The Democratic Party Fails to Condemn Antisemitic Democrats
Perhaps the most remarkable and disquieting aspect of the revelation that 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is employing three senior advisers with records of involvement in antisemitic incidents is the disinterest it has engendered in Democratic circles across the board.
First, it emerged that Senator Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, and his senior foreign policy adviser, Matthew Duss, while both serving previously at the left-wing think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP), had in 2012 been involved in the use of antisemitic tropes about Jewish dual loyalty and domination of money and politics on CAP’s blog and website.
Then it emerged that Sanders’ national deputy press secretary, Belén Sisa, had participated in a recent Facebook discussion in which she used the antisemitic trope of Jewish dual loyalty.
The antisemitic incidents involving Shakir and Duss encompassed such a furor at the time that it led the Obama administration — an administration that was often deeply critical of, and in conflict with, Israel — to criticize those involved and cease contact with them.
Given this history, it is astonishing that a Democratic presidential candidate feels entirely at ease with having these three figures within his inner circle of advisers.
Nor is this all. The Sanders incident is occurring in a wider context of a Democratic Party drift towards the vociferously anti-Israel positions of the hard left, as well as the election to Congress of proponents of these positions — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY), Ilhan Omar (D–MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D–MI).
These new legislators don’t support Israel’s existence and do support anti-Israel campaigns, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement — a position that, until now, enjoyed almost no support from a sitting member of Congress.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is critical of Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), even though they comprise less than two percent of that territory, and there hasn’t been a single new community built since 1993. She also asserted her support for BDS, and is a leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, which opposes Israel’s existence.
Rep. Omar, in a 2012 tweet subsequent to Israeli military operations in Gaza following 150 rockets fired into Israel, said, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She staunchly defended her tweet before finally conceding it was offensive, belatedly deleting it.
Since arriving in Congress, she has made further antisemitic statements, like asserting that supporters of Israel are attempting to get American lawmakers to have “allegiance to a foreign country,” and that AIPAC bribes legislators to support Israel.
Rep. Tlaib calls Israel a “racist country” on the basis of the lie that Israel discriminates against those who are “darker skinned,” ignoring that Israel brought in huge numbers of black Ethiopians and dark-skinned Yemenites. She supports BDS and the destruction of Israel in favor of an Arab-dominated state (“It has to be one state”), absurdly claiming that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a consistent, outspoken supporter of Israel, is an inspiration for her views. Tlaib also “absolutely” backs withholding US aid from Israel.
When Tlaib was elected, she attended her primary victory party draped in the flag of the Palestinian Authority — and she posed for a photo with Abbas Hamideh, a supporter of the terrorist group Hezbollah, after her official swearing-in ceremony.
And what has been the reaction of senior Democrats?
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, declared that he didn’t “accept” that Omar and Talib are antisemitic. House Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) described them merely as “thoughtful colleagues.” Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D–CA), leaped to Omar’s defense when Omar accused Israel’s supporters of dual loyalty. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) criticized some of Omar’s statements, but then absolved her of harboring deliberate antisemitic intent and refused to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
House Democrats as a whole have performed little better. Initially, they supported a resolution prompted by Omar’s antisemitic statements. But many, like the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus, were less interested in condemning Omar’s antisemitic outbursts than in producing a watered-down resolution condemning diverse forms of racism in the abstract.
Rep. Karen Bass (D–CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said earlier this year that unless Republicans condemned Rep. Steve King (R–IA) and removed him from his committee assignments after he made racially insensitive remarks (which they did), the GOP would be guilty of “tacit acceptance of racism.” Yet Bass refused to subject Omar to the same standard, saying she “absolutely would have a problem” if the House resolution were to call out Omar specifically.
And Rep. James Clyburn (D–SC), House Majority Whip, said of Omar: “I am trying to do everything I can to make her journey here a comfortable one.”
The message is clear, dangerous, and bleak: antisemitism’s introduction into political discourse by a member of Congress incurs no cost and perhaps yields rewards. Omar is already a hero in Jew-hating corners of America: neo-Nazi David Duke has gushed, “Ilhan Omar is NOW the most important Member of the US Congress!”
In short, a party whose legislators support the elimination of Israel, indulge in antisemitism, and hire antisemitic advisers while incurring no penalty — and who receive, at best, anemic criticism from their senior colleagues — is a party that is normalizing antisemitism, not marginalizing it.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). A national Jewish weekly named him one of the top five Jewish leaders in America and one of the top Jewish activists of the last century. Follow him @mortonaklein7 and at ZOA.org.
Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).