Democratic Surrender on Anti-Semitism
By Jonathan S. Tobin
March 8, 2019
It turns out you can accuse Jews of controlling the world,
buying Congress, and harboring dual loyalty to Israel and still be considered a
heroine by much of the Democratic party. The reaction to the latest example of
anti-Semitic invective from Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) is a teaching
moment for anyone previously unsure about how the toxic mix of identity
politics, intersectional ideology, and naked partisanship could lead to a major
American political party deciding that hatemongering from one of its members
wasn’t deserving even of a slap on the wrist.
A week’s worth of national discussion over Omar’s
anti-Semitic remarks didn’t result in her condemnation by the House. To the
contrary, the House majority revealed itself to be deeply divided on the
question of how to handle blatant anti-Semitism. The “compromise” Democrats
finally agreed upon was a resolution that not only lumped in the question of the
moment — the effort by one member of Congress to delegitimize Jews and
supporters of Israel — with a laundry list of other hatreds. And they failed
to single out Omar for her actions.
The result is an odd echo of those who criticized the Black
Lives Matter movement by claiming that “all lives mattered,” a stand that
was harshly criticized at the time by most liberals and Democrats as insensitive
to — if not evidence of — racial bigotry. It is a stance they appear to have
no shame echoing when it comes to anti-Semitism.
Indeed, Omar has emerged from this incident not only
unscathed but also confident that many in the House, and several Democratic
presidential candidates, consider her the aggrieved party in the discussion.
With so many Democrats agreeing that Omar had been unfairly singled out because
of her race and religion, that leaves Jews, one of the most loyal constituencies
of the Democratic party, pondering the speed with which they had been discarded.
Jews and supporters of Israel are not the only losers in
this incident. House speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear to Omar a month ago that
expressions of anti-Semitism would not be tolerated and forced the congresswoman
to issue a contrite apology claiming, as she had done after a previous
anti-Semitic statement, that she was unaware of the hurtful nature of singling
out Jews for demonization.
That this exercise was blatantly insincere was evident not
only from the wording of the apology but also because of Omar’s open support
of the BDS — boycott, divestment, sanctions — movement against Israel which
routinely traffics in anti-Semitism. Far from seeking a more open conversation
on the Middle East or the U.S.–Israel alliance, the goal of Omar and fellow
BDS supporter Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) is to isolate the one
Jewish state on the planet.
But after Omar’s more recent statement in which she
accused “Jewish colleagues” of seeking to discriminate against her and Tlaib
because they were Muslims and asking Americans “to swear allegiance” to
Israel, there will not be even an insincere apology. Instead, it was Pelosi who
backed down after the vote, lamely claiming again that Omar didn’t mean to be
anti-Semitic, as if the events of the last month that proved the contrary had
How is this possible?
Many on the left believe that as a woman of color, a
Muslim, and an immigrant, Omar cannot, by definition, be a purveyor of hate and
prejudice. One way that identity politics manifests is that those who are
considered oppressed receive immunity to do things that those considered more
privileged cannot do. Hence many Democrats, particularly members of the
Congressional Black Caucus, sought to defend Omar rather than to disavow her.
Just as important is the way intersectional theory —
which, taking its cues from critical-race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, seeks to
connect the struggle of all allegedly oppressed peoples — serves to legitimate
anti-Semitism. For many on the left, the Palestinian war to destroy Israel is
falsely linked to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Not only
does that cause them to ignore the complicated truth about the conflict in the
Middle East, it also justifies BDS campaigns and efforts to demonize those who
Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats have long accused
Republicans of trying to use their ardent support for Israel as a wedge issue
and thereby damaging bipartisan support for the Jewish state. What they failed
to realize is that much of their party no longer wants any part of that
consensus. Three of the party’s leading presidential candidates — Bernie
Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris — all issued statements in
support of Omar, even registering concern about her safety.
While Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats are hoping the
House resolution will end the controversy, one suspects that it is only the
beginning of the effort to chip away at support for Israel and to legitimate
anti-Jewish tropes in the process. Omar is now armed with the knowledge that she
has the support of a large portion of the Democratic party, and will likely
continue to snipe away at both Jewish members of Congress and AIPAC. The line
that used to exist between legitimate debate about the Middle East and
anti-Semitic invective has been blurred by this incident. It may yet disappear
if Democrats come to believe that there is no use trying to restrain radicals
who now feel empowered to slander Israel’s supporters with impunity. The Left
has served notice to Pelosi that they are in charge now, not her.
This may not hurt Democrats at the voting booths. But the
idea that Jews have a secure home in the Democratic party has been exposed as an
illusion. The Left hasn’t merely captured the Democratic party — it has