It doesn’t take much courage for an American politician to publicly oppose antisemitism. But only under certain circumstances.
If the person or group that stands guilty of hatred of Jews is a conservative, a Republican, or someone who can be tied to the political right, it’s open season on them. But if it’s a Democrat or someone who can hide behind the label “person of color” or a potential victim of “Islamophobia,” then she can count on woke mobs on social media, pop culture influencers, and partisanship to not only protect her but to also put any potential accusers in the dock as racists.
That’s why Rep. Ilhan Omar and other members of the left-wing “Squad” have evaded accountability in the past and what’s still protecting them as the results of a recent dustup with party moderates indicated.
After a surge in violent antisemitism inspired in no small part by vicious attacks on Israel by members of their party’s left-wing, some Jewish Democrats seemed to have had enough. After Omar compared the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, the 25 Jewish members of the House of Representatives who are Democrats (two others are Republicans), met informally. Their discussion focused on whether it was time to rebuke Omar by name for her latest effort at demonizing the Jewish state, as well as besmirching the United States.
To their credit, 12 of them did so, signing on to a statement that rightly takes her to task:
Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.
The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.
Considering that Omar already trafficked in antisemitic tropes, is an open supporter of the antisemitic “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, and had promoted a narrative about Israel’s birth on the floor of the House last month that made it clear she thought one Jewish state on the planet was one too many, a call for her to “clarify her words” was a pathetically weak response. If she were a Republican, there’s little doubt that Jewish Democrats would demand that, like former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, or Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., Omar should be officially censored and stripped of her committee assignments.
But it was arguably better than nothing. Moreover, by stating that her comment “reflects deep-seated prejudice” and that such “false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” it correctly identified the stakes in the debate.
Still, the fact that the other 13 Jewish Democrats — a majority of the caucus — refused to sign is an equally clear indication that even among Jews, support for Israel among Democrats is on the decline.
Omar subsequently issued what she said was a clarification, claiming that her remarks were taken out of context. What she said was part of a series of questions to Secretary of State Antony Blinken about her support for the International Criminal Court.
Omar had thanked the Biden administration for dropping sanctions former President Donald Trump had slapped on those responsible for what he had correctly labeled as antisemitism, while criticizing it for opposing the ICC’s attempts to single out both Israel and the United States for committing “war crimes” during anti-terror operations.
But this is a distinction without a difference. Omar’s support for the ICC’s attempts to criminalize Israel’s self-defense against Hamas terrorism is just as appalling in context as it is when seen on its own.
What followed was a replay of the last House dustup over Omar’s antisemitic bombast in 2019. House Democratic leadership led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi did rebuke Omar for her initial statement, but in the same breath also accepted her non-apology, with no thought to throwing her off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the way they’ve done to Republicans who make extremist statements. Then Pelosi quickly backpedaled and insisted on CNN that Democrats “did not rebuke” Omar.
You can't make it up…
Speaker Pelosi actually clarifies that she did NOT rebuke Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar's comparison of Israel & the United States to terrorist orgs Hamas & the Taliban.
"We did not rebuke her."
"Congresswoman Omar is a valued member of our caucus." pic.twitter.com/9jQiNbYjS7
— Mark Bednar (@MarkBednar) June 13, 2021
Yet rather than those silent 13 Jewish Democrats being criticized for not speaking up against Omar, it was the ones who did sign the statement that found themselves under attack for supposedly persecuting her.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is made up of nearly half of all House Democrats, issued a statement in support of Omar, who is part of the group’s leadership. Jayapal, speaking in the name of all progressives, said those holding Omar to account were part of a “bad faith” effort to attack a “black, Muslim woman,” and endangering her and her staff.
Despite her “clarification,” Omar was far from repentant and labeled the 12 Jews who dared to call her out as being guilty of “Islamicphobic [sic] tropes” and subjecting her to “constant harassment and silencing.”
That was seconded by others on the left, including fellow “Squad” members Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who had joined Omar on the House floor to falsely accuse Israel of committing war crimes. A tsunami of abuse on Twitter was also directed at the Jewish 12.
To read the responses to the statement on Omar is to understand why so many Jewish Democrats were reluctant to speak out. In doing so, even in the most restrained fashion, the 12 were widely denounced for demonstrating “racism” and “white privilege,” and for “allegiance” to Israel.
The exchange showed a lot had changed since early 2019, when it was Omar who was put on the defensive, at least for a short while, after claiming that Jews were buying congressional support for Israel (“It’s all about the Benjamins”). Even then, Omar easily escaped being censured by the House and was soon lionized by the left, including pop-culture influencers among the late-night TV comedians like Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, as an innocent victim of persecution from Trump.
But after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread acceptance of its toxic ideological baggage of critical race theory and intersectionality, which falsely labels Israel and the Jews as “white” and colonialist oppressors of “people of color,” Omar’s rants are now viewed part of mainstream discourse. Just as the attacks on Israel for defending itself against Hamas terror from Gaza were far greater this year than they were during the last such fighting in 2014, so, too, Omar and her “progressive” allies are also on firmer ground in Democratic circles.
Since she and the rest of “The Squad” landed in Washington three years ago (with more joining the club in January), many believe they have gotten far more attention than they deserve considering their non-existent legislative accomplishments. Still, this episode illustrates just how much influence she and her friends have acquired and the way the Black Lives Matter movement has given a permission slip to antisemitism.
In that short time, Omar and company have done more to establish antisemitic stereotypes and libels in mainstream discourse than extremist right-wingers could have accomplished in decades.
We already knew about the deep divide in the Democratic Party about support for Israel — one that is growing wider as a new and more leftist generation bought into intersectional myths. What we’re seeing now is the price that those in the center of that party will have to pay if they continue to oppose the mainstreaming of antisemitism.