The Dishonest, Distasteful, Dogmatic Self-Defense of A Whitewashed Bully
After she attacked a pregnant Chelsea Clinton for calling out antisemitism - which pretty much everyone, including the maker of said antisemitic comment, agreed was antisemitic - at a vigil for the victims of a heartbreaking act of white supremacist terrorism, a bigoted bully got dressed down by whites and blacks, Jews and Christians and Muslims. Getting called out, however, did not sit well with this particular bully, and let's be honest, an introspective response is not really what you'd expect from a bully.
Everyone reading this piece is probably familiar with the viral video of this bully, Leen Dweik, harassing and accosting a private citizen and expectant mother, Chelsea Clinton for an entirely reasonable opinion. Dweik showed up with her co-bully and co-author Rose Asaf, one assumes for the purpose of ganging up on Clinton. At least, she says she showed up with Asaf in the Buzzfeed opinion piece. On Twitter, Dweik says she approached Clinton alone. I suppose it is a bit too much to ask bullies with a political agenda to keep their story straight.
Leen Dweik is a Palestinian-American Muslim, and Asaf is a Jewish Israeli-American. Until this point, I had not mentioned their ethnicity and religion for one simple reason: it doesn't matter, except for this: As a person of color who is not part of a religious majority, I usually expect those who are similarly situated to take special care in how they treat others. In this instance, that expectation, that faith, on my part, turned out to be sadly misplaced.
But let's get to some of the specific points Dweik and Asaf make in order to excuse - no, extol - their own vitriolic bullying. They start off by being dishonest about the purpose of their attendance of the NYU vigil for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting.
We went to the vigil for one reason: to grieve the loss of innocent lives that were stolen from this world by vile hatred. We wanted to join our friends and colleagues in a time of heartbreak and agony, to remember the 49 Muslims who were murdered for being Muslim.
This, clearly, was Chelsea Clinton’s purpose of joining the vigil, but not of Dweik’s and Asaf’s. Had they truly wanted to join a vigil for innocent victims who were murdered in the middle of prayer, attacking and confronting Chelsea Clinton would have been the farthest thing from their minds. Vigils, memorials, and funerals are the places we focus on the departed, not on ourselves. These are places we respect the rights and thoughts of even our virulent foes to pay their respects. Even if they had a good reason to be upset with Chelsea Clinton, this was neither the time nor the place for it.
Of course, the NYU seniors had no legitimate grievance against Chelsea Clinton. The reason for their bullying of Chelsea, they said, was that Clinton had publicly condemned a comment by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) last month, in which Omar accused Jewish Americans and the pro-Israel lobby of paying off American politicians to support Israel. Asked to clarify, Omar accused the powerful lobbying group AIPAC of handling those transactions.
Omar’s comments were condemned nearly universally. The Anti Defamation League called her out, as did Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress. Omar herself apologized for invoking antisemitic tropes about Jews and money, but without compromising her broader point that lobbyists have too much influence in policymaking, which no one can disagree with.
I explained at the time why it is different to accuse Jewish American advocates of Israel of trying to purchase politicians than doing the same thing for other lobbies. We have a duty to avoid using stereotypical tropes when referencing specific groups of people, because the same words do not apply to everyone the same way. I said then:
Blind people should not be called “blindly loyal” to someone. Indian people should not be jokingly referred to as ‘cheap.’ Women should not have to explain their husbands. Extra scrutiny for police is warranted for incidences involving black and brown people. You should check yourself before you think your Muslim neighbor’s activities are “suspicious” and ask if you would be just as suspicious if your white neighbor did something similar. And one should not casually ascribe bribery and money grubbing to Jewish people.
Know who has the most trouble understanding this concept? Privileged whites who, without regard to the history of maltreatment and stereotypes against a given group, assume that, in effect, if a term or concept isn’t painful and offensive when applied to straight white Christians, it is harmful to none. It’s tragically comical that Dweik and Asaf go on to claim that they are fighting white supremacy, because their refusal to acknowledge and act in accordance with this basic concept of race and identity consciousness is itself an act of whitewashing.
In fact, one would suspect that Dweik’s and Asaf’s was an act of conscious whitewashing. They are certainly not shy about using Omar’s background to imply that she should be immune from all criticism.
So when we saw Chelsea, we saw an opportunity to have her ear and confront her on her false charge of anti-Semitism against our only Black, Muslim, Somali, and refugee member of Congress.
What the bullies are trying to do here is to inoculate Omar from any charge of antisemitism simply because she is black, Muslim, Somali, and refugee. Given that even Omar admitted and apologized for invoking antisemitic tropes, however, there is zero merit to this defense. If anything, because Omar is black, Muslim, Somali and refugee, her action is a painful reminder those of us who are members of underprivileged communities have a special duty to take care not to revive tropes against others and that when we do so, we cause a special kind of pain and damage to the cause of solidarity.
But this is not for the benefit of Dweik or Asaf, I understand. Dweik at least is so radicalized that she appears beyond redemption. Dweik has built up a history of social media bullying in more ways than one in her young life. In 2012 and 2013, she used homophobic slurs to harass people on Twitter.
Dweik berated people who found her past tweets as trying to use her poor choice of words from when she was 14 and 15 years old against her now that she’s almost drinking age. Teenage bullying is a serious issue, and it should not just be chalked up to youth. Children are still more forgivable for their actions than are adults, of course but Leen Dweik did not have the decency to apologize for what she did, now that she is almost drinking age.
More to the point of this essay, however, Dweik’s radical bullying nature is well with her today. There is a reason she and Asaf seem to believe that someone who is a Muslim Somali cannot possibly commit an act of anti-semitism. Dweik, at least, does not seem to have any problem with what would amount to be the annihilation and mass murder of the majority of the world’s Jewish population.
Note the date. March 3, 2019 - a mere two weeks ago. Not like when she was 14 and 15 and just didn’t understand how painful the word ‘faggot’ is. This is proof that Dweik believes that antisemitism is not a disgusting form of bigotry but an essential tool for the criticism of US foreign policy towards the middle east as well as for criticism against Israeli policies.
The progressive movement must extricate itself from bullies like Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf. We must make it clear that bullying is not an act of courage. We must take a stand that harassment of a private citizen at a vigil is not “speaking truth to power.” We must repudiate bullies who attack, intimidate and harass others and then play the victim when called out.
We are better than this.
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