‘Vile anti-Semitic’ Ilhan Omar row shows pitfalls of US identity politics
The Democrat-majority House is expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. It is unknown as of yet if it will specifically name Omar, but there is little doubt it is aimed squarely at her recent comments, which Republicans and many fellow Democrats have denounced as unacceptably anti-Jewish.
Omar’s sin, so to speak, was to “talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” as she put it, speaking at an event in Washington, DC, last Wednesday.Also on rt.com ‘All about the Benjamins’: Ilhan Omar sparks Twitter backlash over ‘anti-Semitic’ post
Just two weeks prior, Omar came under fire for criticizing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its influence on US politics. She apologized following some outrage, but her apology was deemed not apologetic enough. While Democrats have called out Republicans for racism and Islamophobia over their attacks on Omar, that has done little to resolve the Israel controversy within the party.
So fellow Democrats tried to get Omar to retract her “hurtful” statement, with House Appropriations Committee chair Nita Lowey (D-New York) saying she was “saddened” that Omar “continues to mischaracterize support for Israel.”
“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. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest,” Omar replied, adding, “I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end.”
Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! 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. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that! https://t.co/gglAS4FVJW— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 3, 2019
In another tweet on Monday, Omar said she finds it “problematic” that she is accused of being anti-American over not being pro-Israel – just as she found herself in the crosshairs of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) head Jonathan Greenblatt, who sent a sharply worded letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California):
Accusing Jews of having allegiance to a foreign government has long been a vile anti-Semitic slur that has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries.
There is little doubt as to how Pelosi will receive the missive. Back in 2018, at the Israeli-American Council (IAC) national conference, Pelosi declared that even if the US Capitol “crumbled to the ground,” the one thing that would remain is US aid to and cooperation with Israel, declaring, “That’s fundamental to who we are.”
I have said to people when they ask me, if this Capitol crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain would be our commitment to our aid, I don’t even call it our aid, our cooperation with Israel. That’s fundamental to who we are.-Nancy Pelosi 2018 IAC National Conf pic.twitter.com/xnWSZOUVE8— Battle Beagle (@HarmlessYardDog) March 5, 2019
While this may be true of Pelosi, most Democrats, and maybe even Congress in general, it manifestly does not apply to Omar. And not just because she’s Muslim: The congresswoman from Minnesota has criticized the influence Saudi Arabia has on US politics as well, without the commensurate controversy. She has also denounced the US regime-change efforts in Venezuela as being against international law.
Moreover, Omar currently sits on the House Foreign Affairs committee, whose chair Eliot Engel (D-New York) also called her remarks a “vile anti-Semitic slur.” It is possible she may lose her committee seat as a result.
Contrary to the ugly & bigoted implication @juliaioffe tried to spread about @IlhanMN, the Congresswoman has repeatedly attacked US support for Saudi Arabia and said that it's due to Saudi money influencing DC. For some reason, that created no controversy pic.twitter.com/rDxhUATvzT— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 5, 2019
Which is where we get to the true source of the headache for Democrats: identity politics. Omar’s story was supposed to be the illustration of demographics as destiny: more than a third of residents in her congressional district, centered on Minneapolis, were “people of color,” with the fastest-growing population being immigrants from Africa – namely Somalia – according to Minnesota Public Radio. The effects of that were already evident in 2016, when Omar easily primaried the longtime state representative Phyllis Lorberblatt Kahn – also a Democrat, mind you – who had held that seat since 1973.
Barely two months ago, Omar was celebrated as somewhat of a poster congresswoman: the first naturalized US citizen from Africa, first Somali-American, first hijab-wearing Muslim and first minority woman to represent Minnesota in Congress. She was not shy about pointing it all out herself.
23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress. #Hope#Ilhan 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/jVeP3DOipN— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 2, 2019
It was all part of the Democrats’ strategy to portray themselves as the intersectional party of diversity and inclusion, feminism, anti-racism, social justice, environmentalism, progress, etc. By contrast, they argued, President Donald Trump and the Republicans represented racism and bigotry, “pale, male and stale.”
The problem with this approach is its fundamental bigotry: Democrats assumed Omar would share all their political positions on account of her faith, gender, ethnicity and skin color.
More to the point, nobody in her party bothered to inform the Somali-born congresswoman that the one cardinal rule of mainstream US politics is to never even notice, much less criticize, the Israel lobby. And how could they, since even bringing up the subject opens one to accusations of anti-Semitism? It’s a conundrum, to be sure.
The Democratic Party's throwing of @IlhanMN under the bus is an (unfortunately unsurprising) disgrace. She raised entirely legitimate concerns about US support for the murderous apartheid government of Israel & the subservience of US politicians to the agenda of a foreign power.— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 5, 2019
This is so important. @IlhanMN is a powerful moral voice at time when very few (even progressive) Democrats speak clearly and knowledgeably on foreign policy. She deserves unreserved support. #IStandWithIlhanhttps://t.co/5dvnYviJww— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) March 5, 2019
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