UPDATE: The House of Representatives passed a resolution on March 7 that was initially drafted in response to Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is commonly known as the Israel lobby.
It morphed considerably as a result of outrage from progressive Democrats and various activist groups that came to Omar’s defense. What passed was a resolution which condemned several forms of hate, and as the House prepared to vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi would no longer say this was about Omar anymore because singling her out had produced such a backlash.
Outrage from progressive Democrats and left-leaning groups pushed leaders to scrap a vote on a resolution drafted as a rebuke to Representative Ilhan Omar, which was planned for Wednesday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other influential Democrats drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism after Omar spoke at an event on February 27 at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, with Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Mark Pocan, and Rashida Tlaib.
Omar shared how she was concerned, since she and Tlaib are Muslims, that “a lot of Jewish colleagues, a lot of our Jewish constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel,” is anti-Semitic because they are Muslims.
“To me, it is something that becomes designed to end the debate. Because you get in this space, of like, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says that the words you use, Ilhan, [resemble] intolerance,” Omar added.
Omar described how this makes it harder to advocate for ending oppression or talk about “what is happening with Palestine.” She then stated, “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. And I want to ask, why is it okay for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby [group?] that is influencing policy.”
There is nothing anti-Semitic about challenging the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over politicians in the United States. But similar to the reaction to tweets she sent against AIPAC in February, establishment Democrats organized a response to single out Omar and pressure her to quit speaking out against a lobbying group that represents the interests of the Israeli government in order ensure the U.S. government continues to back an apartheid state against Palestinians.
Jayapal said during an appearance on “Democracy Now!” that it was necessary to protect the rights of the the first Muslim women elected to Congress to be in the legislative branch and “question, legitimately, foreign policy towards Israel.”
“We need to make sure we separate anything that, you know, might be said, which I don’t believe Representative Omar meant in that way, from a legitimate critique of Israel. And I am worried that these two things are coming together and that a lot of the noise that’s out there is designed to prevent us from taking on the question of our foreign policy towards Israel,” Jayapal added.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Jayapal co-chairs, moved to include language in the resolution that condemned Islamophobia. Representative Ayanna Pressley and Representative Debbie Dingell both took this approach in challenging unfairness against Omar.
Various groups urged Democrats to condemn all forms of hate, not only anti-Semitism.
However, including language in the resolution that challenges other forms of hate still leaves in place language about anti-Semitism that was drafted to scold Omar. Why even have a resolution at all?
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) mobilized support for Omar by highlighting how she was the target of an anti-Muslim racist attack by West Virginia Republicans. A poster associating Omar with the September 11th attacks was hung at a gathering sponsored by Republicans.
Through the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan, a space was created to help defend Omar against not only recent rounds of bigotry but also to oppose the resolution against her.
Outrage apparently destroyed any consensus that may have existed in the House to pass a resolution.
By March 6, Senator Bernie Sanders condemned the resolution. “Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world.
“We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” Sanders asserted.
He added, “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
It was one of the more direct defenses of Omar and notable because Sanders did not suggest the resolution would be acceptable if only it condemned Islamophobia and other forms of hate too.
Democratic Representative Juan Vargas made it clear through two messages he posted on Twitter on March 4 that this is about defending the relationship between the U.S. and Israeli governments.
“It is disturbing that Rep. Omar continues to perpetuate hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes that misrepresent our Jewish community,” Vargas wrote. “Additionally, questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
“Israel has and remains a stalwart ally of the United States because of our countries’ shared interests and values. I condemn her remarks and believe she should apologize for her offensive comments,” he added.
Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have pounced on anything Omar says that may be upsetting to groups, which regularly promote the interests of the Israeli government. It has successfully created discord and distractions for Democrats, which even leaders like Pelosi acknowledge.
A faction of Democrats have fueled a right-wing message that criticizing those who support the Israeli government is an attack on Jewish people, even though those in the U.S. who support the Israeli government are not necessarily all Jewish. Many of them are evangelical Christians.
After Omar was attacked for her anti-AIPAC tweets, Democratic Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Elaine Luria wrote a letter to Democratic congressional leaders that lumped in her tweets with examples of anti-Semitism, such as neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville and chanted “Jews will not replace us” and the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.
Lumping in Omar’s words with hate speech and a massacre detracts from the issue of anti-Semitic attacks in the country.
Of course, none of this is really about anti-Semitism. It is about shutting down a representative in Congress, who is willing to speak openly about apartheid against Palestinians and even back activists that participate in the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement against Israel’s occupation against Palestinians.
As Paul Waldman, a columnist for the Washington Post pointed out, politicians from both the Republic and Democratic Parties “say you shouldn’t question Israeli policy, that U.S. policy must be unflinchingly supportive of Israel, and even that people in many states should be forced to sign written oaths promising not to support boycotts of Israel before they can do business with the state.”
This is literally a “pledge of loyalty to another country,” Waldman wrote. “But AIPAC and Israel’s advocates—mostly Republicans but also many Democrats—don’t demand ‘dual loyalty’ from Jews. They demand it from everyone.”
Omar is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Republicans desperately want her removed from the committee.
Democrats have refused to force her to resign, but every resolution or letter that condemns her, explicitly or inexplicitly, emboldens not only Republicans but President Donald Trump’s administration. It strengthens the power of AIPAC and other Israeli government lobbying organizations to define the terms of U.S. foreign policy.
Each episode in which Republicans target Omar for subversive comments, and then Democrats join them, puts Omar at greater risk.
“Now that you have two Muslims that are saying, here is a group of people that we want to make sure that they have the dignity that you want everyone else to have,” Omar said at the Busboys and Poets event, “we get to be called names. We get to be labeled as hateful.”
Yet, real hate is what Omar (and Tlaib) experience every day that they face death threats.
“There are cities in my state where the gas stations have written on their bathrooms ‘assassinate Ilhan Omar,’ Omar added. “I have people driving around my district looking for my home, for my office, causing me harm. I have people every single day on Fox News and everywhere posting that I am a threat to this country. The masjid I pray in in Minnesota got bombed by two domestic white terrorists.”
Then, as well as now, Omar refused to allow the vilification to stop her from advocating for those “silenced for many decades and many generations.”
“We’re here to fight for the people of our district who want to make sure that there is actual prosperity, actual prosperity, being guaranteed,” Omar declared. “Because there is a direct correlation between not having clean water, and starting endless wars. It’s all about the profit and who gets benefit.”
“There’s a direct correlation between corporations that are getting rich, and the fact that we have students who are shackled with debt. There is a direct correlation between the White House and the people who are benefiting from detention beds.”
Omar concluded, “What people are afraid of is not that there are two Muslims in Congress. What people are afraid of is that there are two Muslims in Congress that have their eyes wide open, that have their feet to the ground, that know what they’re talking about, that are fearless, and that understand that they have the same election certificate that everyone in Congress does.”