2018 saw a new movement to the hard left in the Democrat party. radical, openly socialist candidates succeeded in getting elected to US House of Representatives posts. Among these, two – Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – are particularly worthy of note.
Both are women, and both claim to be adherents to Islam, which represents some movement in the representation of Muslim interests in the US. Mrs. Omar makes the news every few days with her statements about Israel, commonly taken by the US mainstream media (mostly Fox News) to be “anti-Semitic”, though a closer look at the bulk of the representative’s remarks actually reveals a different aspect.
Of these two, Omar appears to be the more observant Muslim. A Somali immigrant hailing from Mogadishu, she and her family resettled in Arlington, Virginia in 1995. She was fourteen years old at the time. She learned and appears to have a flair for political activism, having been quite active in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2017 to her election to the US House. She started serving as Representative on a national level in January of this year.
Ilhan makes the news for saying statements such as these:
- Those concerns were confirmed this week when Omar suggested on Twitter that members of Congress support Israel for money, igniting a bipartisan uproar in Washington that included criticism from President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP 2-15-2019: Omar’s edgy Israel tweet no surprise to some back home)
- Omar, 37, was responding to a tweet from New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey when she made the alleged anti-Semitic comments Sunday. “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Omar tweeted. (New York Post 3-5-2019: Ilhan Omar blasted over latest ‘anti-Semitic’ tweet about Israel)
There are many examples, but this one, reported by The Atlantic, is the most interesting, and we offer the lede to that piece here:
- In the anti-Semitic imagination, Jews run the world through a global conspiracy of cash and power. This belief is both old and resilient, and in the past seven decades, anti-Semites have relied on this framework to explain the tight alliance between the United States and Israel.On Sunday night, a freshman representative from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, cheerfully repeated this anti-Semitic trope, implying that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, pays politicians to support Israel.
Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called on Omar to “reject anti-Semitism in all forms,” according to The Washington Post, while Republicans have argued that her comments reveal the depth of anti-Israel sentiment in the Democratic Party.
“I unequivocally apologize,” Omar said in a tweeted statement on Monday. “At the same time, 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.”
In other words, “I am sorry, but I am not sorry.”
The Atlantic’s piece attempts to make a point that Mrs. Omar’s remarks are damaging to the cause of having a “nuanced” conversation about Israel. It goes on to point out that her remarks are inaccurate:
Along with perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes, Omar’s comments were inaccurate and incomplete: AIPAC’s influence, which does not include payments to politicians, is only a small part of why the U.S.-Israel alliance is almost universally supported in Congress. Her comments, and the backlash they provoked, show how fractured the American debate over Israel has become. Omar is the new face of anti-Israel criticism on the left, and yet her use of anti-Semitic tropes undermines her credibility. Her comments have provoked a cycle of outrage, amplifying the most extreme voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and limiting the chances for more nuanced debate over America’s support for Israeli policies. Instead of creating more space for critical debate about Israel, Omar has added credence to a common caricature of the anti-Israel left: that opposition to Israel is partly fueled by conspiratorial anti-Semitism.
This analysis appears “proper” but a closer look at the situation regarding Israel and the Palestinians and other aspects reveals something a bit different. Oddly enough, Mrs. Omar saying what people who understand the situation in Palestine have known for decades.
The story of Palestinian oppression and the continuing war between the Palestinians and Israelis is a long, bitter tale, with the Palestinians getting the butt end of the deal most often. It is also true that in just about every case, the strength of American conservative leadership is strongly supportive of Israel.
This idea is conceptual. It does not really matter what Israel does with that support, and the Israelis know this, and freely take advantage of it. More to the point, the matter is religious in nature, as many American Protestant evangelicals hold as true various expressions of a prophecy that says that whoever helps Israel will be blessed, because the people of Israel are God’s chosen.
The charge of anti-Semitism is no different here than the charge of “racist” was when used to attack anyone who didn’t support President Obama’s policies. Israel is, of course, largely a Jewish state; indeed, the inception of the new state in 1948 was based on this premise.
However, for many people that are Jewish, the issue of being Jewish is not centered on how they serve God, but rather as an ethnic identity.
We see similar ethnophyletism among other groups in the world as well, such as some Greek communities and Arab communities, Polish and Russian, and there is nothing wrong with it in certain aspects. After all, these groups are bound by common culture and traditions, and all of the above listed have also been severely persecuted in history.
But the idea that ethnic “specialness” should grant any “special rights” to any group is wrong. While it is easy to brand this “racism”, one ought to be very careful before doing so.
The reason is that racism no longer means simply “the idea that one race is better / worse” than another. Now it is that plus a whole lot of passionate anger, senseless rage, and eternal expressions of victimization.
As long as this sort of rhetoric continues, no progress will be made. No one wants to be called a racist, and most people will overreact to the charge by going totally silent when perhaps something indeed needs to be said.
This is potentially where we find Representative Omar.
She has not expressed any notion (yet) of real anti-Semitism. She may, for her own religious upbringing does likely come with a manifesto about what is to be done about such people, but she has not crossed that line yet.
However, it should also be noted that Omar supports aberrant sexual identity politics, the “LGBTQrstuv…” and all the other letters anyone cares to add on to that nonsense. Islam has a very different message about sexual perversion. What is not known here is whether or not Ilhan Omar is playing the game, or if she really is a liberal first and Muslim second. That is a major fact that is not yet known about this Representative.
But so far, the only thing that diminishes – and yet also verifies her statements about the at-all-costs alliances with Israel, is precisely the fact that Omar comes from a region in the world where this situation is understood far differently than in the United States. It is for this reason that many Palestinians – both Muslims and Christians – are likely to wholeheartedly support her statements. This has echoes of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, a topic we will focus on at another time.
We mentioned Rashida Tahlib earlier, and we refer back to her now. As a representative, Ms. Tlaib has not been in the news too much, aside from her opening day rant with expletives about President Trump. She also professes Islam, but her understanding of it is very suspect. According to a bio given in Wikipedia, she feminizes her “Allah” which is probably a big no-no in Islam. She is often criticized for “not being Muslim enough.”
As she does not wear a hijab, her Muslim identity is easy to see “in name only” and she has been very highly thought of among Palestinian / Syrian / Lebanese circles in the United States. For Tlaib, the main ideology again is liberalism. She, along with colleague Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez, are members of the Democrat Socialists of America. As such, Tlaib has not been much of a newsmaker since her rant.
There appear to be two issues in play, mostly centered on Ilhan Omar. The first is that the Representative, regardless of motive, is saying the right things regarding the excessive, “blank-cheque” type favor that Israel and its concerns receive from the United States. In fact, her claims appear to be gaining verification by virtue of the reaction of the House body, which, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has put forth a resolution to reject anti-Semitism “as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.
In other words, the House is trying to shut Ilhan Omar up. Further, reading reports of the reaction of the House, and of Jewish or Israeli leaders, it seems apparent that Omar is stirring a pot they do not want stirred.
However, the fact that she is Muslim and a liberal also means that she gets a relatively light hand from the press. She gets reported when she says something, then she gets reported when she offers these non-apologies. But her repeated claims are absolutely consistent, and that is simply because there is a problem.
While it is indeed insulting to brand this situation with Israel in the truly bigoted fashion of calling the Jewish people out in pejorative terms, the pseudo-racist term evades the real political point: that there is something off-balance in the relationship between the US and Israel. Israel gets away with a great deal, and one of the big failures in conservative politics is to treat this matter as though it does not exist.
This is not an issue that can be resolved in a ten second soundbite. It requires real thinking and honesty, but the use of dishonesty and name-calling is being employed to prevent the needed conversation from taking place.