On March 1, a sign appeared in the West Virginia Capitol building that linked Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar to the 9/11 attacks. On March 4, the Democrats announced that they would vote on a resolution about her controversial tweets on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The largely pro-Israel media is partially responsible for trafficking in racist and Islamophobic stereotypes that led Republicans to demagogue Rep. Omar and Democrats to attack one of their own.
The controversy started on Feb. 10, when Omar tweeted that support for S.1, a bill that would criminalize for support for the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was “all about the Benjamins.” This started a firestorm of tweets, blog posts and think pieces denouncing Omar as an anti-Semite. Her critics said that conflating Jews with money and influence in Washington was a trope used against Jews for centuries.
The cycle started anew when Omar tweeted in response to Rep. Nita Lowey “Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! 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 people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!” This time, the criticism was that Omar deployed another anti-Semitic stereotype: Jews serving their own interests instead of their country’s.
Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! 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 people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that! https://t.co/gglAS4FVJW
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 3, 2019
This kind of media explosion isn’t seen when the right traffics in genuine anti-semitism. Last fall, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted an ad that said wealthy Jews George Soros and Tom Steyer were “buying” the midterm elections after a mail bomb was sent Soros’ home. McCarthy, House minority leader, is much more powerful than Omar, a freshman rep. Yet, CNN.com ran 10 times as many stories on Omar’s tweets.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted this tweet AFTER a bomb was sent to Soros' house. Up until a couple of minutes ago it was pinned to the top of his profile. pic.twitter.com/FEeKoPolHL
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 24, 2018
This is because legitimate anti-semitism by a white man isn’t seen as controversial as even the slightest criticism of Israel by a black Muslim woman. If the media was actually concerned that criticisms of the Israeli government could lead to anti-semitism, then where was the rage over the past statements of Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Betty McCollum, or even Sen. Bernie Sanders? All these Congresspeople are older and whiter than Ilhan Omar — that’s not a coincidence.
Media outlets also struggle to find the nuances within this issue: mainly that Jews and Zionists are not one in the same. There are Zionists Christians, and anti-Zionist Jews. When non-Jews declare an anti-Zionist statement anti-semitic, they are erasing Jews like me and reducing Jews to a monolith.
The most offensive version of this is direct comparison between anti-Zionism and white supremacy. The Washington Post recently published a column by Henry Olsen titled “Ilhan Omar is the Steve King of the left.” Rep. Steve King is a white supremacist. In an interview to a far-right Austrian newspaper, King endorsed the “Great Replacement” theory — which says that prominent Jews like George Soros are plotting a white genocide. Equating this with a condemnation of AIPAC is unconscionable. King is endorsing theories that led Robert Bowers to murder Jews in their place of worship in Pittsburgh. Ilhan Omar is supporting the liberation of the Palestinian people.
Media outlets need to have a consistent approach to allegations of anti-semitism. Anti-Zionist comments like Omar’s should not be reported as anti-semitic without talking to multiple Jews, and the race, religion and gender of the commenter shouldn’t matter. Blatantly anti-semitic statements like McCarthy’s and King’s should be reported on extensively, and the media should urge them to face consequences for their actions.