How Will Democrats Respond to the Omar Firestorm?
Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is a Muslim-American critic of Israel. She now occupies ground zero for American Jews who vote Democratic, but support Israel.
First, Omar’s accusations go beyond mainstream criticism of Israel. Omar not only critiques Israel and its current government, but uses antisemitic terminology to impugn the patriotism of American Jews who support Israel.
Omar has half-heartedly apologized for her 2012 tweet praying that Allah would “awaken the people” to being “hypnotized” by the “evil doings” of Israel, which she denounces as an “apartheid state.” Not truly contrite for her “bumbling” words back then, she has launched new attacks on the loyalty of US senators, representatives, and ordinary voters for their “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Omar unloaded on Israel’s supporters, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for being “all about the Benjamins baby” ($100 bills), smearing Jews as Shylocks.
Omar’s “dual loyalty” charge dates back to the historian Manetho (third century BCE) who explained the Biblical Exodus as the expulsion of Egypt’s disloyal, “leprous” Jews. Omar combines ancient and modern antisemitism in a toxic brew, ultimately damaging America’s minority communities seeking mutual harmony.
Why stir up these waters rather than focus on healing her own troubled Somali-American community — especially when a Somali immigrant recently shouted antisemitic slurs while trying to run down two worshipers in front of a synagogue?
The second issue is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cowardice in responding to Omar’s bigotry. Pelosi combined a slap on the wrist by condemning Omar’s “antisemitic tropes” (whatever that means), with reaffirming her appointment to the prestigious House Foreign Affairs Committee. Then Pelosi allowed a resolution criticizing Omar to be so watered-down that it was essentially useless.
I deplore attacks on Omar’s Muslim faith, but that can’t shield her from criticism for her antisemitic views.
Reinforcing Omar’s self-pitying evasion that she is a victim of “Islamophobia,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez equates anti-Omar criticism with making it “‘unacceptable’ to question the Iraq War.” Now, the Congressional Black Caucus also wants to sanctify Omar as a victim of racism. Senior House Democrat James Clyburn has already empathized with Omar at the expense of Holocaust memory: “I’m serious … there are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her. … I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”
Omar may explode a minefield for the Democratic Party with Jewish voters. While it took the Great Depression to cause African-Americans to abandon the GOP, American Jews made a smoother transition to the immigrant-friendly Democrats, whose founder Thomas Jefferson was the patron saint of church-state separation. Then President Harry Truman sealed the deal by recognizing Israel in 1948.
Abraham Lincoln, a GOP Jewish hero, warned: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Speaker Pelosi should heed Lincoln’s warning by forthrightly condemning Omar’s blatant antisemitism and removing her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee before it’s too late.
Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.