D.C. is still reeling from last week’s debacle involving Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has made a series of statements many have criticized as anti-Semitic. In 2012, she tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
In February, Omar had tweeted that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby,” prompting charges she was raising anti-Semitic tropes involving Jews and sinister financial machinations. Two weeks ago, she raised the issue of dual loyalty, and old anti-Semitic canard, before a D.C. crowd: “Nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine. So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
When a fellow Democratic congresswoman lamented “that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Omar responded by saying, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
In response, last week Democrats threatened to vote on a measure condemning anti-Semitism. What should have been a simple resolution to condemn such statements got watered down until the resolution failed to directly condemn the things Omar had said.
One key component here is simply rank partisanship. Even though Omar has an extensive history of tracking in anti-Semitic tropes, going back to her days in state office, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is out there defending the indefensible, having resorted to such insulting arguments as “I think she has a different experience in the use of words.” This is what you might say about a child or mentally disabled person, not a member of the foreign affairs committee.
The more creative, if more dishonest, defense of Omar is that she’s one being victimized merely because she’s a black female Muslim. Rep. James Clyburn even went so far as to suggest that Omar has some sort of immunity because her experience as a refugee was “more personal” than the objections of people whose parents were Holocaust survivors.
Oddly enough, when Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who like Omar is a female Somali refugee, speaks out against the anti-Semitism and illiberal (in the meaningful sense) tendencies of the Muslim world, her own intersectional bona fides don’t seem to matter. In fact, in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” written in collaboration with the obsequious Democratic Party defenders at Media Matters for America, Ali was labeled one of these anti-Muslim extremists. Go figure. (The SPLC later lost a $3 million lawsuit over their libelous “Field Guide.”)
How we arrived at a place where Democrats would insist that Omar is being persecuted for saying Jews hypnotize people no doubt requires some unpacking. It seems a lot of people who are surprised and disheartened by Omar’s comments are under the impression that tolerance for anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party is a new turn of events. That’s hardly the case.
Lost in the mists of the last decade is Barack Obama’s mainstreaming of anti-Semitism into Democratic and American politics. To be clear, even after two terms as president, Obama remains such a cipher that saying he mainstreamed anti-Semitism is hardly the same thing as saying he’s personally anti-Semitic. It is fair, however, to say he has consorted with Israel critics with dubious motivations and people with anti-Israel terror connections to such a degree that the most charitable thing one can say is that there’s a possibility his embrace of these people was just a way to cynically advance his political career and foreign policy priorities, priorities that were just coincidentally threatening to Israel’s security.
In fact, when Obama ran for president in 2008, people spoke openly of his “Jewish problem.” It wasn’t strictly a partisan concern, either: Hillary Clinton raised the issue in the Democratic Party. Obama did a poor job of persuading people that this wasn’t a legitimate concern.
In 2008, Jimmy Carter met with the leader of terror group Hamas, a move condemned by Condoleezza Rice, who then was secretary of state. Obama declined to condemn the meeting because “he’s a private citizen. It’s not my place to discuss who he shouldn’t meet with.” This is a remarkably calm reaction to Carter’s blatant Logan Act violation, a crime the Obama administration would later deem so serious it was used to justify investigating and surveilling the Trump campaign.
Obama reversed course a few days later, after it became obvious that refusing to condemn the meeting was damaging his campaign. As the Los Angeles Times observed then, when the condemnation finally came it was “as he tried to reassure Jewish voters that his candidacy isn’t a threat to them or U.S. support for Israel.”
Of course, there were plenty more reasons to think Obama didn’t really think that the murderous and anti-Semitic Hamas was all that bad. When Hamas came out and officially endorsed his candidacy in 2008, Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, said the endorsement was “flattering.” This is not an exaggeration. “We all agree that John Kennedy was a great president, and it’s flattering when anybody says that Barack Obama would follow in his footsteps,” Axelrod said.
Obama’s problematic pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was also notoriously anti-Israel. Aside from making plenty of public criticisms about Wright, in 2007 the bulletin at Wright’s church reprinted an article by a Hamas official.
Of course, Obama would famously break publicly with Wright, but that was again in the middle of the campaign when he faced public pressure. If the church where you baptized your kids starts putting terrorist propaganda in the pews, right then might be time to find a new place to worship, not after continuing to attend threatens your political career.
But Wright was hardly the first person with these views Obama had very visibly associated with. Much has been made of Obama’s friendship with scholar Rashid Khalidi, who has been accused of working as an advisor for the PLO terror group (Khalidi claims he was only helping the press understand the group). Obama sat on the board of a foundation that gave $40,000 to a local charity Khalidi’s wife headed.
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times notoriously reported on a videotape of Obama speaking at an event in Khalidi’s honor, where one of the speakers compared Zionists to Osama bin Laden. While the still unreleased video of this event attracted the most attention, other aspects of the Los Angeles Times’s lengthy report on Obama’s close ties to Palestinian activists are noteworthy. For instance, in the same report Khalidi heavily implies that any pro-Israel sentiment Obama expresses while running for president was “a stance that Khalidi calls a requirement to win a national election in the U.S.”
If Obama’s campaign was trying to pivot toward Israel with friendly speeches to AIPAC, privately the campaign did not act like they were especially inclined to be favorable to Israel. The Obama’s campaign’s chief military adviser and national-campaign co-chairman was Gen. Merrill McPeak. In 1976, McPeak wrote an article for Foreign Affairs criticizing Israel. He said Israel should return to its 1967 borders and hand the Golan Heights back to Syria.
McPeak also trotted out the “dual loyalty” issue and in a 2003 interview with the Oregonian accused Jewish and evangelical voters of placing their interest in Israel above U.S. interests. Asked what was impeding world peace, McPeak said, “New York City. Miami. We have a large vote . . . here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.” Obama disavowed McPeak’s thoughts on Israel being primarily responsible for impeding peace in the Middle East, but stood behind his campaign’s affiliation with the general.
That wasn’t the worst of it. The Obama campaign publicly fired journalist Robert Malley from their campaign after previously denying he was an adviser to the campaign. If that sounds strange, here’s what happened.
The Obama campaign issued press release calling Malley an adviser to the campaign, and liberal Jews freaked out because Malley has a long track record of writing rabidly anti-Israel articles (and his father was friend of Arafat’s and a PLO sympathizer). After the press release came out, the Obama campaign clarified that Malley was not an adviser to the campaign and had only offered informal advice. Most liberals accepted this explanation.
“Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a rabid hater of Israel. No question about it,” wrote Marty Pertetz in The New Republic in January of 2008. “But Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama.”
Flash forward a few months to May 2008, and the London Times reports that not only was Malley serving on the Obama campaign’s Middle East advisory council all this time, but that the campaign had recently got around to firing him after they learned he’d been in regular contact with Hamas the whole time. It turns out that the Obama campaign wasn’t just flattered by Hamas, they were likely taking their advice as well. If contemporary Democrats now purport that the collusion with and infiltration of campaigns by hostile foreign powers renders a presidency illegitimate, well, there are revealing parallels here. Make of it what you will.
That was just Obama’s first campaign. Suffice to say, there is a rogues’ gallery within and without the Obama presidency that continued to prove Obama wasn’t terribly concerned about how the criticism of Israel was expressed in the corridors of power. But if you looked at what went on with the first Obama campaign, then it logically follows that his presidency would be laser-focused on empowering Iran, the largest benefactor of murderous on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel terror groups such as Hamas, even if it meant engaging in a variety of extraordinarily deceptive behaviors to hide such policies from Congress and the American people. Top administration officials eventually admitted the manipulation and deceit.
Now, not every critic of Israel or Zionism is an anti-Semite, and it is unfortunate that such perspectives are often lost in foreign policy debates. At the same time, however, just about all anti-Semites are also critics of Israel and Zionism. And it’s safe to say that, whatever Obama’s personal feelings and public statements about Jews and anti-Semitism, the practical consequences of his presidency amounted to very publicly elevating and legitimizing lots of people one could criticize as anti-Semitic, to say nothing of empowering Iran.
By allowing people who pal around with terror groups and employ questionable anti-Israel rationales to have a seat at the table, Obama allowed the legitimate critics of Israel to be eclipsed, and it was only a matter of time before someone such as Omar broke through to a position of power in American politics without expressing much concern about masking anti-Semitism.
Naturally, Omar doesn’t see herself following in Obama’s footsteps. That’s not how radicalism works. Recently, Omar attacked Obama because he “got away with murder” and was “droning” other countries. Vanity Fair’s take on the article was revealing: “Democrats didn’t abandon Omar over her comments about Israel. Her criticism of Barack Obama is another matter.” Saying that in today’s Democratic Party it’s more heretical to criticize Obama than be an anti-Semite is both accurate and depressing, in that a mainstream journalistic outlet thinks Obama’s legacy is the bigger concern here.
It’s also wrong, because the Democratic Party is on a path to become even more toxic than this game of pick your poison suggests. Omar tried to backtrack unconvincingly, but there was never any danger of Democrats abandoning her over her Obama remarks. The new socialist wing of the party largely agrees with her criticisms of the former president.
Unfortunately for Obama’s legacy, radicalism only begets even more radicalism. We came to tolerate his radicalism on Israel. If we come to tolerate Omar’s political vision, just wait until the next iteration of left-wing politician comes along and builds on her success normalizing this rhetoric by declaring that she was insufficiently radical. It could well prove dangerous and terrifying.