Ilhan Omar and True American Anti-Semitism

Published on behalf of Zach Mossburg

One of the most controversial topics in foreign policy both within the United States and with our allies is our relationship with Israel and their treatment of Palestinians. One of the only people who has dared to step up and criticize Israel in any manner recently is newly elected Congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar; a black, Muslim, immigrant from Somalia. Omar’s criticisms can be summed up in two of her quotes. The first of which is a tweet, in which she states that “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support for a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on a committee.” Her second quote, which she gave during a town hall, is as follows: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

These quotes and others have gotten Omar in very hot water with both Republicans and members of her own party. Anti-semitism accusations have been thrown her way from op-ed pages and morning shows across the country. A bipartisan resolution was passed in Congress that condemned anti-semitism, along with other forms of hate, and while Omar was not mentioned by name in the resolution it was clearly directed at her comments. In fact, Omar herself supported the resolution. The main charge filed against her is of accusing American Jews of “dual loyalty.” For many years, American Jews were accused of having loyalty to both the US and Israel, a charge that was anti-semitic as it was used to allege that all Jews were suspect and could not be trusted.

However, Omar’s comments do not accuse American Jews of any dual loyalty – in fact, her remarks do not accuse American Jews of anything. Omar’s comments accuse U.S. Representatives of dual loyalty, and the reaction to her comments proves her criticism. The specific facts that Omar alleges should be uncontroversial; politicians of both parties have fallen under the influence of AIPAC, one of the largest Israel lobbies in America and an extension of the Israeli right-leaning party Likud Party. Take this quote from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a staunch Democrat, from a panel discussion this past December: “I have said to people when they ask me, if this capital crumbles to the ground, the one thing that will remain is our commitment to our aid – and I don’t even call it aid, our cooperation – with Israel.” Or this tweet by representative Juan Vargas, a Democrat on the Committee of foreign affairs, in which he asserts that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” This is exactly the dual loyalty that Omar was railing against; the inability to even question our country’s relationship with and active support of an apartheid state. The reaction from members of her own party is an attempt to enforce this dual loyalty and to make sure that criticism, such as that leveled by Omar, gets punished in the most visible way possible.

The other issue with the reaction to Omar’s comments is that her opponents are not arguing in good faith. Her own party, who claims to care about the voices of the marginalized, are actively working to silence this marginalized voice. Not one of Omar’s critics has acknowledged that their resolution is requiring of Omar the exact thing that she is critical of: a “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Additionally, the most vocal Americans pushing back against Omar are not Jewish, but evangelical Christians who have nonetheless submitted to AIPAC’s demands. When the most prominent advocates for Israel in the American public are evangelical Christians who have no experience with or idea of what true, dangerous anti-semitism is, this accusation of “dual loyalty” by Omar loses all meaning as a slur against Jews. AIPAC and the politicians beholden to it have worked tirelessly to make sure that any criticism of Israel in US politics is silenced, and the machine they have assembled came out in full-force after Omar’s comments. Omar was concerned about what was being demanded of her and other members of Congress, not about how American Jews feel about Israel. The point of censoring Omar is not to condemn anti-semitism: it is about confining the conversation around Israel and Palestine to a realm in which it is impossible to even discuss Palestinian liberation or Israeli war crimes.

Omar’s criticism does not threaten the lives of American Jews or other marginalized people as is being claimed in the American media, but the Republican party’s open acceptance of white nationalism and anti-semitism does. Take for example the deadliest anti-semitic attack in American history mere months ago. This attack occurred during the height of the “immigration crisis” at the border with Mexico – a crisis created and completely sustained by Trump, his allies and his media machine – in which prominent Republicans claimed that the migrant caravan, making its way from Central America, was funded by Jewish philanthropist George Soros. Two hours before the attack, the shooter posted a message online claiming that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, reveled in bringing invaders that “kill our people.” This conspiratorial and dangerous thinking continued even days after the attack, with President Trump claiming he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Soros was funding the caravan. As author Joshua Leifer puts it in an article for The Guardian, “it should not be difficult to recognize the meaningful distinction between Ilhan Omar’s recent comments and the kind of antisemitism… that led a right wing extremist to murder jews in a synagogue.”

Directly after this monstrous attack would have been the perfect time for a congressional resolution decrying anti-semitism in all of its forms. Alternatively, there could have been a resolution after the 2018 midterms in which numerous GOP politicians trafficked in classic anti-semitic tropes. Like when (however tweeted) posted tweets with Jewish Democratic candidates and donors surrounded by stacks of cash and other symbols of antisemitism, or then-House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeting an anti-semitic ad warning that three Jewish billionaires were planning to buy/steal the election. Or Congress could’ve passed a robust resolution decrying anti-semitism in 2017 when Neo-Nazi’s marched on Charlottesville, VA chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. Or Congress could have passed a similar resolution when later that weekend, after a Neo-Nazi ran over and killed counter protester Heather Heyer, Trump declared that there were “fine people” on both sides. Or Congress could have removed Representative Steve King – a practically self-avowed white nationalist who consistently perpetuates classically anti-semitic tropes – at literally any time in the past two years. The lack of desire to prosecute actual, harmful anti-semitism is screaming out – yet you still have people like Meghan McCain, an evangelical Christian, going on TV and literally crying, saying how scared she was of Omar’s comments. It would not be disingenuous to assume that what she was actually afraid of was an intelligent black Muslim woman with a voice and with power. The choice of Democratic leaders to join with the GOP in denouncing anti-semitism only in this case, only in the context of attempting to silence Omar instead of in the numerous displays of anti-semitic forces still at play on the right, proves decisively that the Democratic party is not working to protect American Jews; they are working to protect the Judeo-Christian American Empire.


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