The bad news is that The New York Times decided to close 2018 by whitewashing the anti-Semitic record of incoming House Democrat Ilhan Omar. The good news is that the Times and Omar apparently still believe the whitewashing is necessary.
“Glorified and Vilified, Representative-Elect Ilhan Omar Tells Critics: ‘Just Deal’” is a fairly representative headline for the story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a puff piece of the sort one might find at Teen Vogue instead of the Gray Lady.
In this telling, soon-to-be representative Omar is the plucky immigrant who transcends bullies, the sexism of Somali culture, and the intolerance of an unnamed Christian pastor to become one of the first two Muslim women in Congress. Indeed, a professor quoted in the article calls Omar “the epitome of the so-called American dream, but for much of white Christian America, she’s an American nightmare.”
The problem with this sort of propaganda is what was left unreported. According to the story, “Her support for the boycott, divest and sanctions movement to pressure Israel to improve treatment of Palestinians is making Jewish leaders nervous.”
This formulation is laughably incomplete, beginning with the failure to quote any Jewish leader detailing their issues with Omar. (Lonny Goldsmith, editor of TCJewfolk, a media nonprofit in the Twin Cities, says only that she’s a “politician,” and in paragraph 23 of the story.)
On Twitter, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss provides some of the context missing from her paper’s ostensibly straight news coverage: “It isn’t hard to understand why Ilhan Omar’s story inspires many. The reason Jews are ‘nervous’ about her is because she tweeted: ‘Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.’” How does such an extremely inflammatory comment fall outside “all the news that’s fit to print” about Omar in the New York Times?
Hanlon’s Razor instructs us: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” In this case, however, a simple Google search of Ilhan Omar and Israel surfaces the still-unretracted tweet (and a similar tweet discussed below) as one of the top results. The comment is routinely mentioned in top stories covering Omar. It is mentioned on her Wikipedia page. Stolberg and her editors are unlikely to be so stupid as to have missed it, leaving intent as the more likely explanation.
Omitting the paranoid tweet from the profile is bad enough. But excluding it works in tandem with the euphemization of Omar’s Jewish critics to mislead readers regarding the nature of the controversy about her.
The article reports (in paragraph 22): “Ms. Omar’s careful answer on the 2018 campaign trail to questions about Israel — and her postelection clarification that she does indeed back the boycott, divest and sanctions [BDS] movement — has left some Jewish leaders feeling betrayed.” What Omar actually said during the campaign, at a candidates’ forum at Beth El Synagogue, was that she supported Israel’s right to exist and called BDS “not helpful” and “counteractive.” After the election, Omar stated (to a friendly outlet) that she “believes in and supports the BDS movement.”
Whatever The New York Times might like to sell to its core left-leaning audience, Omar’s support for BDS is in no reasonable sense a “clarification.” Moreover, given that Omar was being questioned precisely because of her earlier comment about Israel “hypnotizing the world,” Jews and non-Jews alike may well conclude that Omar lied during the campaign and that The New York Times seems amenable to covering it up.
Such impressions are underscored by the Times’ further omission of any context regarding the BDS movement. According to the paper, BDS is merely a “movement to pressure Israel to improve treatment of Palestinians.” The rationalization BDS puts forth for supporters is to compare Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. Indeed, Omar herself has advanced this line.
Yet the claim that the state of Israel’s existence is a racist endeavor is part of the “working definition” of anti-Semitism adopted by the United States and 30 other member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The founders of BDS seek the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, which is why you will find support groups like the Democratic Socialists of America chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Historically, BDS follows in the odious tradition of the 1945 Arab boycott, which did not distinguish between Jews and Israel.
Thus, when someone is elected to Congress with a history of supporting BDS and dissembling about that support, it might be considered not only newsworthy, but controversial. Batya Ungar-Sargon and Aiden Pink, respectively the opinion editor and deputy news editor at the Forward (hardly a right-wing outlet), are among those who have reached out to Omar on many occasions for answers on these issues, only to get stiff-armed. If Stolberg or anyone else at the Times asked the relevant questions, they made sure Omar’s answers did not make it into their coverage.
The Times’s tendency to assume the ostrich position on left-wing anti-Semitism is not new. For example, the aforementioned Weiss was writing about the problem of anti-Semitism within the Women’s March movement well before the supposedly objective news section of the paper did (much to the chagrin of the paper’s staffers, if their catty complaints about Weiss are any indicator).
The most recent Times article on that controversy reports in the most antiseptic and anodyne manner that March leaders were not disparaging Jewish women, but white women generally. It is the sort of defense that probably sounds plausible to an editorial board that recently hired Sarah Jeong, who has a long paper trail of anti-white invective. Others are not required to be quite so gullible.
Indeed, if there is any silver lining to the lickspittle coverage the Times has given Omar, it may be that the Times, consciously or not, seems to realize they have to be as dishonest as Omar about progressive anti-Semitism. Had the Times provided a complete account of Omar’s public comments, afforded her critics any quotations regarding her seeming anti-Semitism, or made clear that Omar was dishonest in her campaign to avoid accountability for her bigotry, not even the median Times reader would have bought her as a heroic, all-American martyr.
The Times helps enable anti-Semitism within the Democratic Party—but for now, at least, they still seem embarrassed about it.