On Oct. 16, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan spoke with Rep. Ilhan Omar on a number of subjects, ending with a question about anti-Semitism. Given Hasan’s history, it is unsurprising that the question exuded bad faith. To begin, he wields discussions of anti-Semitism as a weapon in service of his own partisan interests. Then, he seeks to downplay Omar’s anti-Semitism as just “criticism of Israel.”
Here is Hasan’s question in full:
“You have been demonized in recent years as an anti-Semite by many, especially by Donald Trump and the GOP, over your criticisms of Israel and of Jewish groups’ support of Israel, some of which you have regretted and apologized for, that you should have been more careful with some of your language in the past. And yet this morning, former president Trump tweeted, and I quote, ‘Jews need to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel before it’s too late.’ This coming from the guy who said you should’ve resigned from Congress for your comments. What do you make of Trump’s post this morning? What do you think the right would be saying if you or Rashida Tlaib had threatened American Jews, which of course I know you wouldn’t have done?”
Begin with the partisanship. From the start, his segment is not one of concern about anti-Semitism, but instead a rather blatant employment of political whataboutery. Hasan immediately declares that the concern about Omar’s history of anti-Semitism came “especially” from “Donald Trump and the GOP.” Hasan also tells us Omar, the “progressive” member of the so-called “Squad,” has regretted her words, and that he “knows [Omar] wouldn’t have” “threatened American Jews” like Trump did. After all, the accusations of anti-Semitism against her came from that guy who said anti-Semitic things and “who said [Omar] should’ve resigned from Congress.”
Hasan seems to be suggesting that because Trump said anti-Semitic things himself, the accusations against Omar aren’t valid. It’s only a slightly more sophisticated version of the childish attempt to justify one’s actions by suggesting two wrongs make a right.
Of course, “Trump and the GOP” weren’t the only ones condemning Omar’s past remarks, and whatever their faults, they obviously do not reflect on other individuals and political groups condemning Omar. The Democratic leadership denounced her anti-Semitism, as have Jewish Democrats. The Anti-Defamation League, headed by the progressive Jonathan Greenblatt, has also recoiled from Omar’s obvious anti-Jewish animus.
Combating anti-Semitism, including that espoused by Ilhan Omar, is not and should not be a partisan issue. Hasan’s attempts to make it one strongly suggests a disinterest in combating anti-Semitism for the sake of equality and the Jewish people. Instead, it suggests he treats the topic of anti-Semitism as a device with which he may exploit for his own partisan interests.
This exploitation is particularly notable when one looks at Hasan’s obsession with using examples of Republican or right-wing anti-Semitism to excuse or diminish Omar’s history of Jew hatred.
In Hasan’s question from Sunday night, he asked what Omar thinks “the right” would be saying “if you or Rashida Tlaib had threatened American Jews.”
A simple search of Hasan’s Twitter account returns example after example of Hasan playing this game, whereby he tweets about an offensive statement by political opponents and asks variations of “imagine how big a story this would be if Ilhan Omar had done this.” He resorts to this playbook again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and ag-, well, you get the point.
It’s almost as if Hasan is uninterested in condemning anti-Semitism unless it can advance his partisan interests, or unless he can use the incident to depict Ilhan Omar as a victim. That’s not exactly true allegiance with the victims of anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, Hasan’s tactic of trying to portray anti-Semitism as “criticism of Israel” fits together well with his partisan habits.
Any sensible definition of anti-Semitism will not be blind to the employment of classic anti-Semitic tropes used against the world’s only Jewish state. When Omar tweets that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” that’s playing on the classic tropes of Jewish power manipulating the media and governments.
When Omar tweets “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” to suggest that supporters of Israel are only doing it because of money, and then specifically mentions the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that’s not criticism of Israel either. That’s employing the monied Jew and dual loyalty tropes against American Jews and their allies.
Last year, when Omar responded to a question from CNN’s Jake Tapper about whether she understands the concerns of her Jewish colleagues about those past statements, she responded not with empathy, but by accusing her Jewish colleagues of not being truly interested in justice. Omar told Tapper: “I think it’s really important for these members to realize that they haven’t been partners in justice, they haven’t been equally engaging in seeking justice around the world….” Categorically declaring that Jewish congress members are not interested in justice has nothing to do with Israel.
Hasan’s lame attempts to cast Omar’s repeated employment of classic anti-Semitic tropes as merely “criticism of Israel,” alongside his constant efforts to politicize anti-Semitism, serve as a reminder that bigotry, including anti-Semitism, must be combatted because it is morally reprehensible, not because it is politically convenient.
David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).
This article was originally published by CAMERA.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.