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A Hypocrite’s Match
Mehdi Hasan and Ilhan Omar’s attitudes towards the World Cup in Qatar expose their double standards against Israel
In the past few years, society has become familiar with the importance of representation and inclusivity. Unfortunately, well-intentioned attempts at Jewish inclusivity often serve as a bitter reminder of how prevalent antisemitism actually is. For instance, a post wishing Jewish Liverpool fans a Shana Tova garnered 41,000 comments (their average number of comments per post is 324). Among the most frequent remarks in the comment section were: “free Palestine”, “unfollowing”, “fuck Israel”, and some combination of poop and vomit emojis. Mature.
This isn’t an anomaly. In response to Kanye West’s recent antisemitic remarks, a viral post reading “I support my Jewish friends and the Jewish people” circulated on Instagram, and the next day, a nearly identical post went viral, only now, “Jewish” was replaced with “Palestinian.” The latter statement on its own would be harmless, of course, but in this specific context, it is a rebuttal, a demonstration that showed solidarity with Jews can only be lent with a caveat.
“The disproportionate outrage against Israel has little to do with human rights and a lot to do with antisemitism.”
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When it comes to Israel, the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement implores individuals, corporations, and institutions to cut all ties with the Jewish state. And BDS cries are plenty and loud. Whether it is widespread calls for universities to cease all cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, pressure on artists to cancel performances inside Israel, or athletes refusing to compete against Israeli opponents, the mere presence of Israeli representation on the world stage rarely goes without extreme vitriol. This attitude is likely attributable to the idea that Israel’s policies are so awful, so uniquely cruel, that the Jewish state cannot be treated as a “normal state…with which business can be conducted as usual.” This a strange calculation considering Israel is rated as a free country. It’s less strange once you consider the disproportionate outrage against Israel has little to do with human rights and a lot to do with antisemitism.
MSNBC correspondent Mehdi Hasan would disagree with me. In his 2018 “BDS myth-busting” video, he poses the question, “if [boycotting] Israel makes [one] anti-Jewish, does [boycotting] Saudi Arabia make [one] Islamophobic?” While he strongly suggests the answer is no, his recent positions on Qatar tell a different story.
Spectators have criticized Qatar’s exploitation of migrant workers (particularly to build the stadiums), lack of free media, mistreatment of journalists, citizenship laws, male guardianship laws, mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people, and more. Still, Hasan—who worked for the Qatari-funded media organization Al Jazeera for eight years—maintains that “we can enjoy and appreciate football and the World Cup…being held in the Middle East and a Muslim majority country…while also recognizing the undeniable controversies and human rights abuses associated with this tournament in Qatar.”
In the same video, Hasan insists that BDS isn’t antisemitic because its stated mission doesn’t mention Jews by name and is “all about human rights.” An interesting take from someone who also wondered whether criticism of Qatar was really about human rights, or just a matter of “western pundits [unable] to stomach the idea [of] an Arab Middle East country [hosting] the World Cup.” Even more bizarre, Hasan believes that BDS’s singling out of Israel isn’t antisemitic because “all boycotts are guilty of double standards”, but condemns the “picking and choosing of which countries’ human rights issues are a problem.”
Hasan refers to BDS’ critics who ask about Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia - condemning these inquiries as “whataboutism, deflection, and evasion of the worst sort.” Still, that didn’t stop him from criticizing the “disproportionate controversy” surrounding human rights when it comes to Qatar. In a bizarre series of tweets, he asks “who decides who gets boycotted”, citing China’s Winter Olympics, Russia’s World Cup, even drawing an equivalence to the US, asking whether they should be boycotted because of their record on human rights. In a response he clarified that he is “calling out people who are ONLY criticizing Qatar.” Weird, I thought that was “whataboutism, deflection, and evasion of the worst sort,” but I guess that was only when it comes to Israel.
The real cherry on top of it all is Hasan’s consistent acclaim for congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose support for BDS is so admirable that it amounts to “following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks” (yes, he really said that). Hasan’s reverence for Omar continues to this day. So much so that he recently invited her on his show to address Donald Trump’s history of antisemitism. I mean, who better to talk about antisemitism than someone who has claimed Israel “hypnotized the world” and has suggested that the US support for Israel is effectively bought by wealthy American Jews, the “new Rosa Parks’” attitudes toward the Jewish community haven’t exactly been secretive.
By all means, though, let’s give Omar the benefit of the doubt, maybe her heart truly bleeds for human rights in all countries. Welp, this April the congresswoman sat down with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who notoriously blamed Pakistan’s rape crisis on women’s clothing. And, most recently attended the World Cup in–you guessed it–Qatar. BDS hypocrisy aside, Omar’s visit, taken with her comments likening the IDF to Hamas, is actually very interesting seeing as Qatar is a major source of funding for Hamas. I’m not too sure if Rosa Parks – who, fun fact, was a Zionist – would have approved of that, congresswoman.
Anyway, back to our main case study... Mehdi Hasan soft-launched his support for BDS saying "my own view is that any movement that gets this far-right Israeli government up in arms must be doing something right." A statement that I'm sure, in his eyes, does not apply to the theocratic Qatari regime - a “government” that cannot tolerate the mere presence of a rainbow flag or a woman having the audacity to travel without permission from a male “guardian.”
So kinderlach, essentially, Qatar can do no wrong (especially when they’ve signed your paychecks), Jewish and LGBTQ lives are expendable, Ilhan Omar is literally Rosa Parks, and single standards are okay only for Israel. Godspeed to MSNBC viewers. You’re in great, unbiased hands.