By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
Representative Ilhan Omar, a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota, has dominated headlines in recent weeks. Following a string of Omar’s controversial tweets and statements, which seemed to feature anti-Semitic tropes, Democrats and Republicans have sparred over an appropriate response.
Omar, a Somali-American and one of the first Muslim woman elected to Congress (Rep. Tlaib is the other), has a relatively long track record of making controversial statements regarding Israel. In 2012, for example, Rep. Omar tweeted that Israel has “hypnotized the world.”. Omar also publicly supports Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS), a movement which seeks to apply economic pressure to Israel for its behavior toward Palestinians.
More recently, Omar tweeted that the motivations behind American lawmakers’ support for Israel are “all about the Benjamins;” such a tweet echoes a decades-long anti-Semitic claim that attempts to misrepresent Jewish participation in politics.
When pushed to clarify her tweet, Omar blamed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is a large pro-Israel lobbying group.
Most recently, while at a coffee shop, Omar questioned “allegiances” for Israel maintained by lawmakers and lobbyists, which once again echoes an anti-Semitic trope concerning dual-loyalty of Jewish Americans.
First and foremost, American lawmakers have an obligation to use their platforms responsibly. There is no doubt that Omar’s criticisms were lazily crafted and insensitive to historical prejudices against Jewish individuals. That said, the response to Omar’s tweets from Republicans was grossly hypocritical and also rooted in prejudice, namely Islamophobia.
Prominent Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, took aim at Omar and accused her of anti-Semitism following her remarks; ironically, McCarthy launched his own anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish Democratic donors last fall, arguing that they were attempting to buy the election.
President Donald Trump also directly accused a room of Jewish donors of trying to “control [their] politicians” with money during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Following Omar’s controversial statements, lawmakers grappled over appropriate procedural responses. Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney charged Omar with embodying “vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bigotry,” pushing Democrats to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while publicly opposed to Omar’s remarks, came to the congresswoman’s defense, arguing that she did not believe Omar harbored anti-Semitic views of any kind.
At any rate, the House did pass a bipartisan anti-hate bill, which condemned broad forms of bigotry, including both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. For many lawmakers, namely Republicans, the legislation did not go far enough. For others, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the rate at which Republicans have moved to criticize Omar, a Somali-American, represents both racism and Islamophobia.
Regardless of how lawmakers try to frame it, anti-Semitism, unfortunately, has long existed and still exists on both sides of the political aisle. It is the responsibility of Americans to condemn anti-Semitism when they see it, as ethical political practices free of prejudice ought to dominate America’s political dialogue.