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February 25, 2020 2:38 pm

New Book Takes on Ilhan Omar, but Ends Up a Missed Opportunity

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein


Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 10, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Jim Bourg / File.

Review of “American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party” by Benjamin Weingarten, Bombardier Books, 2020.

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has become something of a shadow haunting the American Jewish community and US politics in general. A Somali-born immigrant who has become a standard bearer for the far-left, Omar is characterized by an overwhelming hostility toward Jews and Israel. She has become without doubt the most powerful open antisemite in America today, and indeed the most powerful antisemite America has seen in decades.

The evidence of this is copious: Omar has claimed that Israel has “hypnotized the world” through its “evil doings,” called Israel a Jewish Iran, compared Israeli policies to Jim Crow segregation, and sought to travel to Israel under the sponsorship of an organization that disseminated the blood libel.

Most notorious, perhaps, is Omar’s “it’s all about the Benjamins” Twitter thread, in which she claimed AIPAC bribed Congress members to support Israel. She then asserted that supporting Israel is to hold allegiance to a foreign country, in effect calling 90% of American Jews traitors.

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It is long past time for a book-length study and polemic on Omar and the danger she represents, and Benjamin Weingarten’s American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party is the first attempt to do so. As such, it ought to be a welcome event. Unfortunately, however, the book is at best a qualified failure.

It is on firmest grounds when it outlines the emergence on the left of what has elsewhere been called “the red-green alliance” — i.e. a dangerous and deeply ironic alliance between the far-left, an ostensibly progressive force, and Islamism, a self-evidently reactionary movement.

“While these two schools of thought diverge in many areas,” Weingarten says, “they align when it comes to their chief objective: to impose totalitarian designs anathema to America’s founding principles and the Judeo-Christian values that underlie them.”

Essential to this alliance, Weingarten notes, is antisemitism, often in the guise of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel, and centered around the doctrine of “intersectionality,” according to which all forms of oppression are interlinked.

“Israel- and Jew-hatred is a key ingredient in the glue that holds the progressive-Islamist axis in the West together, an ‘intersectional’ alliance in which Rep. Omar sits at the center,” Weingarten says.

One regrets to say that here Weingarten misses an opportunity. While condemning it, he does not elucidate the essentially antisemitic nature of “intersectionality” as it exists today, in that it deliberately excludes Jewish suffering and liberation, and as such makes itself an apartheid ideology inherently based in racism. And given that this “intersectional antisemitism” identifies Jews and Zionism with the white supremacist power structure, which must be destroyed, it follows that the end of its terrible logic is that of the most virulent antisemitism: The Jews and Zionism must be destroyed. It demands, in effect, a sociopolitical genocide.

Weingarten misses another opportunity when he asserts, “Hatred of the Jewish state is indistinguishable from, and indeed a mask for, hatred of the Jewish people, and their values, which are foundational to Judeo-Christian Western values and Western civilization itself.”

First, Weingarten makes the capital mistake of the “mask theory,” i.e. that hatred of Israel simply conceals “traditional” or “classic” antisemitism. This is not the case: Hatred of Israel is not a “mask” for antisemitism, it is a new iteration of antisemitism itself. And this is because antisemites like Omar have made it so.

Second, an attack on the West is not per se an attack on the Jews — who are as much of the East as the West, especially in Israel. By trying to universalize the phenomenon of antisemitism, Weingarten in a sense dilutes the essential threat, which is to the Jews themselves.

However, Weingarten is right when he says, “The coddling of Rep. Omar represents an inflection point” for the Democratic Party. There is indeed a Corbynization of the Democrats underway, and this alone ought to give us all pause, as the history of modern democracies has, unfortunately, proven that antisemitism is often good politics.

Nonetheless, it is on this issue that the book becomes especially problematic: it is only half a brief against Omar, while the other half is an evisceration of the progressive movement and advocacy on behalf of conservative policies — interventionism, the free market, social traditionalism, etc. Depending on your opinion, this can be a good or bad thing, but it misses the point of what makes Omar’s mainstreaming of antisemitism so insidious.

And it is here, unfortunately, that Weingarten goes off the rails.

He spends an entire chapter, for example, blaming Barack Obama for, in effect, creating a “safe space” for the likes of Omar to emerge. There is a grain of truth in this, but in the end, Obama was obtuse, not antisemitic, when it came to progressive hostility toward Israel. It is clear that here Weingarten is pursuing a vendetta, not a reasoned argument.

This becomes even more apparent when Weingarten goes after the Muslim-American organizations connected to Omar, seeing them as the spearhead of an international campaign led by the Muslim Brotherhood to destroy Western civilization. Omar’s various alliances, he says, “imply ‘coordination.’ The implication alone is proof enough of the threat Rep. Omar poses to America.”

Unfortunately, implication is not proof of anything. Taken singly, these organizations are quite often reprehensible, particularly on the issues of antisemitism and Israel, but they are not all connected in a web of Islamist evil.

This becomes even more problematic when Weingarten begins to delve into the most scandalous accusation against Omar: that she committed immigration fraud by marrying her brother. There is nothing close to conclusive evidence of this, and the issue must strike one as dangerously reminiscent of the “Birther” conspiracy theories regarding Obama’s birthplace. It may warrant further investigation, but at the moment it seems that it may easily prove to be nonsense. This kind of scandal-mongering is all the more unfortunate because it is unnecessary. Ultimately, it is not what Omar has done in her past, but what she believes now, and what she may do now, that makes her so dangerous.

But the ultimate problem is that Weingarten’s thesis is unequivocally partisan: to him, both Omar and progressivism are “anti-American.” There is a case to made against Omar on this count, but progressivism, in and of itself, is not anti-American, and it does discuss important issues, such as excessive materialism, economic inequality, racial and sexual injustice, and others that conservatism often ignores. Progressivism per se is not evil. The problem is the specific manifestation of progressivism that Omar represents, and its descent into antisemitism and thus political evil. Only on this basis should it be opposed and arrested.

The best approach, then, is not to make an enemy of progressivism but to fight for a better progressivism. One that rejects antisemitism. To view progressivism as essentially and inevitably antisemitic and anti-American is as absurd as viewing conservatism as inherently racist and fascist. By demonizing one side of the political divide, Weingarten ensures no one on that side will ever listen to him, and as such impedes the fight against Omar and her antisemitism.

Because it is only in that antisemitism that Omar does represent a threat of considerable magnitude. She is self-evidently a serious threat to US Jews, but she is a serious threat to America itself only in the sense that civilizations, and especially democratic civilizations, cannot survive antisemitism. It inevitably leaves them backward and benighted, and often destroyed outright by their own hand. It is on this basis, and this basis alone, that Omar can and must be fought and defeated.

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