Jarrod Tanny
Jarrod Tanny

Ilhan Omar’s relentless crusade

Well Ilhan Omar has done it again. This time it was during an interview on CNN with Jake Tapper. Tapper asked her “‘why some of your fellow House Democrats, especially Jews,’ have found some of her past comments antisemitic.” Omar responded by declaring that “it’s important for these members to realize that they haven’t been partners in justice, they haven’t been equally engaging in seeking justice around the world.”

This is hardly the innocuous statement — an internal Democratic Party dispute — it may seem to the casual observer. Its insidiousness lies in its larger context.

The larger context is Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism. To be sure, it is carefully coded antisemitism, disguised through the rhetoric of social justice. She leaves herself sufficient room for (im)plausible deniability because to be an outright antisemite is not — not yet at least — acceptable within the Democratic Party. But her antisemitic rhetoric is a form of signaling, sufficiently recognizable to strike a chord among her supporters and elicit fright among her Jewish critics.

Omar’s crusade began in 2012, when she tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and let them see the evil doings of Israel,” a carefully crafted tweet that builds upon the medieval stereotype of the perfidious Jewish practitioner of black magic who sought to decimate Christendom. Her inclusion of “Allah” was not accidental as it informs her audience that she is a Muslim and, it follows, possesses a logical kinship with the primarily Muslim Palestinians. Accordingly, accusing her of antisemitism is tantamount to endorsing Israel’s oppression of “her people”.

Since 2012, there have been at least 5 incidents where Omar has “criticized” Zionists and the state of Israel by using well known antisemitic stereotype. I have no intention of enumerating or analyzing them here. This has been done numerous times, as a quick Google search demonstrates. Suffice it to say they involved “Jewish money” (the infamous “All about the Benjamins” tweet, retweeted with glee by David Duke), “Dual loyalty” (“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,”), and the latest, which suggests that Jewish Democrats in Congress do not believe in global social justice because of their alternative agenda, which is to prop up the Jewish state.

It is almost as if Omar is an expert in the history of antisemitism. With remarkable consistency she manages to take her rhetoric into the realm of numerous tropes one can find in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, refashioned for the age of social justice, with Israel being the incarnation of the demonic Jew.

And each time Omar has tread into antisemitic territory, she has offered what she claims to be an apology. Upon closer inspection, however, they are never apologies. They are merely a commitment to fight antisemitism in America along with the fight against all forms of hatreds. This is a meaningless statement because for Omar, antisemitism only emanates from white supremacy.

My alarm is not so much over Omar’s antisemitism or even the fact that the non-Jewish left has given her a pass. There is no surprise here, given the extent to which anti-Zionism has infused leftist circles. It is also axiomatic on the left, based on the theory of “structural racism” that an African Muslim refugee cannot be antisemitic because she belongs to an oppressed community, whereas American Jewry are overrepresented among the powerful, i.e. the “white” population collectively responsible for racism and Islamophobia. According to their logic, if you call out Ilhan Omar for antisemitism, you are doing so because she is a Black female Muslim and you, the Jew, are the racist, the misogynist, the Islamophobe. The “progressive” left judges all rhetorical interactions by the “identity” of the instigator and the alleged victim, not by their words. This is the age of identity politics.

My alarm is over the denial of Omar’s antisemitism by Jews: Jewish activist organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, Jewish journalists like Peter Beinart and the staff at Jewish Currents, and Jewish studies scholars on the left, whom Natan Sharanksy and Gil Troy branded “Un-Jews” last month for their repeated attempts to “undo” Jewish peoplehood. They insist that her words are merely a critique of Israel, an oppressive Apartheid state allied with Trumpists and white supremacists and therefore open to censure. They all refuse to acknowledge Omar’s rhetorical strategy: to deploy coded antisemitic tropes because they will resonate with the radical left, her powerbase, which she is harnessing to move the Democrats away from liberalism and genuine pluralism.

One of the more bizarre justifications I have heard for her remarks is “Ilhan Omar isn’t an antisemite, she just didn’t learn how to talk about Jews properly while growing up.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that the Somali Islamic education system is rife with antisemitism? OK, fair enough. If Ilhan Omar was raised to despise Jews — which is very much the nature of education in quite a few Muslim countries — well I suppose we should grant her some leeway. Everyone has the right to overcome a racist childhood miseducation. But Omar has been a US citizen since 2000 and a member of Congress since 2017. Apparently, she still does not know how to talk about Jews, despite representing quite a few of us in her district.

No this is not about Ilhan Omar overcoming her “miseducation”. She is deliberately fomenting antisemitism through her carefully constructed tweets and public statements followed by non-apologies. Such was the nature of politics during the Trump era. Trump was quite adept at signaling to his followers through thinly veiled divisive discourse because he understood it would serve him well. The leaders of the radical left during the Trump era logically did the same. But Donald Trump is no longer President. We have a leader who wants to bring the nation together. Unfortunately, there are people in his own House – in his own party – who literally want to tear the nation apart to effect their utopian revolution. Ilhan Omar is one of them. And she is doing this through a tried and tested technique: antisemitism. She knows that blaming the Jews works.

About the Author
Jarrod Tanny is an Associate Professor and Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History in the Department of History, University of North Carolina Wilmington.
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