Ilhan Omar: A Disruptive Force In U.S. Politics

Ilhan Omar, the outspoken Muslim politician from the state of Minnesota, has been an unusually disruptive force in American politics, both in the Democratic Party and on Capitol Hill.

Ilhan Omar

Rarely has a new member of Congress caused such an uproar and achieved notoriety in so short a time.

A recent resolution in the House of Representatives that condemned  bigotry in all its forms was tabled due to highly questionable comments she made about Israel, Jews and dual loyalty in the last few weeks.

Passed by an overwhelming 407-23 margin, it condemned “hateful expressions of intolerance” against “African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others.” It also stated that “bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy and have no place in American political discourse.”

Originally intended as a rebuke against antisemitism, the resolution morphed into an all-purpose condemnation of racial, ethnic and religious hatred after progressive/liberal members of Congress, spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rejected a resolution condemning only antisemitism and criticizing Omar, a vocal supporter of the controversial boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The entire Democratic caucus of 234, including Omar, voted for the resolution. She and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first two Muslim female members to be elected to Congress, hailed it as a historic achievement, the first congressional resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry in U.S. history.

All 23 dissenters were Republicans, some of whom complained that it failed to single out Omar for censure.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Israel, was particularly critical of the resolution. “I thought (the) vote by the House was disgraceful,” he told reporters at the White House. “The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party and anti-Jewish party.”

Charles Schumer

In response to Trump’s outrageously inaccurate and inflammatory comment, U.S. Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said that he had “redefined chutzpah” and that he was only interested in creating  political divisions and “not in fighting antisemitism.”

The resolution, shepherded through Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stopped well short of demanding an apology from Omar, a Somali immigrant who was recently the object of an Islamophobic poster that linked her to the Arab terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Claiming the resolution was not directed at Omar, Pelosi said it represented “an opportunity once again to declare as strongly as possible opposition to antisemitism, anti-Muslim statements” and “white supremacists attitudes.”

Pelosi claimed that Omar did not “understand the full weight of her words” when she disseminated two ageless antisemitic tropes.

Nancy Pelosi

Omar tweeted that support for Israel in the United States is “all about the Benjamins, baby,” a veiled reference to $100 bills and the antisemitic belief that Jews and the American-Israel Public Affairs (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group, exercise undue influence on U.S. foreign policy. Omar apologized, but in separate remarks a while later she played the “dual loyalty” card, casting aspersions on pro-Israel activists whose “allegiance,” she declared, is to “a foreign country.”

The $100 U.S. bill

Rahm Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago and President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, echoed the feelings of many American Jews when he lambasted Omar.

“No one is questioning the right of members of Congress and others to criticize Israeli policies,” he said. “But Omar is crossing a line that should not be crossed in political discourse. Her remarks are not anti-Israel; they are antisemitic. Whether consciously or not, Omar is repeating some of the ugliest stereotypes about Jew — tropes that have been unleashed by antisemites throughout history. She is casting Jewish Americans as the other, suggesting a dual loyalty that calls our devotion to America into question.”

Rahm Emanuel

Predictably enough, neo-Nazi propagandist David Duke and Nation of Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan,  two of the nation’s most high-profile antisemites, endorsed Omar’s positions.

Duke described her as the “most important member of the U.S. Congress” during a rant in which he denounced “Jewish influence in government” and “Jewish elite control over the media.” Farrakhan, claiming that Israel and AIPAC “pay off senators and congressmen to do their bidding,” said she had “nothing to apologize for” and complimented her for “shaking up” Congress.

The latest chapter in the Omar saga suggests that left-wingers in the Democratic Party are challenging the United States’ long-established alliance with Israel and adopting pro-Palestinian points of view.

This development stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s pro-Israel orientation. In a sharp break with U.S. policy, the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the American embassy to Israel’s capital. Trump also withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, closed the Palestinian Authority office in the United States, and cut off funding to Palestinian relief organizations.

Despite Trump’s moves, American support for Israel is on the decrease, according to a new Gallup poll released on March 6.

Louis Farrakhan

Sixty nine percent of respondents favor Israel over the Palestinian Authority,  while only 21 percent are supportive of the latter. But while 65 percent of Americans said they were “more sympathetic” to Israel than to the Palestinians in 2018, the figure dropped to 59 percent this year, marking the biggest decline over a one-year period.

Most Americans are still clearly pro-Israel, but Israel’s image in the United States has been tarnished, most likely by the hardline policies of its current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, left-of-center American politicians, like Omar, are working to undermine Israel’s bilateral relations with the United States.

In the process, they are disseminating ugly myths and dangerous stereotypes about American Jews that can only encourage and embolden antisemites.

Omar should take these considerations into account before she shoots off her mouth again.