We’ve reached the inevitable backlash to the backlash against Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s thinly veiled anti-Semitic comments. And it’s all going exactly according to her plan.
After tweeting that “Israel has hypnotized the world” in 2012; that America refuses to criticize Israel because “It’s all about the Benjamins”; and bemoaning to an audience that for the sake of political influence in the U.S., “it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” the freshman representative has morphed into a victim. Yes, she said things she shouldn’t have (thought), but she apologized (for some of them), and her larger point, that we should be able to freely criticize the Israeli government, is legitimate (not that anyone was suggesting otherwise).
In response to Omar’s inflammatory words that touch upon three distinct slurs that have plagued the Jewish people for centuries — we control the world, use money as a means for influence and power, and are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. — Democrats drafted a less than forceful resolution condemning anti-Semitism that, after much debate, was expanded to include Islamophobia and racism, as unacceptable. Though she was the impetus for drafting the resolution, Omar was not named, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted calls to pull her committee assignments, as Republicans had done with in-house racist Rep. Steve King of Iowa. After all, calling out this divisive rhetoric and holding Omar accountable wouldn’t be prudent when so much of the party’s burgeoning progressive wing agrees with her.
In a demonstration of, at best, a startling lack of self-awareness, and, at worst, blatant hypocrisy, Democrats made an 11th-hour addition to the draft, writing that white supremacists have “weaponized hate for political gain,” then had the gall to put the resolution up for a vote so Republicans who disapproved of the toothless version would be on the record as refusing to vote against hate.
One of the Democrats’ go-to talking points when defending Omar is that Republicans like King, and of course President Donald Trump, have made several more racially insensitive comments several more times. Indeed, I find the president’s remarks about some of the “fine people” chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville more troubling, and the murderer of 11 Jews praying at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year was directly influenced by Trump’s alarmist statements about an impending immigrant invasion.
But come on. One of my biggest pet peeves during the Trump era is when his loyalists justify his alleged corruption and incendiary words with the “Yeah, but Hillary…” defense. The actions of the former secretary of state have nothing to do with the pros and cons of the commander in chief’s performance. Similarly, Trump’s repugnant invective does not mitigate Omar’s repeated anti-Semitic statements. In simpler terms that I use to discipline my children but shouldn’t have to use here: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Presidential hopefuls for the 2020 Democratic nomination are starting to fall in line behind Omar. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted “Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians.” And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who once ignorantly defamed Israel for killing “over 10,000” Palestinian civilians during the 2014 offensive in Gaza, tweeted, “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate.” (N.J. Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker reluctantly admitted Omar’s comments were “disturbing” when he was cornered by a reporter.)
Warren, Sanders, and other Democrats don’t get it. For one, Omar is not a victim (politically speaking; however, the FBI is reportedly investigating threats made against the congresswoman’s life), she brought it on herself on at least three separate occasions. But the bigger point is that what Omar said about the “Benjamins” and a dual loyalty to a foreign country was not, in fact, an attack on Israel.
It was an attack on us. The politicians, she would have you believe, are in our pockets because of Jewish money, and as American Jews, we put the welfare of Israel before that of our own country. Israel, Omar implies repeatedly, happens to be the beneficiary of the greedy Jews in their eternal pursuit of global domination.
Too strong? Perhaps. But even putting her aforementioned statements aside, Omar has shown her true feelings through her vocal support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Americans ought to be embarrassed to have elected two candidates to the federal government — Omar and fellow freshman representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — who have no shame in standing with this racist crusade.
It’s possible for an individual to be pro-BDS without being anti-Semitic, but that assumes a level of ignorance about the Middle East unbefitting and unrealistic for a sitting member of Congress. Neither Omar and Tlaib, the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, are ignorant. Still, they champion BDS, a cause that targets the only democracy in a region overwhelmingly ruled by autocrats; singles out Israel for human rights violations while conveniently letting those of North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia slide; criticizes the IDF for fighting back against those who seek to murder them; and calls for a Palestinian Right of Return, code for annexation of the entire Jewish state.
Omar’s tweets and comments, like BDS, are little more than a racial misdirection — check out this fraudulent attack on Israel with my right hand while I surreptitiously embed anti-Semitism into the national discourse with my left. It’s certainly working for her: Having become a political punching bag for the right, Democrats are coming to Omar’s defense, and suddenly the debate about the power of Jewish money is no longer taboo. The trap is so deep it even ensnared a Republican, former Maine governor Paul LePage, who nonsensically said Jews should be insulted by Omar, as they have always been stalwart supporters of the Democratic Party. “In fact, that’s where their money comes from for the most part,” LePage said, seemingly without being held at gunpoint.
All Americans should be proud to assert their First Amendment right to call out the Israeli government when it’s justified, and Lord almighty, an indictment against a sitting prime minister qualifies. That’s not what’s happening here. Israel is just a convenient foil for Omar’s elaborate bait and switch, a stand-in for her true mark, the Jews.EDITOR’S COLUMN
Contact Gabe Kahn via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter: @sgabekahn.