As the Democratic Party establishment continues its long war on internal progressive dissent, Ilhan Omar has received a crash course in faux antisemitism accusations policing discourse around Palestine. Omar stands accused of suggesting that Jews are secretly loyal to their own people at the expense of their countries of citizenship (“dual loyalty”), following similar bogus allegations against Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian Muslim congresswoman. Both congresswomen stand accused for calling into question the appropriateness of expecting US congresspersons to support Israel at the expense of the interests of their own constituents, including First Amendment concerns emanating from federal legislation to penalize boycotts of Israel.
In reality, none of the comments by the congresswomen made any claims about Jewish loyalties at all. Tlaib asked why federal legislation being introduced by a Cuban-American Christian politician was prioritizing Israel at the expense of the First Amendment, while Omar questioned why she was being accused of anti-Americanism over her lack of support for Israel. That neither of them made any claims about Jewish loyalties — never mind that they would hardly be outside of mainstream Jewish company were they to do so — has prompted even traditional liberal Zionist strongholds like the New York Times and the Washington Post to pause and release pieces calling the accusations into question.
Of course, Omar and Tlaib are hardly the first to question support for Israel where it conflicts with other policy priorities. Eisenhower demanded that Israel pull out of Egypt during the 1956 war when it undermined his Cold War calculations. Reagan delayed a shipment of helicopters to Israel after Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, then a U.S. ally. Carter, Bush Sr., and Obama all clashed with Israeli administrations over settlement building. Obama mentioned that it would be an “abrogation of [his] constitutional duty” to defer to Israel over the Iran nuclear deal. And every single U.S. administration until Donald Trump refused to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital out of legal, diplomatic, and geopolitical concerns, even if it meant spurning Congress. So it is worth questioning what is happening to prompt such a torrent of disproportionate criticism against the first Muslim-American congresswomen?
What is notable about the false accusations of using dual loyalty canards against Jews is how they are underpinned by a climate in which genuine accusations of disloyalty are regularly hurled at the accused themselves, simply for being Muslim. Last week, a West Virginia GOP event included a photo juxtaposing Omar with the September 11th attacks to suggest that Omar’s election was the equivalent of betraying the victims of the attacks. Tlaib was accused by a right-wing Jewish lawmaker in Florida of being a potential suicide bomber. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman elected, was asked on CNN to prove that he wasn’t working for terrorists following his election, while a fellow member of Congress suggested that the U.S. must restrict immigration to prevent more people like Ellison from being elected — even though Ellison was born in Michigan to black non-Muslim parents who trace their presence in the country back to the 18th century. And perhaps the most high-profile example of such rhetoric was saved for President Obama. Though Obama was not a Muslim, he was regularly depicted as a Muslim illegal immigrant with terrorist ties on the basis of his Muslim relatives and international upbringing by members of the Republican Party, including the current President who said Obama was the literal founder of ISIS.
The loyalty canards about Muslims aren’t limited to targeting high-profile politicians. Mimicking the antisemitic refusals to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, American politicians on both sides of the aisle have sought to aggressively restrict immigration by refugees from Muslim-majority countries on the explicit basis that they are culturally or politically incompatible with Western values and thereby pose a security threat — that is, that they would not make loyal citizens. The Obama administration in particular issued restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries for flimsy “security” reasons that were subsequently used by Donald Trump to justify his more sweeping “Muslim ban”.
That Donald Trump was emboldened to explicitly state his desire to ban Muslims during his election campaign is not surprising, given that much of his own party and many Democrats share his xenophobic beliefs that Muslim are disloyal. This was particularly notable in the Democrats’ response to Trump. Democrats heavily emphasized Muslim involvement in the U.S. military in response to Trump’s insinuations, indicating that Democrats also felt that U.S. Muslims might have something to prove — in part by serving in an organization that regularly bombs, tortures, and jails other Muslims. Democratic Party-aligned critics of Trump turned this trope into one of their most predominant symbols: an image of a whitened Muslim woman whose hijab was patterned with the American flag.
That the blatant bigotry of expecting Muslims to prove their loyalty has become a staple of American political life is made that much more obvious by the recent attacks on those who raise entirely legitimate concerns about Zionist lobbying and U.S. support for Israel. Were Congress genuinely concerned about racist canards of “dual loyalty,” they would be spending their time fixing U.S. immigration laws to undo the Muslim ban rather than making false allegations of the canard against two people who are actually its victims. Perhaps that is because Congress is actually a bastion of racist canards rather than a place to criticize them.