Omar’s Anti-Semitism Wins the Pop Culture Primary
By Jonathan S.
May 9, 2019
you thought the turning point took place in February when the Democratic
majority caucus in the House of Representatives failed to name and rebuke Reps.
Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan for trafficking in
anti-Semitism. The ability of Omar to hold onto her seat on the House Foreign
Relations Committee and for her to remain the darling of the left wing of her
party, despite promoting the idea that Jewish supporters of Israel were disloyal
to America and that Jews were buying Congress with “Benjamins,” was a
shocking development in American politics.
the real victory for them didn’t take place on Capitol Hill. It happened on
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smears of Jews and of Israel have become mainstream fare, it’s not because of
anything Congress did or didn’t do. It’s because the late-night television
comedy circuit has embraced Ilhan Omar as a heroine who must be defended at all
costs. In doing so, the likes of Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah
have essentially put the popular-culture seal of approval on a figure who, in a
saner time in our political history, would be viewed with disdain rather than
admiration by the people who keep America laughing after prime time. That trendy
comedians who have an outsized influence in shaping the views of younger viewers
are holding her up as both a heroine and a victim may be doing far more damage
than anything the politicians have done.
humor on American television is nothing new. But a bipartisan approach to
politics on late-night TV is now as outdated as silent movies. The roster of
these programs is uniform in their liberal outlook, and the comedy at the
expense of the hosts’ conservative targets is generally as harsh as it is
self-consciously earnest and self-righteous.
of this has to do with the extreme antipathy for U.S. President Donald Trump in
the entertainment world with the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Meyers and Colbert on
the broadcast networks, and Noah on the just as influential “The Daily Show”
on the Comedy Network serving as the main cheerleaders for the “resistance.”
an era where everything in the media is bifurcated between either liberal or
conservative territory, there’s nothing surprising about this also applying to
television comedy. If the arbiters of pop culture are looking at the world
solely through the lens of their hatred for Trump, then it was inevitable that
they would treat someone who has been criticized by the president not merely
with kid gloves, but as someone to be admired and applauded.
exactly what has happened with Omar.
was actually introduced to the national scene by an appearance on “The Daily
Show” in 2017 before her election to Congress the next year. Host Trevor Noah
was almost reverential in his interview with her as he celebrated her status as
an immigrant and observant Muslim serving in the Minnesota State Legislature.
The point of building her up was, of course, to refute Trump’s attitudes on
immigration. But although the show’s staff of writers is well-known for doing
copious research to find something to embarrass politicians, they chose to
ignore her Twitter feed with anti-Semitic memes, as well as her support for the
anti-Semitic BDS movement.
since entering Congress with fellow young leftist Democratic rock stars Tlaib
and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the love affair between the telegenic Omar and
these comedians has escalated.
Omar and Tlaib engaged in open anti-Semitism earlier this year, there were no
jibes thrown in their direction from the roster of late-night hosts, let alone
the abuse they routinely hurl at Trump for any ill-considered remark. Instead,
they saved their bile for those who criticized her, especially the president,
who was accused of Islamophobia and for endangering her safety by calling her
out for hate.
spite of Omar’s refusal to apologize for her smears of Israel and its
supporters for dual loyalty, she was accorded a royal welcome last month on
Colbert’s show, where she was cheered during a fawning interview.
even more important, this week Meyers attacked Meghan McCain—daughter of the
late Sen. John McCain and co-host of ABC’s “The View”—for her criticism
of Omar during a confrontational interview on his show. Though McCain is a
popular figure in her own right, it was clear that by opposing Omar, she had
crossed a line that pop culture now regards as inviolate.
accusations against Omar’s critics are a useful way for her to dodge
charges of anti-Semitism and are rooted in a myth about a post-9/11 backlash
against Muslims in the United States, which essentially shifts the narrative
from concerns about Islamist extremism to false charges of Islamophobia. But in
castigating McCain, Meyers was helping to establish a new myth in which Omar is
a courageous truth-teller who is being targeted by the nefarious Israel lobby
and its conservative allies.
Meyers was lionizing Omar only days after she was on Twitter rationalizing Hamas
rocket attacks on Israel, killing four people, makes it even worse.
cares what comedians say about politics or even anti-Semitism? Well, everyone
should. At a point in our cultural history when polls tell us that late-night
comedy is the primary
source of news for large numbers of Americans, and especially the young, it
matters greatly that an open anti-Semite who condones terror should be treated
in this manner.
For some on the left, anti-Semitism is not a disqualifying factor if those who are guilty are in the forefront of opposing Trump. In this manner, anti-Semitism isn’t being merely given a pass; it’s actually being defended and legitimized on popular programs with broad audiences. If the late-night comedians are now OK with anti-Semitism (as long as it comes from a person of color who is an anti-Trump Muslim), then the cultural barriers against Jew-hatred that many of us assumed were still strong may really be collapsing.