If Ilhan Omar’s apology last month—for tweeting “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to pro-Israel politicians in Congress—seemed underwhelming, well, at least it was an attempt at contrition.
The freshman representative from Minnesota has doubled (tripled?) down on her anti-Semitism, prompting criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans, but this time she’s not “listening and learning” but just “standing strong.” At a “Progressive Issues Town Hall” at a D.C. bookstore, Omar once again made charges of dual loyalty, an ancient anti-Semitic trope. “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she said. In preemptive defense, she added, “What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” referring to co-panelist Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
There are multiple bad-faith logical fallacies to break down there, including two in her first statement. Her invocation of “political influence” implies that, absent the nefarious machinations of a powerful minority pulling secret strings of power, the democratic consensus about what kind of relationship the United States should have with Israel would be different. Omar assumes that no person of good faith and reason could reach a position other than hers. Anyone who disagrees is either part of a conspiracy, on the take, or both.
Second, support of a close relationship with Israel is tantamount to “allegiance to a foreign country.” This is a standard that’s never applied to any other country with which the United States chooses to have relations. Omar has never alleged that Americans who support NATO owe allegiance to a foreign country, even though the North Atlantic Treaty obliges the American military to defend Estonia and no such obligation exists between the United States and Israel.
Having subjected the Jewish state and its defenders to scrutiny and malice reserved for no others, Omar projected bigotry onto her putative critics by saying “because Rashida and I are Muslim.” (Tlaib has been criticized for her association with America’s leading anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan.) Otherwise, goes her thinking, how could they possibly disapprove?
To sum up, Omar has suggested that her critics are conspiring to manipulate American foreign policy because 1) they’re loyal to Israel, and 2) are on the take from the Israel lobby, and 3) are Islamophobes. She couldn’t just choose one?
It’s not just wrong to slander Jewish Americans with conspiracy theories, or assume America’s interests can’t logically align with those of the Jewish state. It’s wrong to do that with any group—religious, ethnic, racial, national, or otherwise.
The Democratic Party leadership appeared ready to respond. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer unveiled a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on Monday in a clear rebuke to Omar. The draft of the resolution did not mention Omar by name, but specifically condemned the “myth of dual loyalty.”
The next day, House Democrats added language condemning anti-Muslim bias, largely in response to a poster from a Republican event at the West Virginia Statehouse that implied Omar was somehow related to the 9/11 hijackers. This was the Democrats’ way of saying there are bad people on both sides, which is true enough.
Picking up on this cue, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in defense of Omar.
One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico!” on the floor). https://t.co/MwrRN4v4DG
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 5, 2019
With that, the voice of the Democratic Party had spoken. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus requested more time to think over the resolution. As of Wednesday, the vote is delayed indefinitely. The Democrats have revolted against their leaders.
Republicans had a similar problem with Steve King. They let him fester in Congress for years, enduring a series of progressively more racist slurs and Klanish pronouncements. Finally, they stripped him of all of his committee assignments and cut him off from receiving campaign money from the party.
It was too little and too late. Ignoring King didn’t make him go away; views like King’s are becoming more mainstream in the Republican Party. It would have been better—and maybe even easier—for the Republicans to deal with King years ago, before the white-nationalist fringe was so powerful in the GOP.
That’s an easy lesson for Democrats, but one they are choosing to ignore.