Recent comments by Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar spurred Congress to violate the spirit of the First Amendment.
By John Friend
On March 7, just after AFP went to press, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning “anti-Semitism,” anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities “as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States.”
The resolution, the second such resolution approved by the House in the past two months that explicitly denounces “anti-Semitism,” came in response to comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali-born freshman congresswoman who has been critical of the pro-Israel lobby and the potential dual loyalty members of Congress hold in relation to Israel. Omar’s statements have been widely condemned by government officials, congressional representatives, media pundits, and political commentators across the political spectrum as “anti-Semitic” in nature, despite the entirely legitimate points she has raised.
It is important to note that Omar never once mentioned “Jew” or “Jewish” in either of her purportedly controversial statements.
Omar first ran afoul of the pro-Israel lobby and its supporters in Washington when she said support for Israel and its powerful lobby was “all about the Benjamins” [i.e., Benjamin Franklin as he is pictured on a $100 bill] meaning the huge donations legislators receive from the pro-Israel community.
On March 3, Omar again ran into trouble when she took to Twitter in response to comments made by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) that Omar had “mischaracterized support for Israel.” Omar tweeted: “I should not be expected to have allegiance/ pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
The recently passed resolution expressly condemns the so-called “anti-Semitic trope” regarding “dual loyalties,” arguing that such accusations “generally have an insidious and pernicious history.
“Whether from the political right, center, or left, bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism, and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy and have no place in American political discourse,” the resolution declares.
It goes on to explicitly denounce white supremacists, citing the Unite the Right rally as an alleged violent manifestation of white supremacy, the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. in June 2015 carried out by a young man with white nationalist views, and the more recent mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh carried out by a radicalized man who reportedly stated he “wanted all Jews to die.” The resolution describes “anti-Semitism” as a “centuries-old bigotry and form of racism faced by Jews simply because they are Jews,” and states that “it is a foreign policy priority of the United States to monitor and combat anti-Semitism abroad.”
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump appointed Elan Carr, a Jewish former prosecutor based in Los Angeles, to serve as the special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, an official position in the State Department which “was created by law and designed to protect the Jewish people throughout the world,” according to Carr. The position had been left unfilled by the Trump administration for the previous two years.
The House resolution passed by a vote of 407 to 23, with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) simply voting present. The 23 “No” votes came exclusively from Republicans, including notable figures such as Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Mo Brooks (R-N.Y.), Mike Conway (R-Texas), and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), among others.
The resolution was initially designed to exclusively denounce “anti-Semitism” and to call Omar out by name as trafficking in “anti-Semitic tropes” that are “contrary to American values.” After pushback from a number of progressive Democratic allies of Omar, the resolution evolved into a broader denunciation of multiple forms of bigotry and discrimination, including “anti-Semitism,” Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination against minorities, prompting the “No” votes from Republicans.
The pro-Israel community also expressed mixed emotions to the resolution, with some organizations and leaders praising the bill and others more critical. The Anti-Defamation League praised the resolution. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt—whose organization pressured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take action—announced his organization was pleased that the House “took a firm stance against anti-Semitism, including making an explicit statement rejecting the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and other vile slurs that have been used to persecute Jews for centuries,” according to a press release issued by the organization. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, on the other hand, was critical of the resolution.
“While we commend Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to bring to the floor the issue of anti-Semitism within its ranks, the politically expedient resolution failed to call out Representative Omar by name and failed to take into account the historically unique dimensions of the anti-Semitic themes trafficked by Rep. Omar,” the organization said in a statement.
John Friend is a freelance writer based in California.