U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) takes part with Democratic leaders (including U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left) during the announcement of the introduction of the Equality Act at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2019.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
It should be axiomatic in American politics: If both David Duke and Louis Farrakhan support your position, you should reconsider it.
Such is the dilemma for US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), whose repeated antisemitic remarks have drawn approbation from curious places. She remains insufficiently apologetic, though.
Omar’s intransigence is made somewhat understandable by the failure of the House of Representatives to issue an unequivocal condemnation of either her behavior or the wider problem of antisemitism. In confronting the world’s oldest and most resilient social problem, Congress did what would have been unthinkable in condemning, say, racism or misogyny: it folded the problem into a litany of horribles that included discrimination against multiple other groups.
Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was booed and pressured to apologize when he responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by declaring, “All lives matter.” This is because his pat, all-inclusive formulation diminished the immediate problem of racism, particularly as it pertained to black victims of police violence. But this is what Congress has done in response to antisemitism, at a time when one of its own members is practicing it. In its own “All Lives Matter” moment, Congress is avoiding dealing with antisemitism by refusing to confront it squarely.
The anti-hate resolution passed by the House condemned antisemitism as a “hateful expressions of intolerance,” at the same time as it also condemned Islamophobia and discrimination against all minorities as “hateful expressions of intolerance.” It referenced the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and the mass synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh while simultaneously deploring the oppression by white supremacists of “traditionally persecuted peoples,” including people of color, religious minorities, immigrants “and others.”
The 19th century Dreyfus affair in France is offered as an example of a false Jewish dual-loyalty accusation, while more recent examples, such as Japanese-American internment during World War II or post-9/11 discrimination against Muslims, were used to illustrate some of the threats faced by populations in the United States.
Despite the best efforts of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida), the resolution’s initial drafter, the final amalgamated product is a sweeping condemnation of all bad things, rather than a serious attempt to address antisemitism. The catch-all resolution acknowledged that antisemitism is one of many forms of discrimination in America, but there are a number of things it did not tell us. For example:
• Antisemitism is a unique and uniquely persistent social illness, featuring distinct manifestations and sometimes requiring distinct solutions. Today, it is at its greatest peak since World War II.
• Hate-crime statistics demonstrate that Jews are by far the most targeted religious group in the United States.
• Antisemitism appears both on the far Left and the far Right of the political spectrum, but its alarming growth on the Left, among minorities and among young people, is pushing antisemitic viewpoints further into the mainstream.
• Holocaust denial is a glaring aspect of antisemitism. The increase in distortion or minimization of the Holocaust speaks to the need for more education, something that is within Congress’s purview.
• The impingement on Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter (shechitah) is a growing concern worldwide and poses an existential threat to many Jewish communities abroad.
• The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and the State Department’s fact sheet on antisemitism contain definitions of the problem that should be widely circulated to increase understanding of it.
• Israel, Israel, Israel. The House resolution mentions Israel only once, in its reference to the myth of Jewish dual loyalty. But many of the most common manifestations of contemporary antisemitism involve anti-Israel hatred that crosses the line into antisemitism. We are frequently reminded that legitimate policy criticism of Israel should not be confused with antisemitism, as though that needs to be explained. However, the resolution did not speak about the appropriation of traditional antisemitic motifs in service of an anti-Israel message, something that has become a regular feature of political discourse today.
• The resolution did not explain that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere can never justify antisemitism, as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has already declared. It also skirted the harm done to the Jewish community – which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel – when the Jewish state is demonized, for example, by obscene comparisons to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Or by the imposition of double standards on Israel when it attempts to defend itself from security threats, for which most Western countries have little appreciation or understanding.
When antisemitism spiked nearly two decades ago in response to the Second Intifada, officials in Europe were slow to react to the problem, dismissing it at first as a temporary reaction to events in the Middle East. Proponents of a “holistic” approach to combating social hatreds argued that there should be no “hierarchy of discrimination,” implying that antisemitism should not receive a special focus and should instead be grouped together with other phobias. We have now heard similar arguments in the US Congress, which collectively rejected a standalone resolution on antisemitism. Nearly two decades after the start of the current wave of antisemitism, some minds have yet to change on this issue.
The writer, writing out of our Washington headquarters, has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007.
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