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Why American Jewish politicians have rushed to defend Ilhan Omar

If Jewish leaders won’t stand up to a powerful antisemite, they should be replaced.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), congressional reception for newly elected congressional representatives. Credit: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), congressional reception for newly elected congressional representatives. Credit: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Opposition to American antisemitism is remarkably situational: By and large, right-wing antisemites face, as they should, widespread condemnation and ostracism. Left-wing antisemites and antisemites of color almost always get a free pass, with ostensibly anti-racist progressives rushing to their defense and proclaiming the usual shibboleths about “criticism of Israel” and “taken out of context.”

At the moment, the primary beneficiary of this largesse is Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has thus far served as a highly effective spearhead for the effort—undertaken by the far-left and Muslim-American establishments—to legitimize and institutionalize antisemitism in American politics.

Despite Omar’s claims that American Jews buy control of Congress and are loyal to a foreign country—Israel, of course—which cannot be viewed as anything other than barbarously antisemitic, she has long enjoyed immunity from punishment.

Recently, however, hopes were raised that Omar might be held accountable, with newly installed Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledging to remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Democrats might have quietly allowed this, but according to a recent Politico article, they have instead chosen to mount a full-court press on Omar’s behalf.

Among the forces rallying to the antisemite’s side are the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, with the latter’s chair Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) saying, “We support Rep. Omar. She’s an effective legislator who deserves to maintain her seat and we’re gonna continue to represent her.” He called the effort to remove her “ridiculous.”

It should not be surprising that far-left congressional factions are rallying behind Omar. What is more disturbing is that prominent Jewish members of Congress have joined them.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), for example, proclaimed to Politico that Omar “will be the first to tell you that we both disagree on a lot of things. I love Israel, and I will defend it wholeheartedly. She’s deeply troubled by the Israeli government. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a voice on the Foreign Affairs Committee, even if it is painful for me.”

Phillips added, “I don’t think she’s antisemitic, I think she’s made some mistakes. … I believe that she’s learned from it, and I mean that sincerely.”

The congressman, unfortunately, is talking nonsense. One does not “disagree” with antisemitism, because to grant it the dignity of “disagreeing” is to collaborate in its legitimization.

Moreover, Omar is not “troubled” by Israel’s government. She is not even “troubled” by Israel. She hates Israel and indeed the Jews. Nor, from her point of view, has she made any “mistakes,” let alone “learned” from them.  She has done precisely what she intended to do and largely succeeded.

Even worse than Phillips is the high-ranking Jewish Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who at least had the courage to criticize Omar in the past. Now she has happily capitulated, saying, “There’s no reason to remove Congresswoman Omar from her committees except revenge. … We removed Congressman [Paul] Gosar and [Marjorie] Taylor Greene because they threatened violence against other members, including death. That is not anything that Congresswoman Omar did.”

There is, in fact, every reason to remove an antisemite from any position of power. Moreover, had leaders like Wasserman Schultz faced down Omar’s supporters in the past, Omar might have long since been censured and marginalized. Perhaps Wasserman Schultz’s apologetics stem from the need to deny this craven lack of courage.

Nor is Wasserman Schultz’s attack on right-wing antisemites—who deserve to be condemned—made in anything other than bad faith. This bad faith was seconded by Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who told Politico, “I think there’s a big difference between policy disagreements and inciting and encouraging violence against members of Congress,” before adding the absurd statement, “As a Jewish member of Congress, I take this very seriously,” when her own words prove that she does not.

Moreover, Omar and her collaborators have almost certainly incited violence against American Jews. Attacks on American Jews by Muslims and people of color have skyrocketed in recent years, and it is hard to believe that the poisonous rhetoric emanating from Omar and others has not played a role in this.

All of this, however, is symptomatic of a larger problem, which is the utter failure of the American Jewish leadership. These are some of the most powerful Jewish politicians in the United States, yet they cannot rouse themselves to oppose the existential threat to American Jews represented by Omar and the movement of which she is the spearhead.

The Jewish politicians defending Omar have been joined by the establishment Jewish organizations, which have proven willfully ineffective at protecting American Jews from antisemitism. This failure is entirely the product of their catamite’s approach to progressive and Muslim antisemitism.

Clearly, the American Jewish establishment has become a decadent overclass. They are, in other words, useless, and the American Jewish community cannot and never has been able to afford useless leaders.

I have been told that behind closed doors, among the grassroots, and on the street, a great many American Jews are increasingly angry at their establishment leaders. These Jews want to stand up and fight back but are receiving no help in doing so.

The only hope, then, is that these Jews will begin to speak up and take action. They must make it clear to the establishment that if it does not radicalize and stand up to antisemitism wherever it festers, it will be replaced with those who will.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his writing on Substack and his website. Follow him on Twitter @benj_kerstein. His books can be purchased here.

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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