Terra Incognita: The tip of the iceberg for Ilhan Omar

The problem is that Omar’s assertions do not occur in a vacuum, and many others, increasingly influential, hold her views.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) walks on Capitol Hill (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) walks on Capitol Hill
(photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar caused another ripple of controversy on Sunday when she replied to two tweets with accusations that AIPAC and financial incentives underpin US support for Israel. But her latest Twittergate scandal is only the tip of the iceberg that hides connections to a larger toxic worldview that connects support for the Maduro regime with supporters of the Assad regime and other problematic views.
Another round of “discussions” with Omar in which she may walk back her comments won’t help challenge the larger ideological questions about some members of Congress quietly identifying with the most brutal regimes in the world.
Rep. Omar’s latest problems began when she responded to a Glenn Greenwald tweet. He had wondered why GOP leader Kevin McCarthy was trying to punish critique of Israel. “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” Omar thought she knew why. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she tweeted. Later, challenged on who is paying US politicians to be pro-Israel, she replied “AIPAC.” She continued to triple down as the evening arrived in the US, retweeting others who called her description an accurate view of the “Israel lobby” and retweeting a reference to Sheldon Adelson.
Hope came in the form of Chelsea Clinton, who critiqued Omar. Melissa Byrne, a Democrat political and community organizer who had worked with Bernie Sanders, expressed disappointment in Clinton for “piling on” Omar instead of reaching out. After all, the congresswoman is new and she needs to figure out “how to navigate calling out AIPAC.” Clinton said she would reach out. “I also think we have to call out antisemitic language and tropes on all sides.” Omar said she would be happy to talk to Clinton. “I look forward to building an inclusive movement for justice with you.”
So, we can put that behind us. Freshman congresswoman made a slight mistake. She didn’t understand how to navigate the proper way to critique the Israel lobby. She will now have a discussion about it with senior Democrats, maybe focus-group the correct words, and all can go back to normal. Because Omar’s is an important face for a party trying to show that it elects the kind of diversity that it has been championing. She is supposed to be the hope of a younger generation of Democrats.
The problem is that Omar’s assertions do not occur in a vacuum, and many others, increasingly influential, hold her views. They are part of a larger worldview.
That worldview is not only focused on Israel. Omar has dwelled on Israel in the past, calling the country an “apartheid Israeli regime” in May 2018. But she is also focused on the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Except that when it comes to US criticism of that regime, she had a different take. “We cannot hand pick leaders for other countries on behalf of multinational corporate interests,” she tweeted on January 25. She then went on to claim that the legislature in Venezuela was seizing power. Yet Venezuela’s Juan Guaido has been recognized by numerous countries, including Canada, the UK, Spain, France and Germany. Omar makes it appear as though only the Trump administration and “corporations” are supporting him. She claimed that support for him was a “US-backed coup.”
Her views dovetail with a cast of characters who tend not only to line up behind Maduro but also tend to support Syria’s Bashar Assad regime. These same ideologies often side with Russia as well. On the one hand, these voices pose as part of the far-Left in the West, but they also support the extreme Right abroad. That means they tend to see US conspiracies behind criticism of foreign regimes and sympathize with whatever extreme views claim to be “anti-imperialist” while preaching a progressive agenda at home.
Separating out the actual progressives from those who seem more comfortable with foreign dictators is relatively easy. Actual progressives tend to think the Maduro regime in Venezuela is harming average people. They tend to be wary of US military power, but not get immediately drawn into conspiracies that see “corporations” behind everything. Critical of capitalism, but not obsessed with conspiracies.
The issue with Omar’s views is not that they are critical of Israel. Israel has a lot of support in the US. The problem is that once someone has gone down the road of openly or quietly sympathizing with Maduro and a host of thuggish regime fellow travelers, one is on a road toward supporting dictatorship abroad over democracy, supporting religious coercion abroad over religious freedom, and that will eventually corrode politics inside the US. Will outreach from fellow Democrats only change the tone of Omar’s tweets or will they also encourage her to be more skeptical of some of the voices she follows on social media.