It was bad enough when Rep. Ilhan Omar was just tweeting out anti-Semitic tropes and issuing half-hearted non-apologies. But she’s found a way to go beyond those offenses. At a recent event for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she described the terrorist hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks as “some people who did something.”
For those of us who would like to see better relations between American Muslims and the broader public, it is hard to imagine a worse way to describe the attacks.
Omar was once a refugee, saved by our country’s generosity and offered more freedom and opportunity than she could enjoy anywhere else in the world. Today she sits in Congress, and she chooses to use the influence she’s gained to spread misinformation and minimize the devastation of the terror attacks. (Her full comments were that “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties”; CAIR was founded in 1994.)
In 2016, I founded an organization, Freedom to Believe, to help bridge the growing divide between the Republican Party and the American Muslim community. I have seen firsthand the very real and very ugly Islamophobia on the far right. And I have watched in disgust over the past few years as President Trump and some of his most zealous supporters excused or embraced anti-Semitism. As a gay Republican, I’m particularly troubled by this trend. The Venn diagram of anti-Semites and homophobes is practically a circle. It will take decades to heal the wounds President Trump has created—which is a reminder of why we cannot give an inch on hate speech. We know where it leads.
After Democrats regained control of the House, I hoped the country might start to reclaim some of its moral leadership. Voters elected two Muslim women to the House, a first in our nation’s history. But now, less than five months into Democrats’ control, we see a moral failure on the left to condemn hateful remarks. Omar is becoming the most visible anti-Semite in the country, attacking American Jews with sweeping accusations and revealing a long and miserable pattern of anti-Semitic speech and behavior.
Could Omar have said worse things about Jews? Yes. Have other representatives—Republican Steve King comes to mind—said terrible things? Absolutely. But that does not excuse her behavior.
Omar hasn’t just criticized Israel or America’s foreign policy. She, alongside the staff she employs, have immersed themselves in conspiratorial, extreme left-wing, anti-Semitic content in the same vein as infamous anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan. These latest comments about 9/11 reveal a dangerous insensitivity to the struggle all Americans face from radical Islamic terror—especially Muslims, who are the most victimized by these same radicals.
As a society, we do not, and should not, countenance hateful comments or behaviors, whether explicit or merely suggestive, malicious or negligent. Words have consequences. Only a few months ago, a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh—the deadliest attack on Jewish people in the U.S. to date. He obsessed over the synagogue’s local participation in supporting refugee resettlement.
When Omar speaks, people listen. She’s not learning from her mistakes, and at some point, we have to assume she has no desire to do so.
After Steve King made offensive comments, House Republican leadership eventually removed him from committee assignments. He now faces a serious primary challenge in Iowa. On the other side of the aisle, Omar has not suffered any consequences. She is still on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a serious primary challenger has not materialized.
Once again, Omar has gone too far—and Speaker Pelosi has a moral imperative to act. She ought to remove Omar from any of her committee assignments and recruit a primary challenger in her district.
Democrats returned to power in part because suburban voters saw Republicans catering to extremist voices. Democrats’ handling of Omar does not inspire confidence they will hold their own fringe element in check. They need to be unequivocal in denouncing the creeping anti-Semitism and anti-American rhetoric on the left.