The Democrats failed on anti-Semitism and Ilhan Omar. Do most Jews care?

Her party’s failure to condemn her was appalling. But partisanship will likely prevent most Jews from drawing conclusions about what has happened.

Then-Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) during their campaign in August 2018. Source: Rashida Tlaib via Twitter.
Then-Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) during their campaign in August 2018. Source: Rashida Tlaib via Twitter.
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.

Back in November, I wrote that the election of radicals like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) wouldn’t have much impact on the U.S.-Israel relationship. I reasoned that the trio of newly elected radicals would be backbenchers without power or influence, while the Democratic leadership of the House remained solidly pro-Israel and friends of the Jewish community.

But as the events of the last week have shown, I was wrong about that, especially in thinking that Democrats would speak out specifically against anti-Semitism if a member of their caucus acted as Omar has done.

Yet now that it has happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if their faithful Jewish Democratic supporters simply shrug it off.

The Democratic Party as a whole is shifting to the left. But with the bulk of Democrats, especially officeholders, still reliably pro-Israel, there could be no comparison between it and Britain’s Labour Party, which under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been captured by anti-Semitic radicals.

But while the Democrats are not yet the moral equivalent of Labour, there can no longer be any doubt that AOC, Omar and Tlaib are far from powerless. Indeed, they have not only intimidated the Democratic leadership, but also demonstrated their ability to rally much of the party, including leading presidential candidates, around the cause of defending Omar from facing any consequences for her anti-Semitic hate. This feat calls into question not only the future of a bipartisan consensus on behalf of Israel, but also the future of the Democratic Party as a political home for centrist Americans.

But above and beyond the political implications of Omar’s evading consequences for her spreading of hate, this should shock American Jews out of any remaining complacency they might have had about the willingness of the Democrats to stand with them against anti-Jewish bias.

What may be even more depressing is that most of American Jewry won’t take any of this seriously or draw any conclusions about it. That’s because history has taught us that liberal Jews will do nothing to hold the Democrats accountable for their shocking failure.

Omar had twice before issued anti-Semitic statements, one of which she had been forced to apologize for by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. But her apology and disingenuous claim that she was unaware of the meaning of the anti-Semitic tropes about Jews controlling the world or attempting to buy off members of Congress were meaningless. Last week, she doubled down on her hate by spouting off about supporters of Israel being guilty of dual loyalty, another classic anti-Semitic trope.

Yet when some demanded action, what the Democrats did was worse than inaction. Much of the House Democratic caucus revolted at the idea of a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, even if it didn’t name Omar. They embraced Omar’s claim that she was the victim in this drama. Omar had singled out “Jewish colleagues” as being guilty of targeting her and Tlaib—another serial purveyor of anti-Semitism—for discrimination because they were Muslims. Three of the leading Democratic candidates for president—Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren—supported these claims when, while condemning anti-Semitism out of one side of their mouths, they also defended Omar and opposed any specific condemnation of her hate.

House Democrats backed down in the face of support for Omar from much of the party. Pelosi, who knew very well how insincere Omar’s previous apology had been, exonerated her of any intentional anti-Semitism. Democrats ignored the fact that as supporters of an anti-Semitic BDS movement, there was no doubt that the hate espoused by Omar and Tlaib was intentional and purposeful. The claim that their goal was to start a conversation about U.S. foreign policy or to speak up for Palestinian human rights is a blatant lie. As BDS supporters, their goal is Israel’s destruction and to delegitimize its Jewish supporters, not to merely initiate a debate about the peace process. The claim that supporters of Israel are guilty of Islamophobia is another brazen falsehood.

Equally disingenuous is the claim that the right is as guilty of anti-Semitism as the left. The claims that U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress are also guilty anti-Semitism are bogus. There is simply no comparison to what the Democrats are enabling and even supporting from Omar and anything that GOP officeholders have done or said with respect to anti-Semitism.

The resolution that did pass was a joke. It not only avoided mentioning Omar, but was also turned into a laundry list of every conceivable sort of hatred (with the sole exception of bias against Catholics and evangelical Christians that has been demonstrated by many liberal Democrats in recent years). It was the moral equivalent of the response to the Black Lives Matter movement by some, who spoke instead of all lives mattering—a stand that most Democrats had condemned.

AOC and her leftist pals are setting the agenda for Democrats. This will have a genuine impact on the 2020 presidential race, which has already appeared to show that Democrats have been shifting to the left, and make it easier for attacks on Israel and Jews to become part of the campaign.

This ought to horrify the majority of American Jews who remain loyal supporters of the Democrats. But don’t expect many of them to take action or do anything to hold their party accountable. In this hyper-partisan era, most liberal Jews are more interested in defeating Trump than in confronting anti-Semitism.

Facing the truth about the state of the Democratic Party would force them to choose between their partisan interests and defense of the Jewish community. And that is not a choice that most American Jews are prepared to make, even if means supporting a party that treats anti-Semites and their enablers as rock stars. Along with the direction of a Democratic Party that just took another step towards being Corbynized, that is the sorriest aspect of this dismal chapter of American Jewish history.

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

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