(March 29, 2019 / JNS) Defying the odds, accusations and invective, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has won.
At the very least, she has succeeded in shifting the bounds of acceptable debate on the topic of Jewish power and influence. Omar’s repeated comments on Jews buying politicians, Israel hypnotizing the world and her promoting the canard of dual loyalty has resonated with a growing faction of the Democratic Party. Such statements have now been translated from fringe rhetoric to unspoken policy.
It came with little surprise, then, that leading Democratic presidential nominees decided to refrain from attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Among that list of luminaries included Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke. Their absence was optical: a signal to American Jews and Israelis alike that a growing faction of the Democratic Party is questioning old orthodoxies, starting with Israel.
The move was spurred on by the progressive organization MoveOn, which denounced AIPAC for opposing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and undermining Palestinian self-determination.
In conjunction with the Omar’s earlier comments (herself, an icon of American progressivism), these developments underscore a deeper shift unfolding within the Democratic Party. Although much outrage and condemnation were dispensed in the wake of the congresswoman’s comments, the choreographed vitriol proved to be little more than political double-speak: “We condemn the promotion of Jewish conspiracy theories but, effectively, we will follow your lead.” Simply a polished version of the anti-Semitic myths parroted by Omar.
Omar and MoveOn are not out of sync with the Democratic Party: They are the progressive pacesetters, the trailblazers, illuminating where liberal politics in the United States is bound. Nor are they out of step with other liberals. According to MoveOn polling, more than three-quarters of members supported the boycott in an online survey. Such findings were re-iterated by an Economist-You Gov survey showing that cross-sections of the Democrats—millennial, liberal and female—no longer support Israel much.
This is the progressive core that Omar and her ilk pander to. And for these political forces, ideologies decrying the harm of Jewish influence, money and power are well and fair: “punching up,” speaking truth to power.
Nowhere has this veneer of acceptability been more tolerated then when directed at Jews.
When asked about American Jewish concerns with the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, who has been linked to the leadership of the Women’s March, progressive Melissa Harris-Perry called it “weird.” Harris-Perry maintained that only Farrakhan’s ability to enact, to carry out, his bigotry could drive her to denounce him. The progressive magazine Salon condemned alt-right anti-Semitism in 2017 as a “bellwether of society.” However, when the shoe was on the other foot—and Omar as well as other progressive figures, including Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, waded into the shoals of Jew-hatred—Salon conveniently moved the yardsticks. In its view, the political establishment had mobilized to crush Omar for her insouciance.
This is the ultimate irony that American Jews are only now beginning to digest: that Jews are not part and parcel of the “diversity” progressives have in mind. Jews are now too successful, too white and too powerful. In other words, Jews, or perhaps more aptly—those who support Israel—are not welcome.
Ari Blaff is a journalist whose writings have appeared in “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel,” “National Post,” Israel Studies, Quillette and Marginalia. He holds a master’s from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.