It is disheartening that I am writing a second OpEd about Minnesota Representative Ilan Omar. This one comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on March 7, 2019 that says most of the right things.(https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20190304/BILLS-116hres183-SUSv1.pdf)
It points out the dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. It highlights and condemns as “dangerous anti-Semitic myths . . . that Jews control the United States Government or seek global, political, and financial domination and that Jews are obsessed with money” and that “accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or to the Jewish community than to the United States constitutes anti-Semitism because it suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have loyally served our Nation every day since its founding, whether in public or community life or military service.” It “rejects the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”
Further, I have no problem with the inclusion of the other forms of hate in the resolution – including anti-Muslim bigotry. Such concerns are real and deserve to be treated as such.
But the reason that the resolution is only ALMOST acceptable is that the only examples it criticizes are those of white supremacists and white nationalists – as if those were the only perpetrators of the anti-Semitism that gave rise to the need for this resolution. Magically – or more accurately, politically – the extreme anti-Semitism of the left appears nowhere in the resolution (with the exception of a throw-away phrase that such conduct is unacceptable “whether from the political right, center, or left . . .”).
At the same time, Ms. Pelosi felt compelled to insult the intelligence of Americans – and American Jews in particular – by explaining that: “And I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude. But that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.”
Really? This is the THIRD time that Ms. Omar has made anti-Semitic comments – and the second within a month of her “apology” for the previous one about “the Benjamins” where she implied that politicians are only pro-Israel because they are paid to be so. The first time – maybe give her the benefit of the doubt about not knowing the import. The second time – unlikely. The third time, after a specific reprimand and “unequivocal” apology that nonetheless equivocated (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/even-rep-omars-apology-was-problematic/) – impossible. Ms. Omar may be a freshman congresswoman, but she is 37 years old and has been in politics before she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Minnesota.
Indeed, Ms. Pelosi’s comments are not only an insult to the intelligence of American Jews, but to that of Ms. Omar herself. Ms. Pelosi’s comments are, in essence, saying that Ms. Omar is either too ignorant or too stupid to realize the import of her word choices, even as she comes from a district with a substantial Jewish population. (See, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/06/opinion/israel-ilhan-omar.html?ref=oembed). Ms. Omar is neither ignorant nor stupid. There is little doubt that she knows EXACTLY the import of her words – and that she intended them EXACTLY as they were understood.
Such Presidential hopefuls as Elizabeth Warren (“Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians.”), Kamala Harris (“[T]here is a critical difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”), and Bernie Sanders ( “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”) attempted to ameliorate Ms. Omar’s comments (quotes from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-house-overwhelmingly-backs-resolution-condemning-anti-semitism-islamophobia/). But none of Ms. Omar’s three anti-Semitic comments criticized the government or policy of Israel. The first was that Israel had “hypnotized” the world – it does not mention any specific Israeli policy, other than its mere existence. The second and third were about American Jews, and their participation in American politics – and not about Israel’s government at all.
Virtually all pro-Israel advocates, including this writer, agree that criticism of Israel’s government and policy is fair game. I have been especially critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s recent machinations to stay in power by aligning with Israeli Kahanists in the current election cycle. But none of Ms. Omar’s comments at issue discussed any of this. Instead, they were insidious efforts to introduce and normalize classic, evil anti-Semitism into every day discourse, a reflection of how such commentary is more and more acceptable in progressive circles.
And that is the reason that the House resolution is only ALMOST acceptable, but in the end not quite acceptable. The anti-Semitic attacks that prompted it did not come from the far right, nor from white nationalists (as obviously evil and anti-Semitic as they are) – but from the progressive left. The BDS movement – among the most anti-Semitic movements in existence and at least as dangerous to Israel and Jews as a people as anything proposed by white supremacists – is the darling of the progressive left. Jews, and Israel, are assailed from both far left and far right, but the resolution mentions only those abuses from one side of the equation.
There are plenty of problems with Republicans too – and many articles have rightly pointed those out. Steven King of Iowa was finally removed from his committees after bigoted remarks; perhaps overdue, but action was eventually taken. But Ms. Omar remains on her committees and has the support of many within the Democratic Party. Until Democrats take a good look in the mirror – and take steps to recognize the anti-Semitism, often masked as anti-Zionism, creeping into their own mainstream as it has in the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, American Jews will have good cause for skepticism of the sincerity of such actions as House Resolution 183.