The Jury Talks Back

3/5/2019

After Rep. Omar Stirs The Pot, House Democrats To Vote On Anti-Semitism Resolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 8:09 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Jonathan Chait made some interesting observations about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and her anti-Semitic comments. (Yes, let’s just call them what they are. In the same way that I believe Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has knowingly made any number of bigoted/racist comments and should be held accountable because a grown man is solely responsible for what comes out of his mouth, so too should a grown woman like Rep. Ilhan Omar be held responsible her anti-Semitic comments. They are both adults. They both have agency. They both are informed politicians who have been elected to positions of leadership in our nation, and in this age of unlimited information available at anyone’s fingertips, it’s simply not believable for either to claim ignorance about their smears of other ethnic/religious groups who have long been a part of the American fabric. While it is possible, even likely that they have intentionally surrounded themselves with like-minded individuals, it’s no excuse. As soon as an individual is elected to any office to represent the people, then by God, they better damn well do just that, no holds barred. Rep. Liz Cheney said that she’d like Rep. King to find another line of work. I would too. And I think Rep. Omar should as well. Time has not shown either of them to be genuinely remorseful or to have demonstrated any sincere effort to restore the relationships with those they have deeply offended. At the very least, stripping such bigoted individuals of their committee assignments should be to the go-to move by both respective party leaders. (Rep. Omar sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee?? Seriously?). In an ideal world, elected officials who say the unacceptable things that King and Omar have, should be compelled to step down from their public roles and save everyone the time and trouble of embarrassing themselves by trying to defend them and rationalize their awfulness: No, you can’t be a representative of Americans, because you obviously only want to represent a select few.) Anyway, I digress…

In his observations of Rep. Omar, Chait was more charitable than was I. At least in the beginning:

Earlier this month, Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” in response to a report about AIPAC, a pro-Israel organization. Omar’s tweet echoed a longstanding anti-Semitic trope — in particular, the implication that Jewish political influence operates entirely (“all about”) through money.

After wide condemnation, Omar apologized. It seemed fair to read her tweet generously: Perhaps she was not familiar with the particular vein of anti-Semitism she happened to echo. Indeed, progressives often make crudely reductive statements about the influence of money in supporting policies they oppose (to wit: everything Bernie Sanders says), so it wasn’t necessarily anti-Semitic for Omar to extend that thinking to Jews. Her apparently sincere apology seemed to set to rest a minor offense.

Here is her apology, which came after both sides of the aisle broadly condemned her comments and she was given a talking-to by Nancy Pelosi:

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But things changed in short time, when Rep. Omar made an offensive move that supported her original contention:

But at an event last night, Omar went much farther, reports Laura Kelly. After an audience member shouted out, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” at which, according to Kelly’s reporting, she smiled. (Jeremy Slevin, Omar’s press secretary and strategist, denies she acknowledged that line from the audience.) Later she stated, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Chait wised up quickly:

This is much worse. Accusing Jews of “allegiance to a foreign country” is a historically classic way of delegitimizing their participation in the political system. Whether or not the foreign policy agenda endorsed by American supporters of Israel is wise or humane, it is a legitimate expression of their political rights as American citizens. To believe in a strong American alliance with Israel (or Canada, or the United Kingdom, or any other country) is not the same thing as giving one’s allegiance to that country. Omar is directly invoking the hoary myth of dual loyalty, in which the Americanness of Jews is inherently suspect, and their political participation must be contingent upon proving their patriotism.

Of course, she is attempting to couch her position as a defense of free speech, and against a tendency to reflexively dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. And it’s certainly true that many Israel hawks do label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic without a good basis to do so. There should be more space in American politics to advocate criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

But Omar is using that cause to smuggle in ugly stereotypes. And whatever presumption of good faith she deserved last time should be gone now.

Better late than never. And remember, the adult woman, just like the adult man, know precisely what they are saying. It is with intention.

As a result of her offensive comments, a vote was scheduled to take place today by Congressional Democrats on a resolution that specifically condemns anti-Semitism. A resolution that, while not explicitly naming Rep. Omar (nor censuring her), one safely can assume is meant to be a not-so-subtle rebuke of her:

A draft of the resolution being circulated on Capitol Hill does not name Ms. Omar. But there is little question it is aimed at her.

It states that “accusing Jews of dual loyalty because they support Israel, whether out of a religious connection, a commitment to Jewish self-determination after millennia of persecution or an appreciation for shared values and interests, suggests that Jews cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have served our nation since its founding, whether in public life or military service.”

Interestingly, the ruckus stirred up by Rep. Omar has revealed the fault lines within the Democrat party:

The issue is pitting veteran Democrats like Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Nita M. Lowey and Jerrold Nadler — all of whom lead major House committees, and all of whom are Jewish — against Ms. Omar, who is Muslim, and left-leaning groups like Justice Democrats and IfNotNow, a movement led by young Jews to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It was prompted by comments and tweets from Ms. Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, that were characterized as anti-Semitic.

Moreover:

Over the weekend, top Democrats — including Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, along with Mr. Engel, Ms. Lowey, Mr. Nadler and others — gathered to determine how to respond to Ms. Omar’s latest statement, in which she suggested that pro-Israel activists “push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Ms. Omar, in a daring act for a freshman, engaged in a Twitter fight with Ms. Lowey over the weekend, in which Ms. Lowey called Saturday for Ms. Omar to retract the comment.

“I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Ms. Lowey wrote. “I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”

Further, Rep. Juan Vargas, (D-CA) tweeted:

It is disturbing that Rep. Omar continues to perpetuate hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes that misrepresent our Jewish community. Additionally, questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable. Israel has and remains a stalwart ally of the United States because of our countries’ shared interests and values. I condemn her remarks and believe she should apologize for her offensive comments.

Coming to Rep. Omar’s defense while simultaneously taking a clear shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat leadership, was Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. She wrote:

One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico!” on the floor).

“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?'”

Topping off the list of Rep. Omar’s defenders, was none other than noted anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan, who said that the newly elected representative had nothing to apologize for.

But lest anyone think otherwise, ugly bigots make up the GOP as well, and some individual(s) took a vile shot at Rep. Omar:

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An anti-Muslim poster associating US Rep. Ilhan Omar with the September 11 attacks appeared Friday at a Republican-sponsored public gathering at the West Virginia statehouse, creating a firestorm of controversy that apparently led one official to resign.

The poster, featuring pictures of Omar and the terror attacks in a fashion of an Internet meme, was displayed behind a table during WVGOP Day at the Capitol, an event in which the West Virginia Republican Party had invited the public to the Capitol’s upper rotunda. The state GOP denounced the sign, saying that an exhibitor had put it up without its knowledge and that it demanded its removal.

Update: Reports say that the vote has been delayed:

Vote on resolution condemning anti-Semitism may be pushed back. Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus pressing for a delay.

Pelosi has told House Dems the resolution will include language condemning anti-Muslim bias. Vote likely Thursday. Per a Dem aide.

Here is the text of the resolution.

–Dana

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