Is it Islamophobic to call out Ilhan Omar for her anti-Semitism?

Rep. Lauren Boebert is a loose cannon on the right. But even if her comments were in bad taste and over the top, the idea that Rep. Ilhan Omar is an innocent victim of a smear is an outrageous lie.

U.S. Congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.
U.S. Congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

As far as congressional Democrats are concerned, another right-wing nut job needs to be disciplined. The newest target of their ire is Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) who stands accused of Islamophobia and smearing another member of Congress as a terrorist. Having taken action against two other Republicans over the course of the year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that this time, she’s waiting for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to punish Boebert.

It will be a long wait. McCarthy and the GOP caucus have had it with what they think is bullying and hypocrisy from their Democratic colleagues. The odds that he will do anything about Boebert are slim to none. That means that before long, House Democrats will convene a vote for censuring Boebert and, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), it’s probable that Boebert will be stripped of her committee assignments.

Democrats consider the unwillingness of the GOP to take on figures like this trio as evidence that their party has been taken over by Trumpist extremists who are enemies of democracy as well as decent behavior. That will be the spin on it from most of the mainstream media and liberal Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

Greene’s past identification with QAnon conspiracies was indefensible. And Gosar’s tweeting out of a photo-shopped cartoon showing him killing creatures with the faces of Democratic members of Congress did transgress the normal rules of congressional conduct. But while Boebert is a loose cannon with no respect for what were once the unquestioned rules of behavior in Congress, any effort to punish her for Islamophobia is a bridge too far.

By choosing to censure Boebert over her comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the majority will be committing themselves to a narrative in which one of the members of “The Squad”—one of the nation’s leading exponents of anti-Zionist memes—is treated as an injured party innocent of her own brand of hatemongering. That is not the hill for any Democrat to die on—or at least not for any of them who understand that the extremism and anti-Semitism emanating from the left is a serious problem that cannot be ignored.

Boebert is an easy figure to pillory. She first ran afoul of congressional rules when she demanded that she be given the right to carry a gun on Capitol Hill. Boebert, who has a concealed carry permit in Colorado, is the proprietor of a restaurant (the Shooters Grill, which is, believe it or not, located in Rifle, Colo.) where the employees are encouraged to openly carry firearms. The entire affair was a publicity stunt in which she was posturing for her constituents, and the congresswoman has since complied with the rules.

Boebert has also been accused of links with QAnon, though that accusation, along with claims that she helped Capitol Hill rioters or gave them tours of the site prior to Jan. 6, has been debunked. What she is guilty of is being a fresh-mouthed political bomb-thrower who is devoted to former President Donald Trump.

What got in her the cross-hairs of the House leadership was an encounter with Omar—or at least what she said happened when the two met in an elevator. Boebert’s account of this incident while speaking to a friendly audience was caught on video and shared on Twitter. In it, she claimed that she entered the elevator and saw a police officer running up in a state of concern. Seeing Omar in the car, she says she assured a staffer: “She doesn’t have a backpack; we should be fine.” She then says she taunted Omar by remarking that “The Jihad Squad showed up for work today.”

Omar says it never happened but still demanded an apology for what she said was an Islamophobic epithet. Boebert subsequently called Omar and admitted that she shouldn’t have said anything that made it seem she was attacking her opponent’s religion, and that publicly boasting about the incident was wrong. But she wouldn’t apologize to the Democrats’ satisfaction. Seeing that she wasn’t getting what she wanted and offended by the Republican’s demand that she do some apologizing of her own for past remarks, Omar hung up on her.

The Democratic leadership has lined up behind Omar with a statement accusing Boebert of Islamophobia and racism, in addition to a demand that Republicans condemn “bigoted members of their conference.”

Even if we concede that making remarks about a Congress member being a potential suicide bomber—as well as speaking of a “Jihad Squad” and then boasting about it in public is inflammatory, rude and unparliamentary behavior—the notion that Omar is nothing more than an innocent victim of a smear is chutzpah on steroids. More to the point, this incident was made possible not just by Boebert’s penchant for insults but by the failure of the Democratic caucus to discipline Omar and her fellow “Squad” member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), for their open anti-Semitism and extremism.

Omar is the darling of the left because she is an immigrant, a woman of color and, as the head-scarf-wearing first Muslim woman in Congress, a symbol of diversity. But she is also someone who accused AIPAC and the Jewish community of buying Congress (“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”). She and Tlaib are also open supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS movement that targets Jews and seeks the elimination of the one Jewish state on the planet. They have embraced the “apartheid state” lie about Israel and sought to enter it on a trip arranged by a Palestinian group that promoted the classic blood libel that Jews bake Christian blood into matzah. While claiming to oppose terrorism, they have acted as tacit defenders of the Hamas terrorist group, ignoring its criminal behavior while asserting that Israel commits war crimes.

So while Boebert’s barbs went too far, the reason they resonate for many is because Omar is not merely just as extreme as her antagonist (she is an ardent supporter of efforts to defund the police while seeking police protection for herself), she is also someone who deserved to be censured for her anti-Semitism. Pelosi is mindful of the influence of the left these days and knows that Omar has been treated as a rock star by the liberal press, the late-night comedy shows and other pop-culture outlets. Instead of depriving Omar of committee assignments, she gave her a plum role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to use as a platform for her hateful agenda.

Democrats may well appease Omar and their activist base by censuring Boebert. But all they’ll be doing is turning Boebert into a Republican heroine. And if, as now seems likely, the GOP wins back control of the House in 2022, the following January we can expect Republicans to prioritize payback in the form of censures of Omar, Tlaib and other radical Democrats.

This is no way to run a Congress. There is plenty of blame to go around for this state of affairs. But right now, Democrats are so wedded to a narrative in which their opponents are all labeled as “insurrectionists” out to destroy democracy, rather than merely political opponents, that it is impossible to imagine a future in which the divide between the parties will not grow even wider and more bitter.

You can’t expect one party to police its extreme members while their opponents treat theirs as beyond reproach. Whatever you may think of Boebert’s posturing about guns, ardent Trumpism or her insulting manner, what Omar has done is to mainstream anti-Semitism in the public square in a manner that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Until more Democrats start treating her as an extremist hatemonger rather than a role model, they are in no position to lecture anyone about her critics.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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