about about the Jews was, for instance, too much Jewish doctors, right. Too many Jewish doctors. Well, you know, that seems like a weird complaint. There’s all these Jewish doctors, right. But, you know, you can see how that fits into this high status minority kind of conception, right. The competence becomes a negative trait because it’s presumed to be combined with evil intentions.
Betty: And from what you’re saying across history, what strikes me is that there’s a symbolism that gets attached to being Jewish and that instead of policies, as you mentioned, about Palestinians needing more rights in Israel, it becomes emotional, that there is this emotional attachment to what a Jew is, which has developed across history as being the killer of of Christ. But that had emerged as a competition between Christianity and Judaism, Judaism being the parent religion, as you mentioned. So there’s an Oedipal conflict in our language of psychoanalysis, this competition between a presiding stable religion and a new religion that needed to supersede its parent. And then now the Jews have become symbolized as these figures of usurious middlemen. And so it’s an emotional–
Betty: It’s emotional. And so we can’t talk and think about policy when you’re dealing with this emotional symbol.
Michael: Well then on the other side, I’ll say, you know, Betty, you know, I find it disgusting that the Senate is taking up a bill to effectively make free speech illegal as it comes to the BDS movement.
Michael: It’s so profoundly–
Betty: It’s absurd.
Michael: –and deeply un-American and that they’re using it, people like Marco Rubio and others, are using it as a way to charge, you know, people like Tlaib and Omar with anti-Semitism for just criticizing, I mean, what? It seems like everybody’s lost their mind here.
Betty: Well, it’s like Mitch McConnell saying on the Senate floor, the expansion of voting is a power grab by the immigrants to–
Michael: It’s a different podcast.
Betty: It’s a different subject.
Michael: But look, and then Donald Trump comes into the middle of all of this and says that Omar should resign. It’s, the whole thing is just depressing because we don’t know how to talk about it. And I think you’re right. I mean, look, I think what struck me personally when I read the tweet as so problematic is that it implied that congressman, women, the people would not support Israel were it not for the money, right. It’s all about the Benjamins. If it wasn’t for the Jewish money, these people would have, would hold different opinions. And that was, for me, the third rail. I had an emotional response. I’ll be honest, right. And I’m very critical of Israel. But that just hit me like at a deep emotional level, because the implication is they wouldn’t believe this or act this way were it not for a minority having outsized influence because of their money.
Peter: Yeah, and I want to go back to a couple, you know, to play Betty’s psychoanalytic themes. A couple of themes that really come out of these stereotypes of Jews. You know, there’s two things. One is this kind of almost mythic power that Jews, you know, have this almost, that hypnotizing comment, right, is an example of that, that there’s something almost this uncanny, kind of mythic, strange, almost occult power that the Jews have. You know, these chosen people of the Bible, right. That’s not a good way to label yourself as the chosen people of God, right. It’s bound to create some resentment from others. But you know that’s another aspect of this general attitude toward the Jews. And then the other theme that you mentioned, Betty, which is betrayal, right. That the Jews are ready to betray us. And that’s, you know, the Nazi stab in the back theory. We accepted them into our country, you know, pre-Nazi Germany was actually a pretty good place to be a Jew in Europe. And, you know, yet that was used against Jews because we accepted you was the Nazi’s line. We were nice to you and you stabbed us in the back. And of course, we see that also in the theme of the Judas kiss, right. Jews as the betrayer. And this plays right through to the idea that Jews are more, American Jews, might be more loyal to Israel than they are to the U.S.
Betty: And David Duke–
Peter: And so they’re suspect.
Betty: So David Duke spoke to this in his meme, saying that the gorilla in the room that nobody dared to challenge until now, it is time to end the Zionist takeover of America. And he’s expressing exactly what you have just described. And paradoxically supported and was disappointed when Omar apologized. And I think the symbolism has to be taken to the fact that here is a freshman young congresswoman who is one of the first, if you know, one of the first Muslims to hold a seat in the House of Representatives. And that she represents something by her identities. And–
Michael: She’s a threat.
Betty: She’s a threat. Exactly. And she’s easily taken down because if this was, if she’s in the position of Nancy Pelosi, I think we would be having a very different conversation, you know, it’d be more complex. But she doesn’t have the power that some of these men who’ve been attacking her do. And so–
Michael: And they’re threatened by her presence. They just simply are.
Michael: And, you know, they’re trying to silence her. And that’s, I think, the really, the shame of all of this is that I think she has important things to say and to contribute that need to be contributed, that should be in a free and democratic society and that they’re using this as a way of silencing her.
Betty: And she herself is a historic figure, you know, and–
Michael: But on the other side of it, you have people who I’ve been talking to all week saying she didn’t do anything wrong. And what’s also, Peter, and then we should probably wrap up, but what, sort of, what depressed me and what prompted me to reach out to you was this seeming, like, lack of interest that so many quote unquote progressives had in trying to empathize or at least stop and say, well why is everybody so upset? Like, there was no moment. We were so in the lobbyists are awful, money is awful, Israel is awful, so it’s not anti-Semitic. And I remember saying to somebody like, wait wait don’t you care that people are hurt? Like, where is the–
Betty: Right. I mean, I think something that, Peter, that you’ve pointed to is the issue of time, you know, we’re not thinking about history and we’re not thinking about the time, that is, these tweets are coming fast and furious. And, you know, before anybody can think about what happened, somebody is tweeting something else. And before we know it, David Duke is weighing in. And that’s like a big Molotov cocktail in the middle of all of this. This white supremacist has now sort of thrown his hat into the ring. And how, one of the things before we go, Peter, how do we get beyond this? How do we engender a place where we can think rather than create these crises, these Twitter crises?
Peter: I think it’s really hard because the pressures are out there on politicians, because social media gets you attention. And of course, that’s the oxygen of politics. So, you know, I think it’s, and you know, more nuanced discussion often doesn’t really sell as well as dog whistles and–
Peter: –you know, and quick reactions and playing to your base. And I think that the point about progressives, I mean, the anti-Semitism of the left, I think happens when the Jews are just placed firmly into this oppressor category. And therefore, it’s okay to say anything bad about the oppressor, because like white men, they’re basically that, you know, responsible for all that is bad. And then being oppressed becomes kind of a shield, right. If my group is oppressed, then then we can’t be criticized, but we can criticize you. So, you know, Jews occupy this really weird position. It’s like, hey wait hey we have been oppressed. Hello, you know, the Holocaust, two thousand years of anti-Semitism. But now with, you know, on the left–
Michael: Squirrel Hill.
Peter: –it’s really all about Israel as the oppressor. And again, just sort of generalizing this when this kind of just becomes this, you know, polarized, overarching, you know, not a discussion, not about the facts so much as this overall emotion like you said, Michael, then I think that’s where it gets really problematic.
Michael: Well, listen, thank you. And Betty, as you were talking about David Duke, I was thinking what Peter had said to us earlier, on the last episode. You know, these tweets were the most bizarre things. You had David Duke, you had all these progressive left wing people–
Betty: Chris Hayes.
Michael: Chris Hayes saying, you know, and it was like, what a weird mix of people all basically defending this tweet. I mean, you had a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, for vastly different reasons, granted, I’m not suggesting for the same reason, as, you know, some of the most progressive people that I follow defending the tweet and I thinking like back to your comment, Peter, like who thinks the Jews are clever, right. Jews and anti-Semites.
Peter: Hey, well, at least the Jews can unite, you know, the extreme left with the extreme right.
Michael: It’s a kumbaya moment.
Peter: Muslim extremists with Christian extremists, you know, I mean, who could bring them all together? Only the Jews.
Michael: There you go. There you go. Well, listen, thank you, Peter. Thank you very much for coming back on such short notice and dipping your toe into this troubled water.
Betty: Thanks for helping us try to make sense of this.
Peter: Thanks for having me. I want to, yeah, I want to be a co-host now.
Michael: That’s right. You’re closer than any other guest.
Betty: Come move to New York.
Peter: I should at least get a T-shirt or something.
Betty: Oh absolutely.
Michael: We have to get those going. Definitely, definitely. Well, listen, thanks a lot, Peter. You have reached the end of this special episode. And as my rabbi likes to say to me, take your problems home with you. Mind of State is a production of Mind of State Media LLC and Hangar Studios NYC. Our crackerjack producer is Caroline Kwash. Our engineer today is Jack Dixon. Mind of State’s original music is composed by Joel Goodman, courtesy of Oovra Music. I’m Michael Epstein.
Betty: And I’m Betty Teng. You can connect with us on Twitter at Mind of State Pod, on our Facebook page, and at our website, MindofState.com. You can also subscribe to our show at Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.