Rep. Omar and anti-Semitic distractions

Imagine that a new member of Congress denounces Muslims as terrorists and suggests they’re more loyal to their faith than to America.

Then imagine that a cross-section of politicians, pundits, and Muslim leaders denounce the ugly sentiments but also stress that Islamic-driven terrorism is a legitimate issue of debate; that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism; that Saudi Wahhabism fuels the intolerance that drives some Muslims to violence; that Islamic states in the Middle East discriminate harshly against Jews, Christians, and others; that Muslims aren’t the group in America that faces bigotry; and that the controversy over one lawmaker’s remarks are diverting attention from far more important issues around Islamic governments.

Inconceivable? Indeed. Instead, policymakers, opinion leaders, and religious figures would unite to condemn the remarks, denounce Islamophobia, and insist on a full-throated apology from the member.

That highlights the double standard that far too many influential figures apply to anti-Semitism — a double standard that long predates the ugly utterances of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the defenses of her supporters.

Consider the multiple distractions that prevented a singular denunciation of Omar’s anti-Semitism.

First, the Israel distraction.

While acknowledging that “Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world,” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.” Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) noted the “critical difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.” And Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned that “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.”

Omar, however, wasn’t criticized for criticizing Israel — which, let’s face it, is the subject of unrelenting daily attack in some establishment circles. She was criticized for hurling the ugly stereotype that Jews have an “allegiance to a foreign country.” Earlier this year, she tweeted that U.S support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” — money in the form of $100 bills — and that AIPAC was paying policymakers to support the Jewish state, which leads to the next distraction.

Second, the AIPAC distraction.

“Ms. Omar’s insinuation,” the New York Times wrote in a long piece about AIPAC, “that money fuels American support for Israel… revived a fraught debate in Washington over whether the pro-Israel lobbying behemoth has too much sway over American policy in the Middle East.”

Actually, her “insinuation” did no such thing. It was the nation’s most powerful newspaper that took Omar’s bait and linked her anti-Semitism to a separate question over whether a membership organization that promotes strong U.S.-Israeli ties “has too much sway.” How, in a democracy, groups to which people contribute freely and through which they seek to reach policymakers — AIPAC, AARP, National Education Association, and many others — can have “too much sway” isn’t clear. Rather than complain about AIPAC’s power, critics should compete with it in the political marketplace.

Third, the Trump distraction.

J Street, a leftist alternative to AIPAC, expressed concern about “singling out… a Muslim woman of color” and said the “far greater threat” to Jews was “the surge of ethno-nationalism and racism that forces on the right, including President Trump, have unleashed.”

To be sure, Republicans have dabbled in their own ugly anti-Semitism. For instance, Trump suggested that Jewish billionaire George Soros funded an immigrant caravan, and he labeled Israel as “your country” when he spoke to a group of American Jews at a White House Hanukah party. But the answer is to denounce all anti-Semitism, not to go easy on a “Muslim woman of color” or anyone else.

Fourth and finally, the other bigotry distraction.

House Democratic leaders had planned to pass a resolution to denounce anti-Semitism after Omar’s comments, but rank-and-file members forced them to broaden their resolution to denounce bigotry more broadly.

That not only detracted from the ugliness at hand, but it provided a moral victory of sorts to Omar, who has refused to apologize for raising the hateful insinuation of Jewish dual loyalty. “Today is historic on many fronts,” she said at the start of her statement with two other House Democrats after the vote. “It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history.”

Perhaps that’s why she felt comfortable in voting for a resolution that began as a way to condemn her remarks but, in the end, buried them under a general condemnation of bigotry.

When it comes to anti-Semitism, we don’t need distractions. We need only clear, unequivocal, unapologetic condemnations.

Lawrence J. Haas, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.


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