Letter published on behalf of Emily Gorham
In the March 20th edition, The Point News ran an opinion piece defending Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), dismissing accusations of anti-semitism against the freshman lawmaker. The author cites two of Omar’s comments concerning “dual loyalty,” writing that her remarks were not aimed solely at American Jews and therefore not anti-semitic. This is not a fair assessment of Omar’s comments. Accusations of dual loyalty is a well-established anti-semitic trope with a history dating back hundreds of years. Using it repeatedly to criticize the Jewish state cannot be overlooked as coincidental.
The author also rebukes Omar’s critics for “not arguing in good faith.” However, the “dual loyalty” accusations are not Omar’s first controversial statements. In 2012, Omar accused “evil” Israel of “hypnotizing” the world — a popular anti-semitic conspiracy theory. Omar apologized for the comment seven years later, after taking office as a U.S. Congresswoman, claiming she was unaware of the phrase’s connotations. In February, she tweeted that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” playing off anti-semitic stereotypes concerning the influence of Jews on international politics and the economy. The same month, she doubled down on her accusations of “dual loyalty,” attracting praise from David Duke, a high-profile white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Omar has also tweeted her support of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose frequent derogatory rhetoric has put a spotlight on his party’s increasing anti-semitism in recent months.
Criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-semitic. But after Congresswoman Omar’s use of several anti-semitic canards over the years, and particularly in the last two months, do American Jews still owe her the benefit of the doubt? She has repeatedly used loaded language when discussing Israel and its supporters, even after Jewish community leaders expressed concern about her choice of words. There are countless ways to criticize Israel, and several valid reasons to do so, without wading into anti-semitic waters. Relying on known anti-Jewish conspiracies and themes, as Omar has done, is not one of them.
The original article claims that rather than censor Omar (which no one has done; she is still free to express her views through her public platforms, and continues to do so), Congress should have passed resolutions condemning several other anti-semitic incidents in the recent past, including the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, Congressman Steve King’s (R-IA) several racist and anti-semitic remarks and actions, and the Or L’Simcha synagogue shooting last October. I agree. And so did Congress, as evidenced by the fact that they did, in fact, pass such resolutions. Senate Joint Resolution 49 (Public Law No: 115-58) condemned “the racist violence and domestic terror attack” in Charlottesville, rejected “White nationalism, White supremacy, and neo-Nazism,” and recognized murdered counter-protester Heather Heyer. House Resolution 40 censured King in January, and he was additionally stripped of all committee assignments (Omar remains in the House Foreign Affairs Committee despite her comments and backlash). House Resolution 1138 condemned the Pittsburgh shooting as well as “rising anti-semitism in the United States and around the world.”
Lastly, the original piece argues that anti-semitism on the left is not “true, dangerous” anti-semitism, and that such issues should be put aside in favor of dealing with “real” anti-semitism on the right. It is true that the American right has a serious problem with anti-semitism and white nationalism, and the Republican Party has not done enough to combat it. This is not, however, an excuse to overlook leftist anti-semitism or dismiss it as inconsequential or nonexistent. All anti-semitism is dangerous anti-semitism; in the author’s words, it is all “actual [and] harmful” hatred. Whether it comes from the left or the right, it all relies on the same (sometimes ancient) anti-Jewish theories, themes, and prejudices. It palpably endangers lives. As an American Jew, most of the criticism I have seen of Omar’s comments comes from other Jews across the political spectrum, who recognize that anti-semitism is a threat to all of us, regardless of its political party of origin. Acknowledging this is the first real step in protecting American Jews and the religious freedoms we all deserve.