President Donald Trump called the Democratic Party “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” following a House vote last week on a resolution broadly condemning hatred rather than specifically condemning an anti-Semitic challenge to the loyalty of Israel supporters by Ilhan Omar, the freshman Muslim Democrat congresswoman from Minnesota.
“I thought yesterday’s vote by the House was disgraceful,” Trump said. “I thought that vote was a disgrace, and so does everybody else if you get an honest answer.”
Trump, who spoke to reporters as he left the White House en route to Alabama to view tornado damage, said that the tolerance for Omar’s comment revealed a disturbing change in Democrat attitudes.
“The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party,” Trump said. “They’ve become an anti-Jewish party, and that’s too bad.”
Trump’s comments came a day after a 407-to-23 vote on a resolution in response to Omar’s comment that she wanted to “talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” by which she clearly meant Israel. All 23 votes against the measure came from Republicans who said that they would not cooperate with Democrat attempts to pass a resolution that effectively whitewashed Omar’s anti-Semitic dual loyalty slur against all American supporters of Israel instead of explicitly condemning them.
TRUMP SAYS DEMOCRATS HATE THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Trump repeated his accusation that night in a speech at a dinner for Republican donors at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Trump said, “The Democrats hate Jewish people,” and that he didn’t understand how any Jew could vote for a Democrat these days.
Trump boasted about how much he has already done for Israel by recognizing Yerushalayim as its capital and moving the US embassy to the city. He also claimed that if he could run in next month’s election to become prime minister of Israel, he’d would currently be at 98 percent in the Israeli opinion polls.
Omar’s supporters staged a revolt against the leadership of the House Democrat caucus, demanding that the bill be revised to criticize anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims in equal measure. At the end, they also added a laundry list of other minority and identity groups which are allegedly targeted for discrimination, almost totally obscuring the measure’s original purpose, which was condemning Omar’s latest anti-Semitic remark. Neither the original nor the final text of the bill mentioned Omar by name or her specific offending comments.
The original resolution had been demanded by Jewish Democrat congressmen who insisted that Omar’s accusation of “dual loyalty” for their support of Israel be explicitly denounced. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi removed direct references to Omar and her statement before releasing the original version of the bill. She hoped that would avoid stirring up a revolt among Omar’s progressive supporters in the House Democrat caucus, led by her ally, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), better known in the media as AOC.
PELOSI LOSES CONTROL TO AOC
But Omar’s allies in the House refused to stand for any implication in the resolution that it had been inspired by and intended to condemn Omar’s classic anti-Semitic accusation. Instead, Omar’s supporters insisted that the resolution be watered down to the point that its original purpose was buried under a long list of other groups alleged to be victims of prejudice in American society, as well as the inclusion of a general condemnation of all forms of hate.
Omar’s defenders ignored or sought to excuse the anti-Semitism of her comment and argued that she should not be punished, because of an anti-Muslim poster in the West Virginia Capitol which depicted her as the perpetrator of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. They also claimed that condemning Omar would stifle “legitimate” criticisms of Israel while simultaneously demonizing the only woman in Congress who wears a hijab.
The utter toothlessness of the final resolution is demonstrated by the fact that Omar actually voted for it and celebrated its passage by the House as a major political achievement. Now that she knows that progressive activists have effective control over House Democrats, making her immune to their efforts to discipline her, she will be emboldened to continue and extend her attacks on Israel and its supporters.
Omar’s dual loyalty slur grew out of a debate with veteran Democrat Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Referring to some of Omar’s previous attack on Israel’s supporters, Lowey said, “I am saddened that Representative Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel.”
Omar was traveling in Africa at the time, but she refused to let the criticism go by and immediately fired off tweets to Lowy in response.
“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country,” Omar tweeted.
The “allegiance to a foreign country” comment was seen as Omar’s most explicit attack yet on American Jews and other supporters of Israel.
California Democrat Congressman Juan Vargas tweeted that Omar perpetuated “hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes.” Vargas was then immediately attacked by Ocasio-Cortez with a trio of tweets berating him for his unwavering loyalty to Israel.
DEMOCRAT DIVISIONS OVER ISRAEL EXPOSED
This launched a flurry of messages from Democrats condemning and defending Omar, there for all to see on Twitter. It made the bitter internal Democrat dispute over continued US support for Israel painfully obvious, and frustrated attempts by Pelosi to camouflage the growing tolerance for Omar’s outspoken anti-Semitism within the progressive wing of her party. The result was a heavily modified resolution that ultimately satisfied neither side, and exposed Pelosi’s inability to create even the semblance of a unified party stance on the explosive issue.
The final text of the modified resolution still does refer indirectly to Omar’s slur against the loyalty of American Jews, says that “accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious and pernicious history” and “constitutes anti-Semitism because it suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors.” But it neutralizes the criticism of Omar’s deliberate and hateful slur by giving equal emphasis to condemning anti-Muslim bigotry “as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States.” The wording suggests that Omar’s attacks on American Jews be excused because she has also been a victim of discrimination. The criticism of Omar in the Democrat resolution was watered down even further by the last-minute inclusion of almost every imaginable class of victims of discrimination.
By the time the seven-page resolution came up for a final vote on the House floor, Democrats voted for it unanimously because no “traditionally persecuted” liberal special interest or racial group had been left unmentioned, “including African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, other people of color … Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs … immigrants, others.” Last, but obviously least, the final wording of the Democrat resolution also mentioned victimized American Jews, including the 11 who died in the shooting attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.
ANTI-SEMITISM GOES MAINSTREAM
Despite the claims of party leaders to the contrary, the painful message conveyed by the process of watering down the resolution was apparent even to liberal or anti-Trump Jewish Democrat activists and writers, such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and favorite Obama interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. They understood that it meant implicit Democrat acceptance of classic anti-Semitism into contemporary American political discourse.
Speaker Pelosi sought to downplay the significance of the refusal of the House Democrat caucus to condemn Omar for her hateful rhetoric. “It’s not about her,” Pelosi said at a news conference following the House vote. “It’s about [condemning all] these forms of hatred.”
She also suggested that Omar did not really mean what she had said. “I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words. I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude.”
Pelosi implied that Omar is too young and inexperienced to understand the rules of the American political game, but that is simply not true.
OMAR IS NOT THE NOVICE DEFENDERS CLAIM HER TO BE
Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia and spent four years living in a refugee camp with her family before they came to the US more than 20 years ago. Now 37, she has been active politically in this country since she was 14 years old, acting as an English translator for her grandfather when he attended American political meetings. After studying political science at a college in North Dakota, she became a professional political operative in 2013 by managing the successful campaign of Andrew Johnson for a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. She served as his senior policy aide for the next two years before running and winning a seat in the Minnesota state legislature. For the next two legislative sessions, Omar served as the assistant minority leader for the Democratic-Farm-Labor Party in the Minnesota House of Representatives and was involved in the drafting of at least 266 pieces of legislation.
Ilhan Omer is no political rookie, and Steve Draskowski, one of her Republican opponents in the Minnesota House, says she got her hands dirty in the process of climbing the political ladder. He accused her of using more than $2,000 in campaign funds for her state house seat to pay her divorce lawyer, claiming that they were used to cover campaign legal expenses, and using $3,000 from her campaign to finance her personal travel to Estonia and Boston.
Her response was to deny the charges and accuse Draskowski of trying to harass her because she is a Muslim. When an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called for Omar to be more transparent in the use of her campaign funds, she said, “these people are part of systems that have historically been disturbingly motivated to silence, discredit and dehumanize influencers who threaten the establishment.”
Her recent political history reveals that whenever her public integrity is challenged, Omar has a habit of hiding behind her Muslim faith and excusing her misdeeds by claiming to be a victim of Islamophobia, as she is doing now.
OMAR KNOWS WHAT SHE IS DOING
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens insists that Omar understands 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.”
Stephens notes that Omar is skilled at making herself “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.”
He also believes that Omar does not expect to win her argument about the evils of Zionism any time soon. Her immediate goal is to nudge the terms of the public debate in that direction.
Omar and other Muslim activists have already made anti-Zionism “an acceptable point of view in reputable circles” around Europe, and increasingly on American college campuses and other liberal strongholds. Their next step is to make outright anti-Semitism equally palatable, as Jeremy Corbyn has been doing within England’s Labour Party.
Omar’s election as one of the first two Islamic women to be elected to Congress was initially hailed by Democrats as a historic step forward for the diversification of the nation’s political leadership. But her provocative statements and actions since taking her seat in Congress in January have turned Omar into a lightning rod for criticism, rather than the model of a young hard-working congresswoman that many in her Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis hoped she would become.
Because she is a close ally of AOC and the progressive activists who have effectively taken over the Democrat party, the efforts by Speaker Pelosi to keep the brash freshman congresswoman in line have failed, embarrassing Pelosi and weakening her authority over her Democrat caucus.
POLLS SHOW DEMOCRATS TURNING AGAINST ISRAEL
Omar’s hatred of Israel is not an isolated phenomenon among young Democrats today. There is statistical evidence to support Trump’s conclusion that the growth of Democrat hostility towards Israel and its supporters extends throughout the grassroots of the party.
A Pew Research poll taken in January 2018 to measure American attitudes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict found that Democrat sympathies have shifted away from Israel and are now evenly split between the two sides, while Republicans still sympathize with Israel over Palestinians by an overwhelming margin of 73 points.
An Economist/YouGov poll taken in September 2018 found that just 37 percent of Americans view Israel as “an ally,” compared to 47 percent in 2015. The erosion of support for Israel was greatest among Democrats and younger Americans, ages 18-29. Just 25 percent of both groups described Israel as “an ally.”
Trump’s condemnation of the shift in Democrat attitudes against Israel prompted rebukes from several senior Jewish and non-Jewish Democrats who have long been vocal supporters of Israel. Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, issued a statement declaring, “We are appalled, but not surprised, that President Trump has once again demonstrated dishonesty, hypocrisy, and willingness to use anti-Semitism and Israel as a political football.
“We only wish the president had learned from this resolution, which defines anti-Semitism to include anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories that he has repeatedly invoked himself. The president’s own words have fueled the fire of intolerance and targeting of Jews, and Republicans have failed to condemn the president’s remarks in the same way that Democrats were quick to rebuke Representative Omar.”
JEWISH DEMOCRATS IN SHOCK
But other Jewish Democrats in Congress did express their belief that allowing Omar’s anti-Semitic slurs to escape direct criticism set a dangerous precedent for all American Jews.
Just before the vote on the generally worded resolution, Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida acknowledged that, “There is too much hatred, too many other people who are targeted, and we need to support all of them. But we are having this debate because of the language of one of our colleagues; language that suggests Jews like me who serve in the United States in Congress and whose father earned a Purple Heart fighting the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, that we are not loyal Americans. Why are we unable to singularly condemn anti-Semitism? Why can’t we call out anti-Semitism and show we’ve learned the lessons of history?”
Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey was willing to accept the initial wording of the resolution, even though it did not mention Omar by name, because it specifically condemned anti-Semitism and the notion that supporters of Israel have a “dual loyalty” that throws their patriotism into question.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “it was also clear from the discussions this week, and in the ultimate resolution. that many people treat anti-Semitism differently than other forms of bigotry and hatred.
Other prominent Jewish Democrat members of the House who publicly protested against Omar’s remarks included New York’s Elliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He wrote, “Anti-Semitism in any form is unacceptable, and it’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’ I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we can debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks. Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.”
REPUBLICANS ENJOY DEMOCRAT EMBARRASSMENT
Republicans mocked the Democrats for their internal struggles to find an appropriate response to Omar’s provocative rhetoric. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Apparently within the Speaker’s new far-left Democratic majority, even a symbolic resolution condemning anti-Semitism seems to be a bridge too far.”
Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) ridiculed the length of the resolution, which symbolized the Democrats’ moral confusion in trying to satisfy the victimization fantasies of all the party’s factions and identity groups.
“How long does it take to figure out, just don’t hate? How many pages does it take to cite ill and evil? Evil is evil,” Collins said.
The 23 Republicans who voted against the resolution included Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York and Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the GOP conference chairwoman. They said the resolution should have been narrowly focused on condemning Omar’s anti-Semitism. Congressman Peter King of New York and others objected to language in the resolution which accused local law enforcement officers of profiling, and Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama facetiously objected to the refusal by the resolution’s drafters “to similarly condemn discrimination against Caucasian Americans and Christians.”
In an interview, Congresswoman Cheney said the resolution was “clearly an effort to actually protect Ilhan Omar, to cover up her bigotry and anti-Semitism by refusing to name her.
“They are protecting her by failing to put a resolution on the floor that names her and strips her of her committee assignment. Instead, they put a resolution on the floor which she then went out and said, ‘This is a tremendous victory for me,'” Cheney said.
Democrat Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who was one of the resolution’s lead sponsors, praised it as the most powerful anti-Semitism resolution “in the history of the United States Congress” and warned that history “is going to judge [Republicans] very harshly” for voting against it.
In an interview, Raskin dismissed Trump’s observation that Democrats have turned anti-Israel and anti-Jewish as “obviously absurd.” He then added, “The president is lucky that he escaped being named [as a hate monger] in that resolution.”
DEMOCRAT PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS DEFEND OMAR
Four senators who have announced their bids for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination issued separate statements defending Omar as a victim of persecution by the pro-Israel lobby, while claiming that they were denouncing anti-Semitism.
Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish, said Americans mustn’t “equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.” He called for an “even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together. What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
Kamala Harris of California said the attacks on Omar “may put her at risk” and instead called for a respectful policy debate. “You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called for “an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy,” with room for criticizing Israel. “Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Threats of violence, like those made against Representative Omar [in the West Virginia poster]. are never acceptable,” Warren said.
Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, decried the “hypocrisy of the Republican Party,” for condemning Omar while saying “little or nothing when President Trump defended white supremacists at Charlottesville.”
But mindful of her Jewish supporters back in New York, Gillibrand also said that Omar and others “should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is also running for the 2020 presidential nomination, tried to emulate Pelosi in issuing a careful statement that avoided mentioning Omar by name and neither offended nor gratified anyone.
She said that “members of Congress can have legitimate policy debates about Israel, but there is no place in Congress or our country for anti-Semitic language, just as there is no place for anti-Muslim language and threats of violence.”
MCCAIN’S DAUGHTER EXPRESSES OUTRAGE
Omar’s accusation that those who support Israel are disloyal to America sparked an emotional reaction from Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late Republican Senator John McCain, who had been one of Israel’s most outspoken supporters in the Senate before he died last August from brain cancer. McCain, who is usually critical of President Trump, co-hosts a popular media program with other female Trump bashers.
Meghan McCain surprised her co-hosts and audience by bitterly condemning House Democrats for passing a watered-down resolution that failed to condemn Omar’s anti-Semitic dual loyalty remark.
“The problem is, right now, there’s pressure to support [Omar] within the Democratic Party because identity politics and intersectionality is something that is important to Democrats,” McCain said.
“With the rise of anti-Semitism in this country, is it more important to defend party politics or is it more important to [object to] anti-Semitism? If what Ilhan Omar was saying for the past few weeks were said by a white Republican male, how would you be reacting to it right now?” she asked the largely liberal audience.
Apologizing for getting, McCain said, “I take this very personally … I would go so far as to say I probably verge on being a Zionist as well.” She then added in a cracking voice, “I take the hate crimes raising in this country incredibly seriously and I think what’s happening in Europe is really scary.”
OMAR BETRAYS HER JEWISH VOTERS
Another fatal flaw in Democrat attempts to defend Omar’s anti-Semitic provocations is to claim that she doesn’t understand the sensitivity of Jewish feelings when someone employs the rhetoric which was used for centuries in Europe to justify anti-Semitic persecution.
That claim is not credible, because Omar played an active role for seven years in the politics of Minneapolis, with an active Jewish community of 40,000 people. Omar represented a district with Jewish neighborhoods in the state legislature for two years before coming to Washington to represent the entire city and its nearby suburbs, including the Jewish population center in St. Louis Park.
Her anti-Semitic statements began long before she came to Washington. At the beginning of her political career, in 2012, she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may A-llah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Omar later apologized for the statement and deleted it.
Omar’s dual loyalty slur did little to smooth her already strained relations with the local Jewish community, which makes up a sizable voting bloc in her congressional district.
Avi Olitzky, the spiritual leader of the Conservative Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, said Omar’s statements and behavior represent an “attack against the Jewish community with words, with tropes, and with imagery and language.
“Our Jewish community expects more from our members of Congress,” he said. “We expect sensitivity and an acceptance of responsibility.”
OMAR’S EARLIER ATTACK ON AIPAC
Trump had also criticized Omar for a remark about AIPAC she made in February which also had clear anti-Semitic connotations. Trump’s response was that, “Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress, and I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Vice President Mike Pence also said that Omar should be stripped of her committee assignment by the House Democrat leadership. But after Omar, under pressure, issued an apology, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that she would not lose her seat on the Foreign Affairs committee.
However, President Trump was unconvinced of her sincerity. He called her apology “lame” and said the anti-Semitic sentiment conveyed by Omar’s original comment was “deep seated in her heart.”
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, “I think she should be ashamed of herself.” When they asked him how Omar could repair the damage, Trump said, “She knows what to say.”
She claimed that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, pays politicians to support Israel.
Omar’s accusation came in a Twitter reaction to a statement by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was instrumental in publishing some of the classified documents that were stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden, who is now living in exile in Russia.
Greenwald wrote, “It’s stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
“ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS”
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar replied, using a slang term for $100 bills, which feature a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. When an editor from The Forward asked who Omar “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” she replied, “AIPAC!”
Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, decried the statement as factually incorrect, since AIPAC is not a political action committee. It is a registered pro-Israel lobby, and does not make any political contributions. Pelosi demanded that Omar undo the harm of her accusation and publicly “reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
Omar responded the next day by issuing a tweet which began by saying, “I unequivocally apologize.” However, she immediately undermined that apology by repeating the substance of her original statement. She declared, “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil-fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”
Just two weeks later, Omar walked back her earlier apology, and insisted that her original accusation that contributions from rich American Jews are having an undue influence on American policy towards Israel was right all along.
In a podcast released on February 28 by the left-wing Intercept website, Omar was asked if she had apologized for “a badly worded tweet … or was it for being anti-Semitic, wittingly or unwittingly?” She answered that she only “apologized for the way that my words made people feel,” not the substance of her accusation. She then complained, “There were people who were actually condemning me for speaking the truth about the kind of influences that exist, that determine our foreign and domestic policies.”
ENDORSING A MYTHICAL JEWISH CONSPIRACY THEORY
Many Jewish Democrats were outraged by Omar’s casual endorsement of the fallacious anti-Semitic claim that Jews run the world through a global conspiracy of cash and power, and that support for Israel is the latest manifestation of this mythical Jewish plot.
Max Rose, a freshman Democrat congressman from Staten Island, tweeted that Omar’s statements were “deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself.”
Dan Shapiro, who served as President Obama’s ambassador to Israel, called her comments “outrageous.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, urged Democratic leaders to condemn Omar: “The House of Representatives must not tolerate any bigotry against any community in our nation,” he said.
A number of prominent Republicans also criticized her comments, including the former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Omar’s liberal defenders, such as Ashley Feinberg, a writer for The Huffington Post, insisted that, “Accurately describing how the Israel lobby works is not anti-Semitism.” For a while, Omar used such comments to try to silence those still outraged by her unfair accusation against AIPAC.
Eventually Omar was pressured by her Democrat colleagues into issuing a statement declaring that, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for my Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” But her contrition lasted only a few weeks.
THE NEW FACE OF ANTI-SEMITISM
There had been some concern that Omar’s February “Benjamins” comment was another warning signal that support for Israel was waning among Democrats. The deterioration had begun during the Obama administration, and accelerated when Netanyahu publicly lobbied Congress to reject the Iran nuclear agreement.
Netanyahu quickly mended his fences when Trump took over the White House, but the bitter Democrat hatred for Trump made the problem worse, by turning support for Israel into a partisan issue. Still, nobody expected that the Democrat progressive base would quickly spring to the defense of a little-known freshman Muslim congresswoman when she openly challenged the loyalty of every American Jew who supports Israel.
In less than a month, Omar has made herself the face of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment on the American left and right. One of her admirers is David Duke, the notorious white supremacist and a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Defending her from criticism in response to her “Benjamins” comment, Duke tweeted, “So, let us get this straight. It is ‘Anti-Semitism’ to point out that the most powerful political moneybags in American politics are Zionists who put another nation’s interest [Israel’s] over that of America?”
The obvious anti-Semitic undertones in Omar’s comment were an embarrassment to liberal Jewish activist groups, such as J Street, which share her criticism of Israeli government settlement policies in the West Bank, and which advocate for a two-state solution on Palestinian terms.
J Street felt obliged to explain its continued support for Omar despite her incendiary attack on AIPAC. The group issued a statement which said, “J Street is dismayed and frustrated by the ongoing war of words … This pattern of overheated, ill-considered, and reductive attacks … has failed to address these issues with the nuance, sensitivity, and seriousness that they deserve.”
OMAR SUPPORT PUTS J STREET ON THE DEFENSIVE
The founder and president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has himself been criticized for justifying the phrase “Israel firster,” which is a favorite of rabid anti-Semites like David Duke, to connote the disloyalty of Jewish Americans to the United States. Writing in The Atlantic, liberal Jewish columnist Jeffrey Goldberg quotes Ben-Ami as saying that he has no problem with the phrase because, “If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question.” The J Street leader also cautioned that other Jewish groups “should tread lightly” when accusing critics of Israel of anti-Semitism. “Because when they do need to use that word, people won’t take you seriously.”
Ben-Ami also charges that Republicans “have set out to drive a wedge between the progressive and more centrist wings of the Democratic Party, focusing in particular on people of color, women, and, most cynically, the two newly elected Muslim women in Congress.”
However, Ben-Ami was so stung by the criticism from Goldberg that he issued a “clarification” of his comments on the phrase “Israel Firster” to the Washington Post. The J Street president said he now “agrees” that the phrase “is a bad choice of words,” but only because it lends confirmation to the notorious anti-Semitic “conspiracy theory” that American Jews suffer from a “dual loyalty. . . [which] must be refuted in the strongest possible way.”
Goldberg generously attributes Ben-Ami’s original tolerance for the Israel Firster phrase to ignorance rather than bias. He also notes that emotional arguments over its negative connotations only serve to distract from the serious debate that is needed over what joint American and Israeli policies should be in light of the multiple current threats to peace in the Middle East.
On the latter point, Goldberg and Ben-Ami seem to be in agreement. Ben-Ami writes, “A healthy national debate over Israel and Palestine should welcome a wide variety of views and perspectives, and it should be possible to criticize Israeli actions without being dismissed as an anti-Semite, or to promote American support of Israel without being accused of buying influence. When the debate descends into an exchange of charges of anti-Semitism, you can be sure we’re not teeing up a reasoned discussion about the shape of American policy.”