Is Rep. Omar Wrong?

Yes, she is.  She is - and has been wrong in the past - for her comments regarding the influence of the Israel lobby and accusations of dual loyalty.  Although journalists have accurately indicated that she is directing these allegations against Jew and non-Jew alike, it is a work of intellectual fiction to ignore that Jews are the perceived targets of such attacks.  Charges of allegiance to other countries (i.e. Israel); the power of the Israel lobby; “the Benjamins” serving as lawmakers’ motivation for supporting Israel; Israel hypnotizing the world:  All of these pronouncements from Representative Omar are anti-Semitic, plain and simple.

As Congress wrestles with a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of Omar’s recent comments, a debate, including within the Jewish community, rages.  The premise of these deliberations is wrong, distorting the very essence of what Omar has stated.   As human beings, let alone Jews, we must speak out against discrimination of any kind, including against those attacking Representative Omar for being Muslim.  That fact, though, should not distract from the immorality of the very public comments from a member of our government.

The most prevalent defense of Rep. Omar is that any criticism of Israel is now irrationally considered anti-Semitic.  I do not disagree that many a conversation deteriorates from a legitimate argument over Israeli government policy into an emotional tete-a-tete about anti-Semitism or, within the Jewish community, an allegation that criticism equates to a condemnation of Israel as a country (e.g. “bad Jew”).  I leave that discussion for another day.  My point is that the tropes listed above have NOTHING TO DO WITH ISRAELI POLICY.  They are blatant attacks on Jews and on those that support Israel, not excerpts of civil discourse.

Alleging allegiance to Israel (presumably above the U.S.) or dual-loyalty has been a tool of anti-Semites for generations, levied against no other nationality in this country except for the shameful internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.  For those who consider its meaning a relic of days gone by, I implore you to speak to the Jewish communities today in France. In Britain.  On college campuses. Anti-Semitic acts are increasing at a terrifying rate, with violent attacks against Jews on the rise.  And much of this activity is occurring on the very continent where such questioning of one’s loyalty led directly to the marginalization and demonization of Jews, undeserving of protection and targeted for murder in the 1930’s.  Couldn’t happen today?  Look behind the BDS curtain.  Listen to their chants.  Observe their treatment of Jews, just because they are Jews. Talk to European Jews.  We cannot sit idly by, lest it become normalized once again.

Similarly, the contentions of unjustified power of the Israel lobby or the undue influence of Jewish money can only be characterized as anti-Semitic, intended to completely delegitimize support for Israel as anything but corrupt.  Agree with them or not, AIPAC is an effective lobby, often targeted by anti-Israel antagonists.  Israel enjoys incredible support in Congress.  These results are not due to some nefarious scheme.  They are the result of conclusions based on shared values, morals and ethics, yet these accusations completely dismiss that political supporters could possibly have such independent, sincere thought.  The argument is both ridiculous and as anti-Semitic today as it was when my parents were children.  Jews and Israel enjoy tremendous, but far from unanimous, support in the U.S.  Not because of AIPAC.  Not because of Jewish money.  But because we, as Jews, deserve it like any other group in this country and because Israel, far from perfect, merits the U.S.’s alliance in a world filled with countries that want, and some that actively pursue, its complete destruction - the only country so targeted.  

As I have stated in the past, criticism of Israel is a critical aspect of its strength as a democracy.  No one should be condemned for challenging it's policies.  It is not anti-Semitic per se to do so.  The issue transforms into one of hateful discrimination when, as is all too prevalent, the chants become “from the river to the sea”, an attack on the country’s legitimacy and on Jews alike.   I do not agree with all American policy.  I believe this country does some pretty awful things.  Still, I love this country and am a proud American.  I am not happy with all that occurs in Israel.  Not by a long shot.  Still, I am unapologetically an unwavering supporter of Israel as a country.  For those defending Rep. Omar’s comments and those unsure, consider the distinctions between hateful stereotypes and genuine political discourse.  Her comments were not about Israeli policy. They were not a policy debate in Washington.  They were anti-Semitic tropes repeated for centuries.

Representative Omar is wrong.


Add Comment

Thank you for your important post and for your ongoing leadership in our community
Perhaps your post can be shared in local newspaper.
Omar’s words are from the same hateful book used by the David Dukes of our world and can not be tolerated in our schools , universities or certainly no place in our government by our elected officials in our country .
Hopefully all who read will consider supporting AIPAC , AJC, Honest and the many other organizations that offer truth about Israel , and the relationship between the USA and Israel ( the only Democracy in that part of the world )
Thank you again
Susan Shmalo

Also ,those who read your post may wish to consider writing to Senator Pelosi

To hear Speaker Nancy Pelosi tell it, Rep. Ilhan Omar is a naïf. Nothing the Minnesota freshman has said was “intended in an anti-Semitic way,” Mrs. Pelosi explained last week. She merely “has a different experience in the use of words” and “doesn’t understand that some of them are fraught with meaning.” Yet Ms. Omar has been consistent not only in attacking the pro-Israel lobby, but in purveying a conspiratorial view of the world. The evidence-free accusation that illegitimate moneyed or foreign interests are corrupting her opponents and dictating U.S. policy is her modus operandi.

Before Ms. Omar was sworn in on Jan. 3, she had already been dogged by a menacing 2012 tweet, which she deleted late last month: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” That sounds like a classic conspiracy theory, with the evil force spreading false consciousness to keep its hand hidden.

On Jan. 15, not two weeks into the job, she tweeted about Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s turnabout to support President Trump: “They got to him, he is compromised!” Two days later, she mused on CNN that the senator was being blackmailed and it “has to do with his funding.” After repeated questioning, Ms. Omar admitted it was merely her “opinion” but claimed the truth was “visible” to her and that “there are lots of Americans who agree.”

Then on Jan. 24 she propounded a conspiracy about Venezuela: “Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region.” Never mind that interim President Juan Guaidó’s Popular Will party is a member of the Socialist International, not the “far right.” The next day Ms. Omar dismissed Mr. Guaido’s constitutional claims and shared a video from a 9/11 truther arguing that Trump has been a “gift to the war machine.” For the conspiratorial coup de grâce, Ms. Omar tweeted: “We cannot hand pick leaders for other countries on behalf of multinational corporate interests.”

On Feb. 10 Ms. Omar responded to an open question regarding why U.S. politicians are so supportive of Israel: They do it for the money. When a journalist asked who she thought was paying off her new colleagues, Ms. Omar didn’t prevaricate: “AIPAC!” That’s the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group that doesn’t make campaign contributions.

Ms. Omar defended her position until the entire Democratic House leadership condemned her “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” on Feb. 11. Then she relented, sort of. “I unequivocally apologize,” she said in a statement, then immediately equivocated. “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”

Opinion: The Democrats' Anti-Hate Resolution
Opinion: The Democrats' Anti-Hate Resolution
Following anti-Semitic comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, the panel discuss the hypocrisy surrounding a House Democratic resolution taking on hate speech which includes anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry. Image: Getty
A few weeks later, Ms. Omar walked back her apology and insisted that she was right all along. On a little-noticed podcast released Feb. 28 by the left-wing Intercept website, she was asked: “Was it a badly worded tweet that you were apologizing for, or was it for being anti-Semitic, wittingly or unwittingly?” Her answer: “Absolutely not. I apologized for the way that my words made people feel.” She then reiterated her original claim, complaining, “There were people who were actually condemning me for speaking the truth about the kind of influences that exist, that determine our foreign and domestic policies.”

On Feb. 27, the night before her interview went online, Ms. Omar said that the accusation of anti-Semitism “becomes designed to end the debate . . . no matter what it is we say.” But then she instantly remounted her hobbyhorse: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” She added that she fears her Jewish colleagues think everything she says about Israel is anti-Semitic because she’s Muslim.

Each time Ms. Omar repeats a calumny, her fellow Democrats become more convinced she doesn’t mean it, or that something else is more important. They’ve joined her in asserting that she’s unfairly singled out—that she is the real victim. On Wednesday Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren came to Ms. Omar’s defense, suggesting that critics are trying to silence debate about Israel, and citing threats she has received.

Ms. Omar has repeatedly doubled down on her conspiracies, but Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky offers the excuse that her colleague “comes from a different culture,” so “this is a learning moment for her.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “real concern” is Republican bigotry, which isn’t “treated the same way.” Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley said “we need to have equity in our outrage” and condemn Islamophobia, too—which the House did Thursday, approving a watered-down resolution originally meant to focus on anti-Semitism.

These are all tactics of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party: First, accuse critics of muzzling anti-Israel speech; then, complain about “disproportionate” attention to anti-Semitism; next, change the subject to bigotry from the right; finally, if forced to condemn anti-Semitism, dilute it with a kitchen-sink list of other prejudices.

The true danger to the Jews isn’t a few tone-deaf comments, but a political environment in which conspiracy theories reign. This is a bipartisan problem. Donald Trump once suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The president’s opponents have spent years spinning fantasies that he is a Russian agent. Wherever conspiracism succeeds, Jews will find themselves accused.

Anti-Semitism is the ultimate conspiracy theory. It’s the point at which the far right and far left meet to indict the shadowy moneyed elite controlling the government, the banks and the media, oppressing the masses and betraying the nation.

Mr. Kaufman is the Journal’s Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow.

Appeared in the March 11, 2019, print edition.

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