A series of anti-Semitic remarks made by new Congresswoman Ilhan Omar have widened rifts in the Democratic Party and among liberals. Some have criticized her; others made excuses for her, saying she didn’t understand what she was saying; and some, especially in the middle-class left, have defended her comments.
The controversy began in mid-February after Omar — the first Somali-American in Congress — tweeted that support for Israel in Congress was “all about the Benjamins.” When asked who she “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” the Minnesota congresswoman replied: “AIPAC,” that is, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group.
When she came under a firestorm of criticism, Omar “unequivocally” apologized. But then in early March she repeated her anti-Jewish slander, railing about “the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Her clear message is that those who support the U.S.-Israel alliance are traitors, bought out by rich Jews.
To say that a pro-Israel lobby group or the Israeli government — i.e. “Jews” — controls U.S. foreign policy is not only false, it is dangerous, because it feeds Jew-hatred. The U.S. capitalist class is the most powerful ruling class in the world. U.S. gross domestic product is nearly $20 trillion — that’s some 57 times greater than Israel’s. The U.S. rulers support the government of Israel — like they do other capitalist governments — because it’s in the interest of U.S. imperialism to do so.
Democratic Party frays
Some of Omar’s supporters were convinced they had to distance themselves from her comments. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg complained that “at a moment when activists have finally pried open space in American politics to question our relationship with Israel, it’s particularly incumbent on Israel’s legitimate critics to avoid anything that smacks of anti-Jewish bigotry. And the idea of Jews as global puppet masters, using their financial savvy to make the gentiles do their bidding, clearly does.”
But Goldberg, like other liberals and leftists, defends Omar saying that “she’s the victim of a double standard.” The real reason she is under attack, Goldberg claims, is because Omar is a “black Muslim woman” and she questions the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Under pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed presenting a motion to the House to rebuke Omar for her anti-Semitic remarks. But the Democratic left rebelled and Pelosi buckled, presenting instead a toothless condemnation of a multitude of racist, anti-gay, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic actions by “white supremacists.”
Trying to keep together the fraying factions of Democrats, Pelosi said that Omar didn’t understand “the full weight of her words.”
Some prominent Democratic Party candidates for president didn’t feel any need to take their distance from Omar. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, said that what is going on is “an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling” the debate on U.S.-Israel relations.
Sanders conveniently leaves out that it wasn’t Omar’s criticism of policies or actions of the Israeli government that got her in hot water, but her anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Jew-hatred has a long history in the class struggle. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” Fidel Castro said in a 2010 interview with The Atlantic magazine. “They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything.” Castro added that “over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms.”
When the crisis of capitalism gets so deep that the capitalist class can no longer rule by the old means and the working-class has the chance to take political power, the capitalist rulers will finance and back fascist thugs and promote the most vile centuries-old anti-Jewish slanders and conspiracy theories. They use this to try to convince the working and middle classes that the problem isn’t capitalism — it’s Jewish capitalists and, ultimately, “evil Jews.”
We saw where that ended in Nazi Germany with the slaughter of more than 6 million Jews.
That’s not what is happening today. There is no rise in fascist groups or anti-Semitism in general.
And no one is arguing that Omar or her liberal and “socialist” allies like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are for massacring Jews. But Omar and her backers’ promotion of anti-Jewish slanders disorients anyone who falls for them.
The New York Times interviewed some residents of Omar’s congressional district, including some in the Somali-American community. Many Somalis said they remember the support they received from Jewish leaders in Minnesota after a nearby mosque was bombed by white supremacists in 2017 and in the face of profiling after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“When religion is under attack, they stand by us, because they’ve been there,” Zahra Ali, told the Times. Ali does not plan to vote for Omar again. “For her to go out there and target, on a daily basis, Jews, is very sad.”