Democratic leaders will put forward a vote on the House floor Wednesday to denounce anti-Semitism in the wake of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s latest inflammatory remarks about Jewish support for Israel. But it’s unlikely that Omar will pay a real price for her bigotry.
Speaking about Israel and the Palestinians last week at a panel at Busboys & Poets, a “community-gathering space” in Washington, Omar (D-Minn.) demanded the right to “talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
To applause, including from her fellow panelist Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), another Israel-hater, Omar wondered why she was allowed to criticize the oil and pharmaceutical industries but is forbidden “by a powerful lobby” from criticizing Israeli influence over US Mideast policy.
Then, over the weekend, she doubled down, tweeting that she would refuse to “have allegiance/pledge support” to Israel as a condition of serving in Congress — as though anyone had demanded that.
It was only a few weeks ago that Omar tweeted her notorious remark, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” insinuating that Jews exercise undue control over foreign policy through their wealth. Under intense pressure from Jewish groups and her colleagues, she walked back from that comment, with its nasty historical echoes, and “unequivocally” apologized. “I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
The lessons apparently haven’t taken. The claim that pro-Israel groups “push for allegiance to a foreign country” is far worse than the more common trope that Jews who support Israel have dual or divided loyalty. “Allegiance” means singular loyalty; Omar says that the Zionist lobby requires lawmakers, Jewish or otherwise, to pledge undivided fidelity to Israel.
Omar relentlessly deflects criticism of her rhetoric and says that calling her to account for her malign characterization of Jewish supporters of Israel is “designed to end the debate” about Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
But one can talk critically about Israel and Palestine without consistently framing the discussion in terms of Jewish hypocrisy, money and lies. Omar says that her “huge Jewish constituency” always “shares stories about safety and sanctuary for the people of Israel,” even though “there is no actual relative” or family member in danger. She insinuates that Jewish concern for Israel is illegitimately rooted in tribal particularism, an ethno-supremacist agenda that transcends the bonds of family or nation.
This is not, as Omar would have it, a reasoned critique of Israeli policy in the occupied territories; it is an attack on American Jewish identity and Jewish influence.
Omar says that when Jews say they feel hurt or betrayed by what they perceive to be her anti-Semitic rhetoric, this is only a pretext to silence her. “When people say, ‘You are bringing hate,’ I know what their intention is. Their intention is to make sure that our lights are dimmed, that we walk around with our heads bowed.” This would appear to qualify her “unqualified” apology for earlier trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes.
On Friday, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded that Omar apologize for her “vile, anti-Semitic slur,” which, he added, has “no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives.”
But he stopped short of calling for her expulsion from his committee. So far, only Republicans — Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy among them — have called for her removal.
Just as GOP leaders finally removed Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) from all committees for having promoted white nationalism and supremacy, Democrats should insist on Omar’s expulsion from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
While some fear that removing Omar would make her a martyr and play into the hands of those seeking to drag their party to the left, her animus towards Jews should disqualify her from a leadership role in congressional oversight of US foreign affairs.
Britain’s Labour party has been torn asunder by leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism and his cozy feelings for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. If the Democrats want to head into the 2020 election season with a “Corbynized” — or “Omar-ized” — party, that’s their business.
But permitting Omar to remain a spokeswoman on foreign affairs risks not only elevating her personal status but affirming her odious statements as a legitimate, if minority, viewpoint in the party.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Seth Barron is an associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute.
Judith Miller is a contributing editor of City Journal and adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Photo by Alex Wong / iStock