Words matter. They matter when the president of the United States calls some places “sh**hole countries,” and they matter when a member of Congress makes offensive comments about Israel and the motives of the people who support it to the point they are felt to be anti-Semitic.
Anti-Semitism and white supremacy are on the rise in America, particularly over the last two years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, incidents of white supremacist propaganda are up 49 percent from last year, which saw an increase of 17 percent from the prior year.
So, when someone says or does something that is genuinely anti-Semitic, swift action should be taken. It cannot just be brushed aside, lest we start to see a similar spike in incidents of anti-Semitism.
Prior to coming to Congress, Rep. Omar was an activist free to say what she wanted, when she wanted, and how she wanted. As a member of Congress, she lost that privilege. More is expected of her and her words have far more impact than ever before. Part of her job is to rise to the occasion. Rep. Omar clearly needs to learn that lesson, and fast.
But let’s also be clear: There is a difference between poor word choice and actually advocating white supremacy, as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, did in January, adding to an already long history of racist remarks. Yes, King was disciplined for his most recent remarks, but that doesn’t mean he learned his lesson.
In fact, when he had an opportunity to support the House resolution, he took a pass and voted present. PRESENT! A message that he was there, but clearly didn’t want to vote in support of a resolution denouncing hate, and was too weak to have a no vote on the record.
I don’t pretend to know what is in Omar or King’s hearts any more than I know what is in the hearts of the people who ran TV ads with images of George Soros sitting behind a pile of cash. But it’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to exercise some good old-fashioned common sense.
If Rep. Omar wants to have a serious conversation about American policy toward Israel, she should do it responsibly, using language that is mindful of Jewish history – one that haunts to this day. Failure to do so only hurts any effort she may make to try and foster a meaningful policy discussion.
And her attackers in the Republican Party should also wise-up. The public knows that when it comes to dividing our country on the issue of white supremacy, the GOP has done more to contribute to the problem than be part of a solution.
From being on the wrong side of the debates regarding the Confederate flag and monuments, to fueling anti-Muslim hatred (which some believe is behind the attacks on Omar), the Republican party has no high ground on which to stand. They further solidified that during the House vote, where all 23 no votes came from Republicans.
The bottom line is this: We can all do better. Omar needs to respect the gravity of the office she now holds and the impact of the words she uses. Republicans should stop looking for every little “gotcha” moment in an effort to distract from their own challenges.
And we the public should hold them all accountable for acting like grown-ups and embracing policy discussions that make America stronger, without deepening the political divide.