In the last few weeks, Freshman Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been under fire for comments and tweets that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic. There have been tweets that could arguably be described as anti-Semitic tropes, and, of course, Republican members of Congress have pounced upon them for political gain. However, much of this has been taken out of context.
For one thing, we have gotten to a point where any criticism of Israel’s policies, any sympathy for the Palestinian people, and any standing up to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is seen as anti-Semitism. It is not necessarily anti-Semitism to criticize these entities, but the criticism certainly COULD certainly leak over into being anti-Semitic. That is the key when discussing these sensitive issues. Here is a simple explanation from New York Times reporter Bari Weiss on the subject, during an appearance on ABC’s daytime talk show The View after her synagogue, Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life, was terrorized by a white supremacist gunman:
Now Rep. Omar has certainly said things, particularly via Twitter, that can be perceived as anti-Semitic. Perhaps the one that stands out the most is from February 10, 2019, where Rep. Omar tweeted that the support that American politicians from both sides of the aisle give to Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby” – meaning money. Here is that tweet:
Of course, the suggestion that Jewish people are obsessed with money and control all of the world’s finances is a longstanding anti-Semitic trope. However, as Glenn Greenwald, the journalist whose tweet Rep. Omar was responding to has said, there is merit to the fact that lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also known as AIPAC, give members of Congress substantial amounts of money for their pro-Israel stances and legislation. To that end, is simply pointing out the influence of AIPAC going to be perceived as being anti-Semitic on the part of Rep. Omar? Only time will tell, but it certainly looks that way.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is the House Minority Leader, has vowed to punish both Rep. Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-NY) for comments that criticize Israel and allegedly cross the the line into being anti-Semitic. He has not taken censure, which is a formal rebuke of a member of Congress, off the table, according to Roll Call. Apparently, the fact that the Democrats passed a resolution that condemned all forms of hate but did not reference Rep. Omar or her tweets directly was not good enough for Leader McCarthy.
Granted, there is anti-Semitism on the left. That cannot be disputed. Some pro-Palestinian forces have crossed over from being champions of the human rights of the Palestinian people and opponents of the policies of Netanyahu’s government and into giving a nod to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Whether Rep. Omar is in that camp or not remains to be seen, but chances are she is not. Further, there is certainly nothing on the left that comes anywhere near the open white nationalism of the right’s version of anti-Semitism. After all, it was the alt-right that took to the Reagan Building in Washington after Trump was elected to shout “Heil Trump!” in celebration, not the left.
Here is video of that appalling display:
Further, the demonizing of Rep. Omar as anti-Semitic is part of a troubling pattern. She, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-NY) are the first two Muslim women elected to the United States House of Representatives. The first Muslim member of the House was Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is now the Attorney General of Minnesota. He was also hounded by the Republican Party as an anti-Semite for his previous associations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In fact, the Minnesota GOP had to formally apologize for a hate-filled post written about Ellison, in which they called him a “Muslim goat humper,” among other slurs.
Despite his apologies and clear stances regarding bigotry, the GOP never quite left Ellison alone on the matter. So, the only three Muslim Americans to hold seats in Congress are also repeatedly smeared as bigots against Jewish Americans. While certainly no one can prove it, there is a tinge of potential Islamophobia here. That is further compounded by incidences of open Islamophobia, such as the fact that the Tarrant County, Texas GOP actually held a recall election for their Vice Chair for simply being a Muslim. While the Vice Chair, Shahid Shafi, retained his position, the fact that it happened at all is nothing short of appalling. This all brings us to the deeper implications of this entire situation: the utter hypocrisy of the Republican Party trying to call anyone out when it comes to bigotry.
After all, this is the party that elected Donald Trump president. This is despite the fact that Trump has a decades long history of open racism. He was sued by Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice for refusing to rent to black and brown tenants. In the 1980’s Trump led the charge to get the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully accused black and Latino teens, railroaded into prison for a crime they did not commit. He even took out full page ads calling for the death penalty in that case. Years later, after the Central Park Five was exonerated with DNA evidence, Trump still insisted they should be punished. This is also, of course, the man who ran with the racist birther conspiracy theory for five years, doing all he could to deleligitmize the nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama.
That does not even get us started on the things Trump has said and done during his presidential campaign and during his presidency. He kicked off the campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, promised to ban all Muslims from entering the nation, and spoke about African Americans and other minorities in horrifically derogatory terms. He even repeatedly refused to outright denounce former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:
And, of course, we cannot forget Trump’s calling African countries “shithole countries,” and wondering why we cannot have more people from Norway immigrate to America. Perhaps the worst of all was Trump’s response to the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. While GOP politicians were forced to speak out on that one, they still refuse to acknowledge aloud what is abundantly clear to anyone: Trump is an unrepentant racist, period. And he is the man they picked to be President of the United States.
And Trump is the symptom of a bigger problem within the GOP. They also have people like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) who has been an open white nationalist for many years. However, they did nothing about him until Rep. King told the New York Times that he did not understand why white supremacy is offensive. That was too blatant to be ignored, of course, so King was stripped of his committee assignments. They have not, however, done anything about Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-AL), who actually joked about a “public hanging” at a campaign event in Alabama, which is the state that had the most lynchings of African-Americans. Here is a spirited panel discussion on that controversy, including video of the remarks:
In short, yes, anti-Semitism is a problem, and Rep. Omar has certainly said some things that deserve scrutiny. However, the Republican Party should not throw stones at glass houses. Their mountains of open bigotry against anyone not straight, white, cisgender, and Christian, and even outright white supremacy in some corners of their ranks knows no bounds. At the end of the day, they simply have zero credibility when it comes to addressing issues of bigotry of any kind, which is shameful, but hardly surprising. I will leave you with the wisest, and most succinct assessment of the problem, from NBC host Chuck Todd: