The U.S. House failed to meet its moral, social and political obligations to the American people Thursday when it refused to condemn anti-Semitic Rep. Ilhan Omar by name for her embrace of vile and hateful stereotypes and slurs that have been leveled against Jews since ancient times.
And by watering down a resolution originally designed to focus on the evil of anti-Semitism to respond to Omar’s bigotry – instead turning it into a resolution condemning prejudice against many groups – Democrats displayed disgraceful cowardice.
The weak resolution ignoring the repeated anti-Semitic rants of Omar, D-Minn., sets a new low for failure to hold elected officials accountable for what they say and what they do. It virtually guarantees more bigotry – not less – under the Capitol dome.
Instead of targeting Omar’s blatant anti-Semitism expressed in her multiple toxic tweets and public statements, the House resolution – approved on a vote of 407-23 – condemns the fact that “white supremacists in the United States have exploited and continue to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain, targeting traditionally persecuted peoples, including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others with verbal attacks, incitement, and violence.”
Obviously, prejudice and attacks on all these groups is wrong. But lumping Jews in with so many other groups made the resolution not about condemning anti-Semitism as a response to Omar, but simply a generalized statement endorsing respect for all for humankind.
And by putting together a long list of specific prejudices to condemn, the House Democrats who put together the anti-hate resolution inevitably left a lot of people out. These include the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, the largest religious group on the planet, who have been targeted in some countries for terrible persecution.
And what about the world’s 376 million Buddhists, and followers of other religions like the Baha’i, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians and many others?
The point is that no matter how long a list you draw up, some group worthy of protection from prejudice will always be left out. This is why it makes far more sense to respond to specific actions that deserve condemnation.
The 23 Republicans who refused to vote for the watered-down anti-hatred resolution did the right thing by opposing this meaningless statement.
If a member of Congress denounces all Muslims he or she should be condemned. The same is true if a member express blatant prejudice against African-Americans or any other group. But simply passing resolutions covering billions of people without condemning individuals who expressed hatred for them is pointless.
The resolution passed by the House “reaffirms its support for the mandate of the United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.”
But the refusal of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her Democratic colleagues to stick with the original language of the resolution that would have directly condemned Omar and her repeated anti-Semitic tropes will not be received well around the world. In fact, will be taken by many as proof that the U.S. Congress is afraid to deal directly and forthrightly with anti-Jewish slanders uttered by a member within its own ranks.
The First Amendment of U.S. Constitution bars Congress from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech.” But as we were all taught as children, speech may be free but words are supposed to have consequence. Yet while that’s true for most of us in our daily lives, the rules for a member of Congress are different.
Members of Congress cannot be sued for slander. Once elected, each member of the House and Senate has the power of fully protected speech to use Capitol’s bully pulpit as he or she sees fit.
Rep. Omar chose to abuse the trust of her constituents and all Americans by launching insidious canards targeting American Jews – accusing Jews of bribing members of Congress to win their support, and accusing Jews of dual loyalty to the state of Israel.
The dual-loyalty charge embraces the horrible lie that Jews cannot be good citizens in the countries where they live, but are really only loyal to themselves and (since 1948) the Jewish state of Israel. This meets the textbook definition of anti-Semitism and has been used to label Jews as “the other” in countries around the world where they have lived for centuries. It has been used to justify violent attacks and mass murders of Jews.
And despite disclaimers from some Democrats that Omar should be excused because of her youth, inexperience, religion or race, the truth is she has no excuses. Months before her newest anti-Jewish outbursts, the Jewish community in Minnesota met with her to detail their very real concerns about anti-Semitism.
So Omar knew exactly what she was saying when she criticized Jews and Israel repeatedly. She knew her comments would ignite a firestorm. But she has been held to zero accountability for her bigotry. To the contrary, she has landed on the cover of Rolling Stone with none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Worse, over the last few days, we are witness to a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 justifying and encouraging Omar.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel. … What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
Really? Sanders is confusing debates over policy issues and the continuing demonization of Israel – a country Omar has never set foot in and knows only enough about to call evil.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center – an organization that has fought against hatred of all groups for over 40 years and where I am honored to work – renews our call for the House to pass a straightforward condemnation of Rep. Omar for her anti-Semitism.
Failure to call an anti-Semite by that term and denounce her for it will cast passage of the politically expedient resolution approved by the House Thursday as the day opposition to anti-Semitism became a dangerous political football.
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, independent, libertarian, socialist, communist or anything else, if you are a decent person you should reject anti-Semitism and denounce anti-Semites. This is what the House should have done Thursday but sadly failed to do.