In a recent commentary, I raised the question of why Jews vote for Democrats by such a wide margin. At that time, I noted the increase in the number of Democrats with pro-Arab sentiments – most notably, but not exclusively, among the new Muslim members of Congress. Similar anti-Israeli sentiments have been expressed by others, including the over-exposed New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
I am not anti-Muslim, and I have no problem with people who are critical of elements of Israel’s domestic or foreign policies – or our across-the-board support for the Jewish state. Many Jews are critical of the administration of President Benjamin Netanyahu.
There is room for diverse opinion in all matters of public policy – and to have such diversity represented in our legislative chambers is a good thing – not a bad thing. BUT … there is a distinction between specific policy differences and a broader opposition to an important ally based on ethnicity or religion. And when the problem becomes a matter of anti-Semitism.
Newly minted Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar recently set off the anti-Semitism alarm with a tweet in which she strongly suggested that support for Israel is based on Jewish money from a pro-Israel group – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which, incidentally, does not contribute to campaigns as she wrongly suggested).
The Omar criticism is a canard that has been used against American Jews for as long as one remembers – except it has been generally reserved for those back rooms where anti-Semitism flourishes in private conversations. Paranoia over Jewish influence has been part of western society since the days of Moses – and with some of the most tragic consequences in human history.
Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, another freshmen Democrat, have both indicated their support for the “boycott, divestment and sanction” (BDS) movement against Israel on the basis that the Jewish State is an interloper in the Middle East (occupying Palestinian land) and is a terrorist state. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has declared that support for BDS is prima facie anti-Semitism. Apparently, Omar Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez did not get the memo.
In the interest of decency and the fact that the Democratic Party cannot afford to drive away too many of those Jewish votes, the congressional leadership came down fast and hard on Omar. In a virtually unprecedented joint statement against a member, the leadership – including Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark – said that “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks, and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
What was noteworthy about the leadership statement is that it was not coy – suggesting that Omar was misunderstood or misquoted. The title atop the statement made it perfectly clear. It read: “The Democratic Leadership Statement on Anti-Semitic Comments of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.”
With the entire political world … well almost the entire political world … coming down on her, Omar had little choice but to apologize. In her mea culpa, Omar suggested that her comment was the product of naïve innocence. She said, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes…”
As a woman whose personal and professional focus has been on the situation in the Middle East – especially as it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict – it is not credible for her to claim such immature naivete. And it is not consistent with her past.
Also, her abject apology was walked back a bit when she said, “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil-fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.” As is typical of the left, they rail against only the lobbying organizations with which they disagree. How does Omar feel about some of those other big money lobbying organizations, such as labor unions, the national education associations, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?
Those who wish to get passed this politically awkward moment for the Democratic Party – to sweep it under the rug, so to speak – there is an eagerness to accept the apology and move one. Some say it is one of those “learning moments.” (You Know, like when a Democrat governor is caught wearing blackface in his college yearbook.)
If there is anything that has been learned it is the breadth and depth of anti-Semitism that is coming to the surface through the more radical elements of the increasingly left-wing Democratic Party. While Democrat leaders point to their Party’s diversity, some of that diversity is nothing to brag about.
What cannot – and should not – be swept under the rug is the fact that this was not some outlier, out-of-context misstatement by Omar. It is just the latest in her history of statements against the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Someone on social media resurrected what appears to be a 2013 tweet by Omar which says, “Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
During a campaign appearance at a Jewish temple, Omar promised to be even-handed in dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues. She expressed opposition to the DBS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel. Following her election, she reversed her position which stated that she supports BDS.
What has become obvious is that Omar will not be even-handed in terms of Israel. Her views favor Arab and Palestinian interests and are in opposition to the nation of Israel and its people – nationally and theologically.
What Omar did that cannot be undone is to bring to the surface the underbelly of American anti-Semitism. Social media was flooded with messages in defense of Omar’s statement – including attacks on Pelosi and others who demanded a retraction and an apology.
As might be expected, the perennial cretin of American politics, David Duke, rose to Omar’s defense, tweeting, “So, let us get this straight. It is ‘Anti-Semitism’ to point out that the most powerful political moneybags in American politics are Zionists who put another nation’s interest over that of America ??????” Or maybe Duke’s alliance with Omar should be unexpected in view of his attitude toward Arabs and Muslims. It must be one of those ‘enemy of my enemy’ situations.
It would seem that not all of Omar’s support comes from such obvious anti-Semitic haters. Ashley Feinberg, a writer for the Huffington Post tweeted, “Accurately describing how the Israel lobby works is not anti-Semitism.” Of course, Omar did not accurately describe how the Israel lobby works.
To say that the Middle East situation is complex – and that the American public reaction to it is even more complex – would be an understatement. But what is clear is that – apologies aside – is that Congresswoman Omar is no friend of Israel and the American-Israeli alliance. For her to claim otherwise would be pure chutzpah.
So, there ‘tis.
WASHINGTON — Representative Ilhan Omar, who has been battling charges of anti-Semitism for weeks, apologized on Monday for insinuating that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group — a comment that drew swift and unqualified condemnation from fellow Democrats on Monday, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she said in a statement that she released on Twitter. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.”
She added, “I unequivocally apologize.”
Her comments came after Ms. Pelosi and the entire House Democratic leadership issued a statement condemning her.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share. But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” the five House Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments. As Democrats and as Americans, the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered.”
Ms. Pelosi said she had spoken with Ms. Omar and said they “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
In our conversation today, Congresswoman Omar and I agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.