(June 10, 2021 / JNS) After a surge in violent anti-Semitism inspired in no small part by vicious attacks on Israel by members of their party’s left-wing, some Jewish Democrats have had enough. After Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) compared the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, the 25 Jewish members of the House of Representatives who are Democrats (two others are Republicans), met informally. Their discussion focused on whether it was time to rebuke Omar by name for her latest effort at demonizing the Jewish state, as well as besmirching the United States.
To their credit, 12 of them—Reps. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)—did so, signing on to a statement that rightly took her to task. It said the following:
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.
The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”
Considering that Omar has already trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes, is an open supporter of the anti-Semitic BDS movement and had promoted a narrative about Israel’s birth on the floor of the House last month that made it clear she thought one Jewish state on the planet was one too many, it can be argued that a call for her to “clarify her words” was a rather restrained response. Indeed, if she were a Republican who was guilty of the same offenses, there’s little doubt that Jewish Democrats would demand that, like former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) or current right-wing piñata Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.), that Omar should be officially censored and stripped of her committee assignments.
But it was better than nothing. Moreover, by making it clear that what she said “reflects deep-seated prejudice” and that such “false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” it correctly identified the stakes in the debate.
Yet while the 12 signees did the right thing, the fact that the other 13 Jewish Democrats—a majority of the caucus—refused to do so is an equally clear indication that even among Jews, support for Israel among Democrats is on the decline.
Omar subsequently issued what she said was a clarification, claiming that her remarks were taken out of context. It was true that what she said was part of a series of questions to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that revolved around her support for the International Criminal Court. Omar had thanked the Biden administration for dropping the sanctions that former President Donald Trump had slapped on those responsible for what it had correctly labeled as an anti-Semitic attack on Israel, while at the same time criticizing it for opposing the ICC’s attempts to single out both Israel and the United States for committing “war crimes” during the course of anti-terror operations.
But this is a distinction without a difference. Omar’s support for the ICC’s attempts to criminalize Israel’s self-defense against Hamas terrorism and treat the Jewish state as equally guilty as Hamas is just as appalling in context as it is when seen on its own.
What followed was to some extent a replay of the last House dustup over Omar’s anti-Semitic bombast in 2019. The House Democratic leadership led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi did rebuke Omar for her initial statement, but in the same breath also accepted her clarification, putting an end to the controversy as far as they were concerned, with no thought to throwing her off her pivotal seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the way they’ve done to Republicans who make extremist statements.
That wasn’t the end of the discussion. Rather than those 13 Jewish Democrats being criticized for not speaking up against Omar, it was the ones who did sign the statement that found themselves under attack for supposedly persecuting her.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is made up of nearly half of all House Democrats, issued a statement in support of Omar, who is part of the group’s leadership. Jayapal, speaking in the name of all progressives, said that those holding Omar to account were part of a “bad faith” effort to attack a “black, Muslim woman,” and endangering her and her staff.
And, despite her “clarification,” Omar was far from repentant and labeled the 12 Jews who dared to call her out as being guilty of “Islamicphobic [sic] tropes” and subjecting her to “constant harassment and silencing.”
That was seconded by others on the left, including fellow “Squad” members Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who had joined her on the House floor to falsely accuse Israel of committing war crimes. But along with the anger of congressional progressives, there was a tsunami of abuse on Twitter directed at the Jewish 12.
That criticism ranged from betraying their party by attacking someone on the left rather than just concentrating on opposing Republicans to open anti-Semitism. To read the responses to the statement on Omar is to understand why so many Jewish Democrats were reluctant to speak out. In doing so, even in the most restrained fashion, the 12 were widely denounced for demonstrating “racism,” “white privilege” and for “allegiance” to Israel.
Indeed, the exchange illustrated that a lot had changed since early 2019, when it was Omar who was put on the defensive, at least for a short while, after her claims that Jews were buying congressional support for Israel (“It’s all about the Benjamins”). Even then, Omar easily escaped being censured by the House and was soon lionized by the left, including its pop-culture influencers among the late-night TV comedians, as a victim of persecution from Trump.
But in the wake of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the widespread acceptance of its toxic ideological baggage of critical race theory and intersectionality, which falsely labels Israel and the Jews as “white” and colonialist oppressors of “people of color,” Omar’s views are clearly part of mainstream discourse rather than the ravings of a radical outlier. Just as the attacks on Israel for defending itself against Hamas terror were far greater this year than they were during the last such fighting in 2014, so, too, Omar and her “progressive” allies are also on firmer ground in Democratic circles.
Since she and the rest of “The Squad” landed in Washington three years ago (with a few more joining the club in January), many believe that they have gotten far more attention than they deserve considering their non-existent legislative accomplishments. Still, this episode illustrates just how much influence she and her friends have acquired and the way the BLM movement has given a permission slip to anti-Semitism.
In that short period of time, Omar and company have done more to establish anti-Semitic tropes and libels in mainstream discourse than extremists right-wingers have accomplished in decades.
We already knew about the deep divide in the Democratic Party on support for Israel—one that is growing wider as a new and more leftist generation bought into intersectional myths that Democratic leaders like Pelosi and other House veterans would never endorse. What we’re seeing now is the price that those in the center of that party will have to pay if they continue to oppose the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism under the guise of support for “human rights” and opposition to Israel’s existence.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_Tobin.
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