The Democratic Party fails to condemn antisemitic Democrats

The message is clear, dangerous and bleak: antisemitism’s introduction into political discourse by a member of Congress incurs no cost and perhaps yields rewards.

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK AND ERIC MILLER/REUTERS)
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
Perhaps the most remarkable and disquieting aspect of the revelation that 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is employing three senior advisers with records of involvement in antisemitic incidents, is the disinterest it has engendered in Democratic circles across the board.
First, it emerged that Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir and his senior foreign policy adviser Matthew Duss, while both serving previously at the left-wing think tank, the Center for American Progress, had in 2012 been involved on the center’s blog and website in the use of antisemitic tropes about Jewish dual loyalty and domination of money and politics.
Then it emerged that Sanders’ national deputy press secretary Belén Sisa had participated in a recent Facebook discussion in which she used the antisemitic trope of Jewish dual loyalty.
The antisemitic incidents involving Shakir and Duss encompassed such a furor at the time that it led the Obama administration, which was often deeply critical of and in conflict with Israel, to criticize those involved and cease contact with them.
Given this history, it is astonishing that a Democratic presidential candidate feels entirely at ease with having these three figures, tainted with antisemitism, within his inner circle of advisers.
Nor is this all. The Sanders incident is occurring in a wider context of Democratic Party drift towards the vociferously anti-Israel positions of the hard Left, as well as the election to Congress in last year’s midterms of proponents of these positions – reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY), Ilhan Omar (D–Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D–Michigan).
THESE NEW legislators clearly don’t support Israel’s existence and support anti-Israel campaigns, such as the Boycott, Sanctions & Divestment (BDS) movement – a position that, until now, enjoyed no support from a sitting member of Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez is critical of Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), even though they comprise less than 2% of Judea and Samaria and there hasn’t been a single new community built there since 1993. She also asserted her support for BDS as well as opposition to Israel’s existence, and is a leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, which also opposes Israel’s existence.
Omar, in a 2012 tweet following Israeli military operations in Gaza in response to 150 rockets fired into Israel, said: “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She staunchly defended her tweet before finally conceding its offensiveness, belatedly deleting it.
Since arriving in Congress, she has made further antisemitic statements, like asserting that supporters of Israel are attempting to get American lawmakers to have “allegiance to a foreign country” and that AIPAC bribes legislators to support Israel.
Tlaib calls Israel a “racist country” on the basis of the lie that Israel discriminates against those who are “darker skinned,” ignoring Israel’s bringing in of huge numbers of black Ethiopians and dark-skinned Yemenites. She supports BDS and the destruction of Israel in favor of an Arab-dominated state (“it has to be one state”), absurdly claiming Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King – a consistent, outspoken supporter of Israel – as the inspiration for her views. Tlaib also “absolutely” backs withholding US aid from Israel.
When Tlaib was elected, she attended her victory party draped in the flag of the Palestinian Authority as well as embracing Abbas Hamideh, a member of the terrorist Hezbollah group. No Democrat criticized this overt display of support for an entity that names schools and streets after terrorists, whom it pays to murder Jews.
WHAT HAS been the reaction of senior Democrats?
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, declared that he didn’t “accept” that Omar and Talib are antisemitic. House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) described them merely as “thoughtful colleagues.” Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D–California), leapt to Omar’s defense when she accused Israel’s supporters of dual loyalty. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–California) legitimized Omar by elevating her to the House Foreign Relations Committee. (Pelosi subsequently criticized some of Omar’s statements, but then absolved her of harboring deliberate antisemitic intent and refused to remove her from the committee.)
House Democrats as a whole have performed little better. Initially, they tabled a resolution prompted by Omar’s antisemitic statements. But many, like the all-Democrat Black Congressional Caucus, were less interested in condemning Omar’s antisemitic outbursts than in producing a motherhood resolution condemning diverse forms of racism in the abstract. In the end, that is what the Democratic-controlled House passed, without even a mention of Omar.
Rep. Karen Bass (D–California), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said earlier this year that unless Republicans condemned Rep. Steve King (R–Iowa) and removed him from his committee assignments after he made racially insensitive remarks (which they did), the GOP would be guilty of “tacit acceptance of racism.”
Yet Bass refused to subject Omar to the same equal standard, saying she “absolutely would have a problem” if the House resolution were to call out Omar specifically.
House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D–South Carolina) said of Omar: “I am trying to do everything I can to make her journey here a comfortable one.”
The message is clear, dangerous and bleak: antisemitism’s introduction into political discourse by a member of Congress incurs no cost and perhaps yields rewards. Omar is already a hero in Jew-hating corners of America: neo-Nazi David Duke has gushed: “Ilhan Omar is NOW the most important member of the US Congress!”
In short, a party whose legislators support the elimination of Israel, indulge in antisemitism and hire antisemitic advisers while incurring no penalty – and who receive, at best, anemic criticism from their senior colleagues, and at worst, promotion to Congressional committees – is a party that is normalizing antisemitism, not marginalizing it.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). A national Jewish weekly named him one of the top five Jewish leaders in America and one of the top Jewish activists of the last century. Follow him on @mortonaklein7 and Dr. Daniel Mandel is director of ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).