Omar Knows Exactly What She is Doing
New York Times
March 7, 2019
an old joke about upper-class British anti-Semitism: It means someone who hates
Jews more than is strictly necessary. Ilhan Omar, the freshman representative
from Minnesota, more than meets the progressive American version of that
many self-described progressives, Omar does not like Israel. That’s a shame,
not least because Israel is the only country in its region that embraces the
sorts of values the Democratic Party claims to champion. When was the last time
there was a gay-pride parade in Ramallah, a women’s rights march in Gaza, or
an opposition press in Tehran? In what Middle Eastern country other than Israel
can an attorney general indict a popular and powerful prime minister on
America is a free country, and Omar is within her rights to think what she will
about Israel or any other state. Contrary to a self-serving myth among
Israel’s detractors, there’s rarely a social or reputational penalty for
publicly criticizing Israeli policies today. It’s ubiquitous on college
campuses and commonplace in editorial pages. And contrary to some recent
comments from Senator Elizabeth Warren, no serious person claims criticism of
Israel is ipso facto anti-Semitic. My last column called on Benjamin
Netanyahu to resign. Last I checked, the Anti-Defamation League has not
however, isn’t just a critic of Israel. As the joke has it, her objections to
the Jewish state go well beyond what’s strictly necessary.
has hypnotized the world,” she tweeted in 2012. “May Allah awaken the people
and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Last month, she wrote that U.S.
support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby.” A few weeks after
that, she told an audience in D.C. that “I want to talk about the political
influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a
foreign country.” Confronted with criticism about the remark from her fellow
Democrat Nita Lowey, she replied: “I should not be expected to have
allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in
Congress or serve on committee.”
intense pressure, Omar recanted those first two tweets. But she’s standing her
ground on her more recent comments. It’s a case study in the ease with which
strident criticism of Israel shades into anti-Semitism.
those who don’t get it, claims that Israel “hypnotizes” the world, or that
it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters
“push for allegiance to a foreign country,” repackage falsehoods commonly used
against Jews for centuries. People can debate the case for Israel on the merits,
but those who support the state should not have to face allegations that their sympathies
have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.
also a case study in the insidious cunning and latent power of anti-Jewish
bigotry— proof that anti-Semitism is not, after all, merely the socialism of
fools. Omar, I suspect, knows exactly what she is doing. She pleads ignorance
when it suits her, saying she was unaware that her references to hypnosis and
“Benjamins” might be considered offensive. Or she wraps herself in the flag,
sounding almost like Pat Buchanan when he called Congress “Israeli-occupied” territory.
Or she invokes free speech, telling Lowey “our democracy is built on debate”
— as if the debate she wants to force is as innocuous as a dispute over a
the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like
the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The
secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception
that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies. Just
which powers-that-be are orchestrating thatcampaign? Why are they afraid
of open debate? And what about all the bigotry on their side?
goal is not to win the argument, at least not anytime soon. Yet merely by
refusing to fold, Omar stands to shift the range of acceptable discussion —
the so-called Overton window — sharply in her direction. Ideas once thought of
as intellectually uncouth and morally repulsive have suddenly become merely
controversial. It’s how anti-Zionism has abruptly become an acceptable point
of view in reputable circles. It’s why anti-Semitism is just outside the
frame, bidding to get in.
Democrats are now wrangling over the text of a resolution that was initially
intended as a condemnation of anti-Semitism, with Omar as its implicit target.
At this writing it is mired in predictable
controversy, as members of the party’s progressive wing and black caucus
rally to Omar’s side in the first open challenge to House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi’s leadership. In the Senate, the presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris,
Bernie Sanders and Warren have weighed in with statements that painted Omar as a
victim of Islamophobia — which she is — without mentioning that she’s also
a purveyor of anti-Semitic bigotry — which she surely is as well.
says something about the progressive movement today that it has no trouble
denouncing Republican racism, real and alleged, every day of the week but has so
much trouble calling out a naked anti-Semite in its own ranks. This is how
progressivism becomes Corbynism. It’s how the left finds its own path toward
legitimizing hate. It’s how self-declared anti-fascists develop their own
forms of fascism.
Pelosi can’t muster a powerful and unequivocal resolution condemning
anti-Semitism, then Omar will have secured her political future and won a
critical battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. At that point, the days
when American Jews can live comfortably within the Democratic fold will be