Incoming Rep. Ilhan Omar talks to a reporter before a House of Representatives member-elect welcome briefing on Capitol Hill, November 15, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
‘Whichever way you turn to trace the harmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews.” So argued The International Jew, the infamous anti-Semitic tract published by Henry Ford, who insisted that American institutions were “under the control, moral and financial, of the Jewish manipulators of the public mind.” In the anti-Semitic hoax tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, scheming Jews hatch a plot to dominate world affairs financially: “You may imagine for yourselves what immense power we shall thereby secure for ourselves,” the fraud reads. Notorious Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan praised Donald Trump for purportedly disdaining “Jewish money,” saying: “Anytime a man can say to those who control the politics of America, ‘I don’t want your money,’ that means you can’t control me. And they cannot afford to give up control of the presidents of the United States.” That’s a weird claim to make about Jared Kushner’s father-in-law, but then Farrakhan is fruitcake who believes that white people were concocted in the laboratory of an ancient magician.
Representative Ilhan Omar, who represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, has chosen an ugly and reprehensible bandwagon to climb aboard.
Representative Omar insists that American Jews are paying members of Congress to take a pro-Israel stance in what the ever-gentle Matthew Yglesias of Vox with characteristic boldness describes as some “moderately ill-advised tweets.” Representative Omar specifically cites the actions of AIPAC and, quoting from the noted political philosopher Puff Daddy, insists that it’s “about the Benjamins, baby,” those apparently being Franklin and Netanyahu.
This is not Representative Omar’s first foray into anti-Semitic tropes; earlier, she accused Jews of “hypnotizing” the world on Israel’s behalf, a statement for which she later apologized after sustained public criticism. Her colleague Representative Rashida Tlaib of Henry Ford’s home state has joined Representative Omar in this anti-Semitic smear campaign, having accused Jewish Americans of having dual loyalties, calling to mind another ancient Jew-hating line of argument.
The Jewish state divides the Democratic party: The majority of the American public is pro-Israel — but that average includes the 87 percent of Republicans who are pro-Israel and the 59 percent of independents who share that view, which is a minority position among Democrats, fewer than half of whom take a friendly view of the Jewish state. The Left more broadly is increasingly hostile not only to the government of the state of Israel but to Jews per se, and increasingly tolerant of overt anti-Semitism, as in the case of the organizers of the Women’s March and their embrace of the aforementioned Louis Farrakhan, whom even Barack Obama felt obliged to court, albeit shamefacedly.
The old proverb about race in the United States held that in the North they embraced African Americans as a group but rejected them individually, whereas in the South they might embrace African Americans on an individual basis but hated them as a group. American progressives who insist that they are not anti-Semites but only anti-Israel take something like the southern view: They hate Jews as a national entity, not on a case-by-case basis. If that is the best they can say about themselves, that isn’t very much.
But it certainly is not the worst they can say about themselves. The Left and the Democratic party tolerate anti-Semitism openly expressed, period: From the Reverend Al Sharpton and his Jewish “bloodsuckers” in Crown Heights to the footsie-playing with Farrakhan to Representative Omar’s trafficking in the worst of 1920s anti-Semitic mythology, anti-Semitism is now a regular part of politics among Democrats, from the far-left radicals who see in Israel an extension of American imperialism to those who appeal to the anti-Semitism that is all too common among African Americans and Muslim Americans, the latter of whom are an important new Democratic constituency. This is the reality that informed Representative Omar’s libel.
After a great deal of public criticism, including criticism from several congressional Democrats, Representative Omar offered a limited apology for her remarks — she said she did not intend to offend “Jewish Americans as a whole” — but then doubled down on her conspiratorial assessment of U.S. politics, linking AIPAC to the National Rifle Association as examples of the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.” That’s an excellent example, but not for the reasons Representative Omar imagines. AIPAC does not in fact spend very much money on politics: It is not among the 100 biggest spenders on lobbying or even among the 5,000 biggest donors to political campaigns. Neither does the NRA, which was No. 4,161 among political donors in 2018 and No. 83 among lobbyists. For comparison, the NRA’s political contributions amount to a little less than 3 percent of those from the teachers’ unions. The power of these organizations does not come from bribery — it comes from belief: In this case, the belief that Israel is the only genuine liberal democracy in the Middle East and our nation’s most important and most reliable ally there. This is a belief that is apparent to many clear-eyed Americans — no Jewish “hypnosis” necessary.
Does Representative Omar share that belief? Is the Democratic party losing touch with it? That Representative Omar is more of an obvious anti-Semitic bigot than is currently socially acceptable in Democratic circles is, in the greater scheme of things, a less important question than that.