There’s a major controversy brewing among various Democratic Party factions within the US Congress regarding freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar having communicated with what would be considered Antisemitic tropes (canards) that permeated whatever legitimate criticisms she voiced regarding Israeli politics. After all, even within Israel, complaining about politics is a common past-time.
But there are certain themes (tropes or canards) when used towards a minority group, engender a lot of hurt feelings and genuinely cause harm. For example, painting one’s face black could start off being a White person’s idea of fun on Halloween without any racist intent until he/she learns that this would represent a form of racism towards our African-American brothers and sisters because of what this practice means to them. This act mimics the old minstrel shows from the mid to late nineteenth century where white actors would routinely use black grease paint on their faces to depict plantation slaves and free blacks on stage where they were portrayed as inferior in every way.
Antisemitic tropes /canards have this same effect on our Jewish brothers and sisters because of their history.
As per Wikipedia, here are a couple of frequently used Antisemitic tropes:
“A canard found in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but dating to before that document, is that Jews are more loyal to world Jewry than to their own country. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, this canard has taken the form of accusations that Jewish citizens of countries such as the United States are more loyal to Israel than to their country of residence.”
“The Anti Defamation League documented various antisemitic canards concerning Jews and banking, including the myth that world banking is dominated by the Rothschild family, that Jews control Wall Street, and that Jews control the United States Federal Reserve.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali American immigrant who is Muslim, resorted to both of the above Antisemitic tropes in 3-4 commentaries/ tweets/ that have been publicly shared going back to 2012. She’s old enough to know better and to have educated herself regarding the frequent stereotypes used against those of the Jewish faith to engender negative feelings against them. I suspect that she grew up in a community where this misguided thinking was shared without her being aware of how negatively these words would land on her Jewish brothers and sisters. She does not have clean hands in her usage of certain stereotypes, like US groups (AIPAC) favoring the State of Israel being all about the Benjamins; and how too many Americans’ owe their primary allegiance to the State of Israel. She needs to take the time to learn these basics, and then yes, if she continues down this path, she needs to face stiff consequences.
The Democratic Party Leaders have no choice but to draw a hard line that there’s zero tolerance for Antisemitism in the ranks, end of story.
It should be pointed out that Rep. Omar has been highly critical of the actions and policies of Saudi Arabia whereas, the republican President Donald Trump has been an apologist.
For the past couple of days, Democratic Leadership in the US Congress have been debating among themselves as to how to address this issue of Rep. Omar’s recent usage of Antisemitic tropes on about 3 occasions. Some thoughts include possibly drafting a resolution condemning Antisemitism within the ranks which could include a censure of Rep. Omar, who herself has been the recent victim of Islamophobia; and/ or for drafting a resolution condemning both forms of Xenophobia.
In addition, there’s definitely a divide within the older Democratic Party members and the younger progressives as to how they view this controversy. For me, being critical of Israel and its leader PM Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t equal being anti-Semitic, no more than many Americans voicing displeasure with President Donald Trump equals being unpatriotic.
As per a recent VOX report, “Her defenders argue she’s being attacked unfaily as a Muslim woman of color who dares to criticize Israel, pointing out that anti-Semitism on the right doesn’t get nearly this much attention.”
“Nor, they argue, does Islamophobia get taken as seriously: Just this week, Republicans in the West Virginia Legislature put up a viciously Islamophobic poster connecting Omar to the 9/11 hijackers, without nearly as much fanfare as Omar’s comparatively tame comments. This backlash, particularly from progressive members of Congress, appears to have caused Democrats to delay the vote on the anti-Semitism resolution — and potentially rewrite its text entirely.”
Still, it’s important to point out that Antisemitism from the left ends up being a gift to the right. It waters down the message that Democrats wish to share with the public which is one of a welcoming embrace of diversity. Whataboutism doesn’t work for Democrats.
I’m convinced that Rep. Omar’s GOP detractors have targeted her for destruction vs. correction.
While the Democratic Party leadership may decide to take constructive corrective measures towards US Congressional members as in Rep’ Omar’s case, when necessary, I’m asking that they also reach out to provide protection to their freshmen US Congressional rising stars including her. Please don’t let GOP lawmakers get away with relentlessly attacking their character without Democrats returning fire. These young elected officials need some room to self-correct, blossom and to make a difference.
We don’t need to witness a repeat of history where GOP elected officials and those with too much political power hounded Hillary Clinton with constant attacks for over 4 decades with a lot of fake news, conspiracy theories, gossip and worse.
Let’s be clear, President Trump’s major focus of his 2016 campaign was to inflame the anti-immigration impulses by many Americans, which ended up catapulting him into the White House. This was no accident.
The problem with this tactic is the reality that those who are anti-immigration zealots are also very likely to be racists and anti-Semitics. In the US culture, you can add being anti-Muslim (Xenophobia) to this the formula.
While Rep. Omar does not have clean hands, her GOP counterparts have their hands steeped in filth up to their armpits.
Here’s the rest of the story…
On February 11, 2019, Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times penned the following opinion piece, “Ilhan Omar’s Very Bad Tweets”
“Last October, after a crude mail bomb was found in George Soros’s mailbox, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican (and) House minority leader, tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to buy this election!” The tweet, since deleted, was referring to Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, both of them, like Soros, Jews who are often the object of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Speaking on CNN, Steyer, who had also been sent a mail bomb, described McCarthy’s tweet as a “straight-up anti-Semitic move.”
“So it was a bit rich when, last week, McCarthy posed as the indignant defender of the Jewish people, threatening to force congressional action against two freshman Democratic representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, for their criticism of Israel.”
“It would have been easy enough for either Omar or Tlaib to point out McCarthy’s cynical hypocrisy. Instead, Omar responded with a blithely incendiary tweet quoting Puff Daddy’s ode to the power of money: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” When an editor at The Forward, a Jewish publication, asked who Omar thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, she responded, “Aipac!,” meaning the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the United States’ most prominent pro-Israel lobby.”
“Consciously or not, Omar invoked a poisonous anti-Semitic narrative about Jews using their money to manipulate global affairs. This came just weeks after she’d had to apologize for a 2012 tweet in which she said that Israel had “hypnotized” the world, phrasing that also recalled old canards about occult Jewish power. Her words were a gift to Republicans, who seek to divide the Democrats over Israel, even as their president traffics in anti-Semitic stereotypes. The knives were out for Omar and she ran right into them.”
“Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership rebuked Omar and called on her to apologize for her “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters.” It was a depressing fall from grace for a path breaker, a (Muslim) refugee from Somalia.”
“Omar herself has been subject to vicious Islamophobic smears, and has also come under attack for supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to use economic pressure to secure Palestinian rights. Perhaps such criticism is why she’s sometimes seemed unwilling or unable to distinguish between disingenuous political pile-ons and good-faith calls to respect Jewish sensitivities. But her weekend tweets damaged her political allies and squandered some of her hard-won power.”
“But at a moment when activists have finally pried open space in American politics to question our relationship with Israel, it’s particularly incumbent on Israel’s legitimate critics to avoid anything that smacks of anti-Jewish bigotry.”
This post was updated 3/9/19.
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