The limits of American anti-Semitism

There’s good reason to be discouraged by the way Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have gotten away with their slurs, but the response also proves that Jew-hatred won’t succeed in the United States.

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Does Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) get to make this all go away with just an apology? That’s what many on the left and a lot of Democrats agree. Following a tongue-lashing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party’s leadership, Omar backed away from her latest anti-Semitic slur, in which she alleged that members of Congress backed Israel because of “the Benjamins” doled out by AIPAC.

Just as she did when she apologized from her 2012 tweet about Israel “hypnotizing the world,” Omar claimed ignorance of the fact that her slur was a classic anti-Semitic trope portraying Jews as a dark, sinister force manipulating gentile societies against their will. But by using the words “unequivocally apologize” in a statement in which she still stuck to her attack on the pro-Israel lobby’s influence (along with that of other lobbies), Omar seemed to have gotten off the hook as far as most of her fellow Democrats were concerned.

Any notion that she would be given the same treatment by her party that Republicans gave Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for his embrace of white nationalism was clearly off the table. While King was belatedly stripped of his committee assignments after years of offending his colleagues, Omar will apparently retain her coveted spot on the House Foreign Relations Committee, just as her Rep. Rashida Tlaib (who last month resurrected the “dual loyalty” anti-Semitic trope against supporters of Israel) will keep hers on the House Financial Services Committee.

Nor did it stop Omar from praising and retweeting a thread about the malevolent role of pro-Israel money in American politics shortly after her allegedly contrite apology. Even more important, neither Omar nor Tlaib are backing down on their support for the anti-Semitic BDS movement, whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the only Jewish state on the planet.

Amid the furor over Omar’s tweet, Tlaib’s latest outrage was also largely swept under the rug by the mainstream media. We learned this week that Tlaib contributed an article to hatemonger Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam’s newspaper. Had a Republican done the same with a newspaper operated by David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis, the country would have united in calling for his expulsion from the House. But all we’ve heard from Democrats about this is crickets.

Just as repugnant is that the reaction from many on the left was not to criticize Omar, but to resurrect false charges that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is an anti-Semite because he criticized the three leading funders of the Democrats in a statement last fall. George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer all have Jewish origins. The fact that Steyer had a Jewish father was something unknown to most observers, including this writer, until political attacks on him were construed as anti-Semitic. But the notion that the Democrats’ leading sugar daddies are not fair game for criticism in the same way that the Koch brothers are demonized by liberals is absurd. Comparing McCarthy to Omar or Tlaib is both slander and a dishonest attempt to avoid the truth about genuine anti-Semites.

The same goes for the attempt to change the subject to the president’s various inappropriate statements anything more than a bad case of “whataboutism.” Trump is guilty of many instances of incitement against minorities. But the claim that he is an anti-Semite or has supported anti-Semitism is unsupported by the facts and contradicted by his ardent backing for Israel, and his close ties to Jewish friends and family.

Even if there is much to be discouraged about the way Omar and Tlaib appear to be retaining their status as political rock stars (alongside fellow leftist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), there is no reason for despair.

Many American Jews are worried that what’s happening on the left is a sign that the Democrats may be on the verge of going the way of Britain’s Labour Party, which has been captured by anti-Semitic far-leftists. While it’s fair to compare the stands of Omar and Tlaib to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose hatred for Israel has helped transform his party into a bastion of anti-Semitism, the notion that the Democrats are anywhere close to being in such a position is simply untrue.

It’s one thing to be unsatisfied with the strength of the response to these freshmen representatives from fellow Democrats who don’t wish to be distracted from their war on Trump. But what happened after Omar’s latest tweet illustrates that as much as Democratic leaders fear their left-wing base, that didn’t stop them from issuing a stern condemnation of the Minnesota congresswoman.

The main takeaway from this incident ought to be that as much as there is a growing constituency for hatred of Israel, there are also clear limits as to how far its advocates can go without be held accountable.

There should be no doubt that this outbreak of hatred won’t be stopped until those like Omar and Tlaib are isolated by their colleagues. But the stand of Pelosi and many other Democrats proves that left-wing Israel-haters aren’t succeeding in demonizing or isolating friends of the Jewish state. Indeed, a broad cross-section of Democrats and a united Republican Party denounced Omar. Her only defenders were marginal figures on the far-left.

Anti-Semitism has never succeeded in the United States in the past or as it has elsewhere in our own day. Israel is still broadly popular, and anti-Semites remain outliers rather than, as in Britain, poised on the brink of national power. Jew-haters remain a threat but they remain far from their goal of power. As much as we may lament that Omar and Tlaib are barely getting their wrists slapped, we shouldn’t confuse their ability to survive with political success. The United States remains a place where Jews needn’t fear displaying their love for Israel or their faith in the public square, and there is no reason to think that will change.

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

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