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Opinion

The American Jewish left’s endorsement of antisemitism

Defending Ilhan Omar crosses a red line.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Credit: Flickr.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Credit: Flickr.
Martin Oliner
Martin Oliner
Martin Oliner is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, president of the Culture for Peace Institute and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former U.S. president Donald Trump and serves as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed are his own. Martinoliner@gmail.com

Once upon a time, identifying an antisemite required the proverbial duck test. If it quacked like an antisemite, then it probably was an antisemite.

Back then, antisemites had ways to avoid responsibility, but this has changed in recent years due to the widespread adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, which is now used by 38 countries, including the United States.

The IHRA definition, which includes examples of antisemitism directed against Israel, fits Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) perfectly.

For years, Omar has used the vocabulary of antisemitism delineated in the IHRA definition, such as tweeting “Israel has hypnotized the world” and that U.S. politicians’ support for Israel is “all about the benjamins”—a reference to hundred-dollar bills.

Even the Democratic House leadership, headed by outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Omar “engaged in deeply offensive antisemitic tropes.”

One of the IHRA definition’s most important examples of antisemitism is “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel.”

Omar did precisely that in Feb. 2019, when she angered fellow House Democrats Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey (both of New York) by saying in reference to Israel, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Omar has also repeatedly applied double standards to Israel and singled out the world’s only Jewish state for her attacks, both of which are also included in the IHRA definition. She even equated Israel and the U.S. with Hamas, Afghanistan and the Taliban.

But despite all that quacking, several left-wing groups that label themselves “Jewish” and “pro-Israel” recently had the audacity to pretend that Omar is not a duck.

Who came to Omar’s defense when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pledged to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

It was J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Habonim Dror North America, the New Israel Fund, T’ruah and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“As Jewish American organizations, we oppose Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s pledge to strip Representative Ilhan Omar of her House Foreign Affairs Committee seat based on false accusations that she is antisemitic or anti-Israel,” the organizations wrote in a joint statement last week. “We may not agree with some of Congresswoman Omar’s opinions, but we categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee.”

The groups unashamedly added that their support for Omar “seems especially exploitative in light of the rampant promotion of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by [McCarthy] and his top deputies amid a surge in dangerous right-wing antisemitism.”

All these fringe groups must be condemned for endorsing an antisemite. Their claims to be pro-Israel should no longer be taken seriously. Just like the pro-Iran protesters of Neturei Karta, it must be made clear that they do not represent American Jewry.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC rightfully criticized J Street for its endorsement of Omar.

“J Street says it’s a ‘false accusation’ to call Rep. Ilhan Omar anti-Israel,” AIPAC posted on Twitter. “A false accusation? J Street is defending one of the most vocal anti-Israel critics in Congress.”

While it is important to maintain a “big tent” of varied pro-Israel movements, these groups defending Omar have crossed a red line.

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Reform Jews would not cross that line, even if their current leadership is perfectly willing to do so. Indeed, one would think that the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism ought to devote more time to educating Reform Jews and less to fighting against Israel in Congress.

It should be obvious that being a pro-Israel organization does not mean attempting to ensure that Israel will have one less supporter on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In fact, pro-Israel groups should praise McCarthy for not only speaking out against Omar but also being prepared to back up his words with actions.

McCarthy is facing a tough race for Speaker of the House next month. He deserves the support of pro-Israel congresspeople. This is the time for genuine pro-Israel organizations to speak up on his behalf.

Condemning Ilhan Omar is not about politics. It’s about getting the real pro-Israel community’s ducks in a row and targeting an obvious antisemite.

Martin Oliner is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former U.S. President Donald Trump as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed are his own. He can be reached at martinoliner@gmail.com.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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