Easy Choices Often Have Dangerous Consequences, Especially in Politics
Ilhan Omar's anti-Semitic remarks create controversy
March 13, 2019
A line that has strangely always stuck with me since seeing Dr. Strange, a fairly forgettable if not enjoyable Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, comes at its conclusion. Mordo, Dr. Strange’s reluctant ally, tells him “The bill comes due. Always.” While in the real world we never have to worry about breaking space-time, our politicians should heed Mordo’s words of caution. A failure to realize or care about impact of political decisions provided one of the most disgusting weeks in the Trump presidency, with the Democrats snuffing out infighting at the cost of tasting the alarmingly alluring nectar of anti-Semitism and sudden radicalization.
Anti-Semitism can be defined as prejudice, bigotry, and racism against Jewish people. It is worth noting that most anti-Semitism is conspiratorial in nature, with common themes being that Jews control the world through Jewish money and vast secret societies. The conspiracies usually also include how Jews have double allegiance to a Jewish state, even when it did not exist. While racial anti-Semitism akin to scientific racism does exist, it is less common than what is described above.
The last six weeks of American politics have be troubling. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), my district’s Representative, has made three astoundingly anti-Semitic remarks with only quasi-apologies in response. First, she was criticized for an old tweet that read “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” which draws upon the thousand year old trope of mystical Jew powers and conspiracy. Omar half-heartedly apologized for her tweet, but did not delete it. The tweet was old, and if she had apologized and nothing else in her body of work was anti-Semitic, her apology would have been accepted. But within two weeks, she tweeted again, this time saying “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” when discussing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s denouncement of Omar’s anti-Israel rhetoric in the house, and then replying to a tweet about who pays for Israeli support by saying “AIPAC,” which is a lobbying group in support of Israel. Her tweets are textbook anti-Semitism. Omar draws upon the trope that the Jews as a collective are paying with their Jewish money as the base for support of Israel. Her response can hardly be considered an apology, in which she still discussed a need for a conversation on lobbying groups. And finally, two weeks later, she spun her wheel of anti-Semitic remarks and landed on Jewish “Allegiance to a foreign country,” by which she means Israel, in which she draws upon the ancient trope of claiming that Jews are secretly agents of a Jewish state, outsiders to their country and a cancer to the nation they really belong to.
These blatantly anti-Semitic remarks should have prompted an overwhelming criticism of Omar from both sides of the political spectrum. And while some Democrats did criticize and disavow Omar for her actions, Democratic leadership has chosen to either ignore or defend her behavior. While this may seem to be the easier choice for Democrats now, a failure to police their own will only lead to consequences down the road.
This is not to suggest that criticism of specific policies of Israel or the Israeli government is anti-Semitic: It certainly is not. Just as anyone can criticize American policies, it is not bigoted to do the same with Israel. However, to say that Israel as a country has no right to exist as Omar said earlier this year that “I see Israel institute [a] law that recognizes it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it and we still uphold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle…We… [should] call it out…We do that to Iran” and supports BDS, a movement that aims to stamp out the Jewish state through the specific boycotting of Israeli businesses is anti-Semitic. In addition, to characterize Jews as a cabal of double agents with secret powers who use their Jewish money as a collective to create the base of support for Israel is also inherently anti-Semitic and bigoted. Critics of Omar do not want to shut down the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: conflating being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is insulting to those who want change in Israeli policy but are not bigoted towards Jewish people.
Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn, Speaker of the House and House Majority Whip respectively, have shown their reluctance to call out Omar’s behaviors. A failure for Democratic leadership to police their own could have serious consequences in the future. Pelosi’s response, according to The Hill, was that Omar did not “[Understand] the full weight of her words.” This is no response to bigotry. A refusal to call out the impact of hateful remarks and a willful ignorance of Omar’s past behavior from the Speaker of the House is frightening. But she fell just short of the worst response to Omar’s actions, as Clyburn outdid her with a statement of his own. The Hill’s Mike Lillis writes “Her experience [Omar was in a refugee camp as a child], Clyburn argued, is much more empirical — and powerful — than that of people who are generations removed from the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps during World War II and the other violent episodes that have marked history.” This is both a fallacious and ignorant response to Omar’s remarks. Omar may have suffered tremendously, but that is no excuse for anti-Semitism. In addition, a comparison to the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps, and by extension downplaying genocide and racism, to defend anti-Semitism is reprehensible. If Democrats cannot police their own, more radicalization and bigotry will surely rise from the lack of morals and discipline.
But two high-ranking Democratic officials not condemning Omar would not be enough to justify the existence of this Spectrum article. The Democrats introduced a broad anti-bigotry into the House that was a show of cowardice that refused to acknowledge the problem that sparked the legislation in the first place. The bill itself is a cowardly mode of apologizing for Omar’s actions.
Originally a bill specifically on anti-Semitism, and proposed in direct response to Omar’s comments, the bill was eventually changed to include all forms of hate and was directed at stopping white supremacy. This isn’t to suggest that these forms of bigotry aren’t to be condemned–of course they are. But to so cowardly shift away from the reason the bill was originally introduced is quite concerning. This is no doubt the easier path in the short term but one that could have dire consequences in the future.
When Steve King (R-IA) said that “White nationalist, white supremacist…how did that language become offensive?,” he was rightly stripped of all committee assignments and disavowed by most conservatives and liberals alike. King has flirted with the Alt-right in the past, and it was the civic duty of both his political allies and opposition to call him out on his racist body of work. I fully expect every member of the Democratic party, just as I would of the Republican party for King, to disavow Omar and call for the stripping of her committee assignments.
The events of last week were more than just the normal grist to the mill of politics that usually inhabit Washington. It was a fight within the Democratic party for party unity at the cost of morals and values. All politicians should heed Mordo’s words with a certain reverence. The bill does in fact always come due, and our political leaders failure to acknowledge this simple fact is dangerous to everyone, Jewish or not. The consequences won’t always be about anti-Semitism—appeasement never satiates the mob.