These are interesting days in Washington, D.C. One would naturally expect fireworks when a new, Democratically-controlled House of Representatives turns its guns on a Republican president who is as controversial and unorthodox as Donald Trump. But, in addition to those pyrotechnics, we have the entirely unexpected drama of House Democrats trying to figure out how to deal with a first-term Muslim congresswoman who can’t seem to refrain from criticizing Israel and its American supporters in the most extreme–some would say anti-Semitic–terms.
I refer, of course, to Ilhan Omar, a newly-minted Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota. She is one of two Muslim women in the new House; they are the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress. She has a colorful personal history: she fled from Somalia, lived for years in a refugee camp in Kenya, came to the U.S., became a U.S. citizen, and is now a member of Congress–quite a story. She also has a colorful history of public comments relating to Israel and its supporters in this country.
In 2012, she tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Last month, she wrote that the influence of AIPAC–the biggest, most powerful pro-Israel PAC–was “all about the Benjamins baby.” (In this context, “Benjamins” refers to Benjamin Franklin’s portrait on hundred dollar bills.) A few weeks later, discussing the influence of AIPAC before an audience in D.C., she said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” When fellow Democrat Nita Lowey (who is Jewish) criticized that remark, Ms. Omar replied: “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.”
Thus, it would seem that Ms. Omar believes (a) that Israel is able to hide its “evil doings” by “hypnotizing” the world, (b) that a pro-Israel PAC is able to influence congresspeople by paying them–in effect, by buying support, (c) that supporters of Israel in the U.S. are “pushing” other Americans to bear “allegiance to a foreign country,” and (d) that there are (unspecified) people who “expect” that, as a congresswoman, Ms. Omar herself will “have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country.”
She apologized for her remarks about AIPAC and “the Benjamins,” saying it was “never her intention to offend,” but, in the same statement, she reaffirmed the “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.” So, although she doesn’t want to use words that offend, she apparently still believes that it is a fact that AIPAC pays off politicians to buy support for Israel. She has never apologized for her comments concerning “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Some members of Congress, including very senior Jewish members of the Democratic caucus, were appalled by Omar’s most recent statements regarding foreign allegiance. They urged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to bring forward a resolution condemning Omar’s “divided loyalty” remarks. Speaker Pelosi agreed to do so, and then everything hit the fan. Democratic members in the progressive wing of the caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus, protested that it would be wrong to condemn anti-Semitism without also condemning all other forms of bigotry, and that an unfair double-standard was being used to single out Rep. Omar for criticism.
On Thursday, March 7th, the House voted on a seven-page resolution that condemned every form of bigotry anyone could think of, never once referring to Rep. Omar by name. The resolution was passed by a vote of 407 to 23. Before it was voted on, Speaker Pelosi publicly announced that the proposed resolution was “not about her [Omar]; it’s about these forms of hatred.” Rep. Omar voted in favor of the resolution, and later stated that passage of the resolution was “great progress,” noting that “[i]t’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry.”
To summarize: a Muslim member of Congress implies that Americans who support strong ties between the U.S. and Israel are bearing allegiance, and urging other Americans to bear allegiance, to a foreign country; members of Congress who are appalled by the “divided loyalty” canard seek to have that member’s remarks condemned by the House; the House Democrats draft a resolution that lumps every conceivable strain of bigotry together and never mentions the name of the member who implied “divided loyalty;” the resolution is passed with the vote of the Muslim member in question, who then calls the resolution “great progress” because it condemns anti-Muslim bigotry. This is today’s House of Representatives under the new Democratic majority and with Nancy Pelosi as its Speaker.
Ms. Pelosi and other senior Democrats no doubt believe that, by handling Rep. Omar with the proverbial kid gloves, they will be able to convince her to temper her intemperate language in the future. My sense is they will accomplish exactly the opposite result: because she has encountered no serious resistance, Omar will over time wade deeper and deeper into an anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic swamp. Time will tell.