The US House of Representatives finally passed a resolution yesterday, condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.
This was a Democratic-Party-engineered response to outrage at Ilhan Omar’s various comments regarding the oversized power of the Israel Lobby as well as the question of “allegiance to a foreign country”. These and other expressions were construed by Israel-apologists as being bigoted statements about Jews – although they did not speak about Jews.
Gideon Levy in Haaretz was in full support of Omar:
What, after all, has Omar said? That pro-Israel activists demand “allegiance to a foreign country”; that U.S. politicians support Israel because of money they receive from the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, and that “Israel hypnotized the world.” What is incorrect in these statements? Why is describing reality considered anti-Semitic?
But no – Omar’s supposed anti-Semitism had to be acted upon. Ironically, the attacks on Omar, for her supposed racism, were themselves driven by racism. James Zogby summarizes the nature of this racist witch-hunt on this site:
Because she was a hijab-wearing Muslim, who was critical of Israel, the GOP sought to exploit her in their continuing effort to drive a wedge between the Jewish community and Democrats. For their part, some Democrats reacted with hyperventilated outrage. Extreme language was used to denounce Omar. Her words were described as “bigoted”, “vile”, and, of course, “antisemitic slurs.”
President Trump suggested she should resign, and Republicans wanted to condemn her in a more direct and personal way than that which materialized in the final resolution. Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, one of two Jewish House Republicans:
We are here today because of anti-Semitic rhetoric, said from one member of this Chamber again and again. If that member was a Republican, that member’s name would be in this resolution.
The Republicans didn’t need for it to become a long document about racism of all kinds. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said:
I am here with my friend from New York debating a resolution that all of us should have learned in kindergarten. Be nice. Don’t hate. This resolution doesn’t need to be seven pages.
But the Democrats needed that length, because it was a means of addressing other forms of bigotry that appear systemic on the Republican side – especially anti-Muslim bigotry, that is Islamophobia.
So this resolution was a means of letting Omar get out of this debacle without too much shaming and personal language against her. This is something she could actually proudly support, given the circumstance. A statement she made together with Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Andre Carson (the two other Muslims in Congress) hailed the achievement:
Today is historic on many fronts. It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history. Anti-Muslim crimes have increased 99% from 2014-2016 and are still on the rise.
We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism and, white supremacy. At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities. Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress”.
It is of interest that the resolution passed by 407-23 – and all 23 No’s were Republicans. The various statements of Republican house leaders indicate that many of them felt this was not the win they wanted. But most Republicans – that is, 173 of them, voted for. Steve King (R-Iowa), who recently embraced White Supremacy and was rebuked by his own party, merely voted “present”.
On the face of it, it would seem that this is a success. But behind the words, which seem to be a band-aid of sorts, is a festering wound of racism, and it’s a broken system of pro-Israel bias. The resolution is a band-aid for a broken leg. And there’s racism is in the very act of drafting the resolution to begin with.
The campaign “Jews with Ilhan” notes the inherent bigotry in this whole campaign against Omar, as well as Tlaib (I am a signatory):
Genuine anti-Semitism and the growth of white supremacy are indeed growing concerns in Donald Trump’s America. Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim congresswomen in this country’s history, are not part of this ugly growth of white supremacy. Instead, they are part of movements which seek to confront it. For that, and for their courageous support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, they are being smeared by a racist and Islamophobic chorus, including the House Democratic leadership itself.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statements about Omar could not hide her inherent condescending attitude:
It’s up to [Omar] to explain but I don’t think she understood the full weight of the words.
You see, Pelosi acknowledged that she doesn’t believe Omar’s words were “intended in an anti-Semitic way”, but, “the fact is, if that’s how it was interpreted, we have to remove all doubt as we have done over and over again.”
But many Jews have been essentially saying the same things that Omar said and did not suffer such backlash. So really, what Pelosi is saying, is that Omar needs to know her place as a non-Jew – as a Muslim. Per Pelosi, Omar needs to understand that challenging certain pro-Israel orthodoxies, especially if you’re not Jewish, is translated as anti-Semitism. And it doesn’t need to be intended as anything anti-Semitic, nor does it need to really be anti-Semitic. The whole sensibility is supposed to be about it being interpreted as such – and per Pelosi, Omar needs to respect this ‘interpretation’, that is, the twisting by Israel-apologists, because that’s just how it is. Per Pelosi, Omar needs to follow the racist political syntax of American politics when it comes to Israel. In other words, Pelosi’s words are suggesting that Omar is a ‘stupid Muslim’, and that she needs to fall in line and know her place.
While Omar may have come out of this recent debacle relatively well, it’s not over. It’s not nearly over. We have to see the case of the concocted ‘anti-Semitic problem’ of the UK left since Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead Labour in 2015, and mirror it against this. That ‘anti-Semitic problem’ is virtually non-existent. That supposed ‘problem’ was never really about anti-Semitism – but rather about the fact that Corbyn was too pro-Palestinian and challenged the pro-Israel conservative line that was meant to be kept. That witch-hunt has not ended, and one wonders if it ever will, no matter how many resolutions condemning anti-Semitism Labour sign.
It’s the same here with Omar and the US. It would be naïve to think that all this stops now. As James Zogby noted:
The House of Representatives may pass their resolution, but that won’t close the door on the discussion Omar’s courage has helped to open. If anything, their behavior and incitement against her has pried it open even further.
Pelosi and her ilk may believe that the storm has passed, that words which challenge Israel’s bi-partisan standing in Congress like those of Omar’s, will no longer be uttered. But this is only the beginning. Because Ilhan Omar is a serious person. The problem that the old guard have with her is not about what she actually says, but about what and who she is, and what she represents.