Disguised as a non-partisan rebuke against bigotry, last week’s vote in the US House of Representatives for HR183 hoisted anti-Semitism to a new level. 

Only 23 lawmakers – all Republicans – voted against a resolution originally intended to reprimand Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for remarks she made at a town hall. She had insinuated that American Jewish people have allegiance to Israel rather than the US. 

Photo by: Lorie Shaull (Source Flicker)
Photo by: Lorie Shaull (Source Flicker)

 

Jewish member Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who previously sparred with Omar over anti-Semitic statements, argued that the resolution should have identified Omar. He compared the move to a January resolution condemning Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for remarks considered white supremacist. 

“In January, we condemned white supremacy,” Zeldin reminded the House members before the vote on HR183. “We kicked that member off his committees. This member will continue to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.” 

A Watershed Moment for Anti-Semitism 

Seth J. Frantzman, Op-Ed Editor and Middle East affairs analyst at The Jerusalem Post, analyzed how the attempt to condemn Omar for her brazen anti-Semitic statements backfired. He concluded that between February 28 and March 6, Omar pulled off a brilliant tactic to forever shield herself. 

“Omar and her colleague, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), were smart in how they framed their discussion leading to the foreign allegiance accusation,” Frantzman wrote.  
 

At the townhall meeting in late February, Omar prefaced her offending remarks by claiming she and Tlaib are unfairly treated because of their faith. 
 

“What I’m fearful of, because Rashida and I are Muslim, (is) that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be antisemitic because we are Muslim,” she said. 

Frantzman argued that anything Omar now says against Jewish people or Israel is already defended by the “we are Muslim” caveat. 

Bringing a Whisper Campaign into the Open 

In several Jerusalem Post articles, Frantzman has warned that an incremental “whisper campaign” against Jewish people is increasingly becoming more toxic in the US, and that Omar and Tlaib have brought it to a crescendo. He cites the three steps of this campaign:

  1. Claim anti-Semitism isn’t racism because Jewish people are white (ignoring the many who are people of color)
  2. Claim Jewish people are upholding white supremacy (because they are white)
  3. Accuse Jewish people of allegiance to a foreign country.

This process, he says, “isn’t hidden away in some conspiracy chat room somewhere, but is being pushed by the rising stars of a new, young and vibrant activist community that has taken hold.” 

This campaign is reflected in Omar’s past and present public statements.

  • In January, Omar defended a 2012 tweet claiming Israel had done “evil acts” and “hypnotized the world.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and others explained to Omar how hurtful those words were, and Omar apologized by saying the tweet was “unfortunate and offensive” and that she unwittingly used an anti-Semitic trope. How can ignorance be anti-Semitism?
  • In early February, Omar tweeted that members of Congress were pro-Israel because “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” She clarified in later tweets that she referred to a lobby group that advocates for pro-Israel policies, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and suggested that AIPAC pays members of Congress for pro-Israel policies. After another talk with Pelosi, Omar retracted the tweets and apologized, again claiming ignorance.
  • In late February at a town hall, Omar said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” meaning Jewish Americans have allegiance to Israel. This time, she refused to apologize. 

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In an interview with the online publication the Intercept, Omar claimed she was merely speaking the truth and is held to a different standard because she is a Muslim woman of color and not a white Jewish person.  

According to Omar, she was the victim in a conversation that started with her own anti-Semitic statements, saying she was singled out because of her color and faith.  

The Victory Lap

 After the vote on HR183, Representatives Omar and Tlaib declared victory for turning a debate about anti-Semitism into a win for Islam. 

“Today is historic on many fronts,” their statement read. “It's the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation's history.” The statement went on to say HR183 was about all forms of bigotry. 

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