Jewish American organizations endorsing antisemitism must be denounced

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was widely adopted - the pro-Israel community should use it to target obvious antisemites.

 US HOUSE Speaker Nancy Pelosi greets Rep. Ilhan Omar on Capitol Hill. Even the Democratic House leadership, led by Pelosi, said that Omar had ‘engaged in deeply offensive antisemitic tropes.’  (photo credit: SARAH SILBIGER/REUTERS)
US HOUSE Speaker Nancy Pelosi greets Rep. Ilhan Omar on Capitol Hill. Even the Democratic House leadership, led by Pelosi, said that Omar had ‘engaged in deeply offensive antisemitic tropes.’
(photo credit: SARAH SILBIGER/REUTERS)

Once upon a time, identifying an antisemite required the proverbial duck test. If it quacked like an antisemite, then it probably was an antisemite. But there were still ways for antisemites to duck responsibility.

That has changed in recent years, due to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) uniform working definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by 38 countries, including the United States, by executive order in Donald Trump’s White House, three years ago.

That definition of antisemite is a perfect fit for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, one of the first two Muslim women (along with Rashida Tlaib) to serve in Congress. Her actions in recent years directly match several of the clauses of the definition.

Omar has used symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism when she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world” and that US politicians’ support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” a reference to hundred dollar bills. Even the Democratic House leadership, led by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said when she invoked that canard that Omar had “engaged in deeply offensive antisemitic tropes.”

Another part of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel.” She clearly did that in February 2019, when she angered fellow House Democrats Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey (both of NY) by saying “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

 ‘THE SQUAD’ – US Reps. Ayanna Pressley (from left), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in 2019 (credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS) ‘THE SQUAD’ – US Reps. Ayanna Pressley (from left), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in 2019 (credit: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS)

Omar has also repeatedly applied double standards toward Israel and singled out the world’s only Jewish state for her own political reasons. She even equated Israel and the US with Hamas, Afghanistan and the Taliban. Nevertheless, despite all that quacking, several left-wing groups in the US still have the audacity to pretend that Omar is not a duck.

Who came to Omar’s defense when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pledged to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee? J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Habonim Dror North America, New Israel Fund, T’ruah and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“As Jewish American organizations, we oppose Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s pledge to strip Representative Ilhan Omar of her House Foreign Affairs Committee seat based on the false accusations that she is antisemitic or anti-Israel,” the organizations wrote in a joint statement, last week. “We may not agree with some of Congresswoman Omar’s opinions, but we categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee.”

THE GROUPS unabashedly added that their support for Omar “seems especially exploitative in light of the rampant promotion of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by [McCarthy] and his top deputies, amid a surge in dangerous right-wing antisemitism.”

All these fringe groups must be condemned for endorsing an antisemite. Their claims to be pro-Israel should no longer be taken seriously by anyone of repute. Just like the pro-Iranian protesters of Neturei Karta, it must be made clear that they do not represent American Jewry. To their credit, unlike the Reform leaders who endorsed Omar, at least the Neturei Karta are honest about their feelings toward Zionism.

"A false accusation? J Street is defending one of the most vocal anti-Israel critics in Congress.”

AIPACs twitter account

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, rightfully criticized J Street for its Omar endorsement. “J Street says it’s a ‘false accusation’ to call Rep. Ilhan Omar anti-Israel,” AIPAC posted on Twitter. “A false accusation? J Street is defending one of the most vocal anti-Israel critics in Congress.”

While it is important to maintain a big tent of varied pro-Israel movements, these groups must be seen as crossing the red lines disqualifying entry into the tent. Clear criteria must be crafted that would, of course, forbid supporting a blatant antisemite.

There is no doubt the overwhelming majority of Reform Jews would be in that tent, even if their current leadership would not. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism should devote more action to educating Reform Jews and less fighting against Israel in Congress.

Why is it not obvious that to be a pro-Israel organization means taking steps to enable the most important House committee for Israel to have one less vote against it? That is why Kevin McCarthy needs to be praised for not only speaking out but also being ready to double down and take immediate action to help Israel.

McCarthy, who is facing a tough race for Speaker of the House next month, deserves the support of pro-Israel Congressmen, who should ensure he obtains the 218 votes typically needed to become speaker of the 435-member body. If for whatever reason McCarthy is not chosen, whoever becomes House Speaker must ensure that Ilhan will not be on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Jstreet anti-Netanyahu campaign (credit: PR)Jstreet anti-Netanyahu campaign (credit: PR)

This is the time for truly pro-Israel organizations to speak out. Condemning Omar is not about politics, it is about getting the real pro-Israel community’s ducks in a row and targeting an obvious antisemite.

The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former US president Donald Trump as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed here are his own. [email protected]