“This is not about antisemitism, because they didn’t say anything anti-Semitic,” stated the former Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) executive Ahmed Bedier concerning the new Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. His remarks at a March 6 rally before the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, indicated how these anti-Semitic legislators are effectively immune from rebuke among increasingly radical Democrats.
By contrast, Omar’s “anti-Semitism has been obvious to any honest observer ever since she became a public figure,” Washington Examiner editor Philip Klein has correctly assessed. She has referred to slang for $100 bills (“Benjamins”) in a 1997 Puff Daddy song to smear groups including the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as nefarious influencers of American Israeli policy. She has repeatedly intimated that Jews have dual loyalties to Israel, as she did at a February 27 event in Washington, DC’s Busboys and Poets cafe. Befitting Busboys and Poets’ history of hosting radical organizations including 9/11 conspiracy theorists, the packed audience warmly embraced her and joked about her “Benjamins” tweet.
Omar has also tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world” to its “evil doings,” while the “apartheid Israeli regime” makes her “almost chuckle” in dismissal of Israel’s status as a “democracy in the Middle East.” During her 2018 congressional campaign, she claimed to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, even though she had voted in the Minnesota legislature against a strong bipartisan majority for an anti-BDS law. She then reversed herself after her election victory, declaring her support for BDS.
Omar has established a record as an “apologist for Islamic terrorism,” as in her tweet against funding the Department of Homeland Security. In the Minnesota legislature, she was one of two representatives who voted against a bill that would deny life insurance payments to terrorists killed while attacking Americans. She likewise argued there for leniency towards fellow Somali-Americans from Minnesota who had been convicted of attempting to join Islamic State terrorists. She once claimed that jihadist attacks “are byproducts of the actions of our involvement in other people’s affairs,” not the result of dangerous Islamic doctrines. Her soft spot for sharia also once appeared in her reservations about a bill that would increase penalties for female genital mutilation, although she later voted for the bill.
Accordingly, Omar has ties to, and has received support from, numerous notorious anti-Semites and jihad supporters. These include University of California-Berkeley Professor Hatem Bazian, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, Linda Sarsour, CAIR, and Islamic Relief USA. Omar’s fellow Muslim congresswoman, Tlaib, also has ties to radicals such Sarsour and CAIR, as well as Hezbollah supporters such as Abbas Hamideh. Tlaib has also tweeted anti-Semitic dual loyalty tropes and once wrote for a publication of the notoriously anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan.
Like the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), President Donald Trump condemned Omar’s various statements. He called for her resignation from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Echoing these appeals, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein denounced Omar’s “pure, unadulterated, evil, frighteningly dangerous anti-Semitism.”
Democratic congressional leaders including Representative Jerry Nadler and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (the latter as among self-proclaimed “strong supporters of Israel”) also condemned Omar’s statements. Omar’s own committee chairman, Representative Eliot Engel, likewise joined the chorus of denunciation, along with Jews in Omar’s own Minneapolis Congressional district. Her repeated transgressions even made leftist commentator Jonathan Chait ultimately abandon “whatever presumption of good faith she deserved.”
Yet Omar and Tlaib reflect a wider global trend of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic views gaining ascendance among the political Left, with Democrats following anti-Semitic precedents in the British Labour Party. The duo’s fellow Democratic progressive congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has expressed her opposition to any “special relationship” with Israel, while the leftist newscaster Chris Hayes has tweeted that the Democratic establishment and AIPAC “have lost wide swaths of the Democratic party base.” Meanwhile, numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus have longstanding ties with Farrakhan, as a recently uncovered 2005 photo of him with then-Senator Barack Obama revealed.
Conservative American-Israeli commentator Caroline Glick has observed that former President Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett “is an outspoken supporter of Omar,” as well as of Tlaib. Democratic presidential candidates are also “aligning themselves with the anti-Israel voices in their party.” “Three of the party’s leading presidential candidates—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris—all issued statements in support of Omar,” noted the conservative Jewish commentator Jonathan Tobin.
One of Omar’s first Washington, DC, appearances occurred on February 5 at the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP), a leftist think tank that has its own antisemitism history. In 2011, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the prominent legal authority Alan Dershowitz all condemned CAP for staffers who had made anti-Semitic “Israel-firster” dual loyalty accusations. At CAP, policy analyst Matt Duss also drew an analogy between Israel’s self-defense against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the “moral abomination” of “segregation in the American South.” Along with other anti-Semitic CAP alumni who have joined the senior staff of Democratic senator and presidential candidate Sanders, Duss is currently Sanders’ foreign policy adviser.
Accordingly, as media noted, CAP allowed Omar to dodge any serious scrutiny of her antisemitism during her brief 40-minute appearance, without any press questioning before the over 90 people filling CAP’s events room to capacity. CAP Executive Vice President for External Affairs Winnie Stachelberg in her event moderation euphemistically claimed that Omar’s statements “had inadvertently echoed stereotypes against Jews.” Omar responded with blathered generalizations about the “kind of journey we could all be on in fighting against discrimination collectively.” Far more condemnatory was her address, in which she denounced Trump’s “hate-filled policies,” including the falsely described “Muslim Ban,” and reiterated the canard that he had called neo-Nazis “very fine people.”
Omar continued to deny any intentional antisemitism in a February 11 half-hearted apology. She wrote that her associates “are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” Yet only in early February before her renewed anti-Semitic slanders at Busboys and Poets did she quietly delete her offensive “Benjamins,” “AIPAC,” and Israeli “hypnosis” tweets.
Omar’s claims of innocence exasperated local Jewish leaders from Omar’s congressional district. They had already discussed antisemitism concerns with her during her 2018 congressional campaign, unavailingly. Perhaps these leaders began to suspect what extensive ADL studies of global antisemitism from 2014 and 2015 had documented, namely that Muslims such as Omar come from a worldwide religious community rife with antisemitism.
Correspondingly, Commentary senior editor Abe Greenwald concluded that it was “ludicrous to think that she didn’t know what she was saying.” In the greater Middle Eastern countries such as Omar’s ancestral Somalia, “conspiracy theory is the coin of the realm, and much self-inflicted grief is blamed on dark Jewish magic.” This would explain her “six years of remorseless bigotry” in her 2012 tweet claiming Israeli “hypnosis,” which she defended as late as January 2018.
Although Omar’s anti-Semitic statements contained no objective critique of Israel, she asserted in her apology that she had attempted to address the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics” from groups such as AIPAC. Bedier reiterated this analysis at the March 6 rally in the company of individuals including CAIR executive director Nihad Awad and Sarsour, who proclaimed “unequivocal solidarity” with Omar. Omar and Tlaib’s outlook on Israel “has to do with certain countries’ influence in Washington and certain lobbyists, not much different than what we say about the NRA,” Bedier said.
Conservative commentator Scott Johnson at Powerline thus summarized that Omar always claims “to distinguish between the Jewish state and the Jewish people” while expressing political views, not prejudice. Accordingly, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour reflected Omar’s typical fawning media coverage with a softball media interview in which Amanpour said that Omar had rejected a political “rite of passage…to profess sort of fealty” to AIPAC. Rather, she “is part of a new wave of Democrats not afraid to be critical of the government of Israel.”
George Mason University Professor Noura Erakat, a later participant in the March 6 rally, had similarly stated that Omar and Tlaib disrupt a “status quo of bipartisan, uncritical support of Israel.” Likewise the leftist Jewish political activist Peter Feld found an “inconvenient truth” of political influence in Omar’s “Benjamins” tweet. Meanwhile considerations of Omar prompted the ailing Jewish leftist political organizer Ady Barkan to express his disappointment that he did “not expect to live to see the liberation of the Palestinian people.”
Having sanitized the antisemitism of individuals such as Omar and Tlaib as critical political commentary, Democrats and their political supporters could turn the tables on the legislators’ outraged accusers. As a forthcoming article will demonstrate, Democrats answered the national outcry over Omar in particular by emphasizing her supposed victimization by bigotry while paying mere lip service to antisemitism concerns. This new accommodation of antisemitism has particularly left Jews, long a reliable Democratic constituency, confronting a shocking political reality.