Ilhan Omar was 8 years old when her country of birth, Somalia, was torn apart by civil war. Her family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya, before making their way to the United States. When she was recently sworn in as a U.S. representative from Minnesota, the rules of the House were changed to allow her to wear a hijab.
One would have hoped that, based on her background and personal experiences, Rep. Omar, who represents a district in which Jews and Muslims peacefully co-exist, would exhibit respect and tolerance for all religions, and especially for other minorities.
Yet, again and again, this progressive Democrat has crossed red lines, and has gone so far in her unacceptable comments that even the leadership of her own party has sought to dissociate themselves from her positions, and some of her Muslim constituents have expressed discomfort with the path she is taking.
Last month, Omar raised an uproar after she suggested on Twitter that members of Congress are being paid by AIPAC to support Israel.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others strongly condemned the statement and demanded an apology, Omar “unequivocally” apologized, claiming that she’s “Listening and learning, but standing strong.”
Only weeks later, she unequivocally proved that she was neither listening nor learning and that her apology was meaningless.
Speaking at an event in a Washington book store, she declared that “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Of the countless slurs hurled at innocent Jews throughout the generations, few are as vile or dangerous as an accusation of “allegiance to a foreign country.” This time, she declined to apologize. Under mounting pressure, with an eye toward the 2020 elections, a dismayed Democratic leadership came to the conclusion that something had to be done to distance the party from Congresswoman Omar’s remarks.
Clearly, the most appropriate reaction should have been for the House to take the rare step of censuring Omar, or at the very least, pass a resolution naming her and specifically addressing her comments. Last month GOP Representative Steve King of Iowa aroused his own furor by saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” House Republican leaders responded by stripping King of his committee assignments.
However, when it came to Omar, who sits on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, this was something the house leadership was unwilling to consider.
Instead, they decided to pass a resolution decrying anti-Semitism in general and allegations of dual loyalty in particular. One would have imagined that such a resolution would easily pass the house without opposition.
Yet Omar’s defenders and supporters put up a fight, arguing that Omar was somehow being singled out unfairly and that Congress had not acted in response to what they claimed was “racially charged rhetoric” by President Trump and his supporters.
Taken aback at first by renegade House members, the Democratic leadership partially retreated, and agreed to add anti-Muslim bias in the same resolution. In the end, they passed a seven-page resolution that details a history of recent attacks against Jews and Muslims in the United States, and condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to “the values and aspirations” of the American people.
Much of the language of the resolution is strong and on target:
It points out that in 2017, the FBI reported a 37 percent increase in hate crimes against Jews or Jewish institutions and found that attacks against Jews or Jewish institutions made up 58.1 percent of all religious-based hate crimes, and states that “there is an urgent need to ensure the safety and security of Jewish communities, including synagogues, schools, cemeteries, and other institutions.”
It refers to the “insidious and pernicious history” of accusations of dual loyalty, and clearly states that “accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or to the Jewish community than to the United States constitutes anti-Semitism because it suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have loyally served our Nation every day since its founding, whether in public or community life or military service.”
Later in the document, it reiterates that Congress “rejects the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”
Republican critics were outraged that in the revised version of the resolution, language was added that decried various other types of bigotry and hatred, with a number of paragraphs dedicated specifically to anti-Muslim discrimination. Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, called the resolution “a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism.”
Worried what it would look like if GOP members voted against such a resolution, even if their intentions are noble, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Whip Steve Scalise tried to convince them to vote yes.
In the end 23 Republican members voted against it, while Rep. Omar voted for it, and then had the gall to claim victory, issuing a statement praising the “historic” vote as the first resolution to condemn “anti-Muslim bigotry.” We certainly can all agree that any type of religious intolerance is deplorable, and discrimination against one religious minority is inevitably harmful to everyone’s religious liberties. The fact that the House failed to pass the original measure that focused only on anti-Semitism is both telling and disappointing, but that does not totally eliminate the value of the actual resolution.
At a time when our religious rights are increasingly under attack, and anti-Semitism is on the rise, this resolution — while not ideal — is still welcome to Jews in exile.
This editorial is reprinted from Monday’s daily edition.