Who will stand with Ilhan Omar?

March 7, 2019

Eric Ruder argues that the left must continue to stand with Ilhan Omar — but also to advance the discussion of Israel and Palestine that she has raised.

THE PUBLIC shaming of Rep. Ilhan Omar on fabricated allegations of antisemitism has finally encountered an obstacle.

As this article was being written, the Democratic Party establishment was returning to closed-door discussions about the content of a planned resolution condemning Omar and delaying its vote by a day. Apparently, the hypocrisy of singling out Omar for condemnation in the face of the tirade of racist and violent threats that are par for the course in the Trump era had become too glaring.

According to various reports, Democratic members of the House “confronted” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the double standard of publicly condemning anti-Semitism — directed at Omar, though she is not named — without any similar resolutions against other instances of racism and threats.

The same day, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib issued tweets in defense of Omar, publicly stating their opposition to Pelosi & Co.’s plan to reprimand Omar. Sen. Bernie Sanders later added his voice to Omar’s defenders.

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks at a campaign rally
Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks at a campaign rally

“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),” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid,” she continued. “But incidents like these do beg the question: Where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”

For a comprehensive (and nauseating) account of the many outrages that the Democratic leadership has not passed resolutions against, see Mehdi Hasan’s article at the Intercept.

But that’s the focus here: It’s Democrats, not Republicans, who are declaring the war-by-congressional-resolution directed at Omar — and in so doing, actually making her case for her.

JUST A few weeks ago, Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic establishment took aim at Omar for calling out the power of the pro-Israel lobby. Jonah ben Avraham at SW was one among many to point out that Omar was being condemned for what the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) freely admits.

So what utterance against Jews is Omar supposedly guilty of this time?

Here is her latest statement, made during an event at Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington D.C., in all of its awfulness: “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.”

With the pump primed, it didn’t take long for the accusations to start flowing freely. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York claimed this was “a vile anti-Semitic slur” that questioned “the loyalty of fellow American citizens.”

“Questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable,” wrote Rep. Juan Vargas of California on Twitter, adding that Omar should apologize for her “hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

But Omar’s criticism about dual loyalty isn’t directed at Jews — it’s directed at the entire U.S. political establishment, as Washington Post opinion writer Paul Waldman noted. Waldman explained that he himself was raised in an intensely Zionist household before pointing out:

You may have noticed that almost no one uses “dual loyalty” as a way of questioning whether Jews are loyal to the United States anymore. Why has it almost disappeared as an anti-Semitic slur? Because over the last three decades, support for Israel has become increasingly associated with conservative evangelicals and the Republican Party.

In any case, Omar wasn’t focusing on the supposed “dual loyalty” of Jews, but the way in which dual loyalty is demanded of every member of the political establishment — all the way down to the state houses and City Halls where both Democrats and Republicans are expected to join the daily battles to frustrate and even criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid.

As Waldman continued:

The whole purpose of the Democrats’ resolution is to enforce dual loyalty not among Jews, but among members of Congress, to make sure that criticism of Israel is punished in the most visible way possible...And here’s the ultimate irony: Dual loyalty is precisely what AIPAC demands, and what it gets. Again, it makes this demand not of Jews, but of every member of Congress.

THE DEFENSE of Israel is so ingrained as a reflex in American political life that those politicians attacking Omar haven’t even listened to what she said. Instead, they rush to defend the Israeli ethno-state while simultaneously mobilizing Islamophobic assumptions about Muslims to attack Omar — and Pelosi is the one who unleashed the dogs.

All those who stand in solidarity with Omar and with Palestinians should figure out how to treat this moment as an opportunity.

In this regard, it’s important to consider the mainstream response to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s courageous decision to take a knee during the National Anthem to draw attention to police violence and racism.

The abuse hurled against him led many to rally to his defense, but the mainstream media debate then shifted to the question of his right to express his criticisms of police, instead of the content of those criticisms.

We must take this opportunity to defend Omar (by circulating this statement, for example), but it’s also critical to continue to focus attention on the issue at its heart: Israeli apartheid.

That means talking about Israel’s denial of full equality and citizenship rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israel’s daily violations of international law by building settlements and transferring its population into the occupied West Bank, its siege and repeated assaults on Gaza, and its cozy relationships with some of the world’s most antisemitic regimes.

And we should demand an end to the billions of dollars in foreign aid that U.S. taxpayers annually send to Israel to finance the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians.

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