Democrats wanted to shake things up in Washington, and they have. This new Congress has raised all sorts of questions I never knew I needed to be answered, such as: How many blatantly anti-Semitic comments can a Democratic rising star make before members of her own party criticize her? And how many such statements can she make before Democrats take any action?
Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar has helped answer that first question. Apparently, a member of Congress must find herself at the center of not one, but two anti-Semitic tweet controversies in the course of three weeks. It wasn’t Omar’s 2012 tweet charging that Israel had hypnotized the world, but her alleging that members of Congress support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship because they’ve been bribed that summoned a strong response.
The House Democratic leadership issued a statement denouncing the relevant tweets the following day. Notably, however, there was no mention of Omar resigning her seat on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in that text. Nor did any Democrat on HFAC choose to respond on the record after those incidents, when I sought comment. Top Jewish groups just this morning demanded that Omar be removed from the committee.
When CNN’s Manu Raju queried House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she responded, “A newcomer member of Congress has apologized for her remarks. It took them what, 13 years to notice Steve King?” Now, Republicans could have moved faster in removing King from his committee positions, but they did finally act.
Is Pelosi insisting that Omar and any other new member of Congress be given a 13-year grace period before venomous remarks are punished in any meaningful way? As a voter, I find that repulsive. As someone who previously had the honor of serving at the U.S. State Department, I consider this disgraceful.
Rather than engage the charges against Omar on the merits, Pelosi embraced what-about-ism. The contrast doesn’t serve Pelosi well, since there’s currently no indication she’ll ever take action against Omar for comments as reprehensible as King’s.
Congressional foreign policy oversight is important. It should be taken seriously and conducted by thoughtful individuals who not only love America but also champion our national interests and strong alliances around the world.
Appointing Omar to the committee was eyebrow-raising from the get-go, after she had sought sentencing leniency for Minnesotan men who joined the Islamic State terrorist group. As “Abdirahman Yasin Daud, [who] was facing over 30 years in prison,” acknowledged, “‘I was not going there to pass out medical kits or food. I was going strictly to fight and kill on behalf of the Islamic State.’”
Since beginning her tenure on HFAC, Omar has exhibited interest in defining down Venezeulan dictator Nicolas Maduro’s harm to his own people and attacking our most reliable ally in the Middle East. Omar has said nothing that indicates she is capable of fair-mindedness where Israel is concerned.
Omar also maligns Americans who support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, as she did last Wednesday during a progressive town hall at Washington’s Busboys and Poets restaurant:
‘So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,’ Rep. Omar exclaimed, seeming to suggest, as Tlaib had in a tweet of her own, dual loyalty among a particular group of Americans. Loud rounds of applause and shouts of affirmation punctuated the event’s heavy focus on Israel.
This latest controversy continued on Twitter on Sunday. Fellow Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey tweeted in favor of “debate w/o prejudice or bigotry,” which led to Omar tweeting, “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.” Lowey responded by noting that no one had asked such a thing of Omar, nor of any other member of Congress.
Suggesting that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than our own country is not only false, but also classically anti-Semitic. There have always been individuals who made such charges, similar to the anti-Catholic bigotry John F. Kennedy faced when running for president nearly 60 years ago.
However, these sentiments are not being expressed by anonymous crackpots on street corners or online. They’re being voiced by sitting members of Congress, including one with a plum committee assignment, where her warped views can directly influence American foreign policy. Talk about normalizing hate.
In a through the looking glass moment at that same Busboys and Poets event, Omar remarked, “What I am fearful of, because both Rashida [Tlaib] and I are Muslim, is that a lot of our Jewish colleagues and constituents go to thinking that everything we say about Israel is anti-Semitic because we are Muslim . . . It’s something designed to end the debate.”
That Jews are now being accused of being overly sensitive amidst rising anti-Semitism or called Islamophobic for pointing out blatant anti-Semitism is the ultimate example of gaslighting. Many efforts have been made to quietly address concerns with Omar in her district, in the halls of Congress, and by Democratic leaders. And no one is shutting down any debate. Omar and Tlaib haven’t themselves sought to debate ideas as much as vilify large groups of their own countrymen who think differently.
This brings us back to my second question: How many anti-Semitic comments can Omar make before she’s ejected from the House Foreign Affairs Committee? I ask because you know there’ll be another (and another).
At this point, it should be clear that Omar’s comments aren’t one-off moments of misspeaking; they’re reflections of a worldview hostile to Jews. Those literate in Jewish history (or any minority group’s history, really) know that hateful speech can soon be followed by harmful actions, which is why this matters.
Spokespeople for Republican Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Chairwoman Liz Cheney told me they stand by their explicit calls for Omar’s removal from HFAC. But what about the House’s Democratic leaders?
Do Democrats have a particular standard in mind, some comment or action that would trigger a response more severe than a strongly worded statement? If so, I’d like to understand what it is, because as things stand, it looks like Omar will face no real repercussions.
Like the frog boiling in a pot, Democrats are building up a disturbing tolerance to the anti-Semitism metastasizing within their ranks. Perhaps on their next call, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can ask Jeremy Corbyn how that ends.
While Omar’s constituents won’t decide until November 2020 whether she should stay in Congress, Pelosi could act now. The question is whether she will.
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Author: Melissa Langsam Braunstein