What we have learned from the attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar

For now, House leaders have backed off from the presenting a resolution aimed at rebuking, or censuring Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Earlier in the day, Democrats, including some prominent African-Americans, confronted Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a testy closed-door meeting, demanding to know why they were being pushed to pass the resolution when bigoted comments by Republicans have gone unchallenged.

Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, said she told leadership that there must be “equity in our outrage,” noting that Ms. Omar, a Minnesotan and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, was being attacked for her faith. — www.nytimes.com/…

The turnabout is the result of immense pressure from the left-wing of the party, including pro-Israel lobbying organizations like J-Street seeking to offer an alternative to AIPAC. In the age of Trump and Netanyahu, it has become increasingly clear that AIPAC’s “bi-partisanship” is really a fig-leaf for a far-right policy stance.

Over the past few weeks, it’s also become clear that far-right Republicans are focused on attacking Rep. Omar. They are doing this as a part of Trump’s xenophobic and misogynistic re-election campaign. People like Steve Scalise have openly disparaged Rep. Omar without facing any sanctions from the House. Their complaints are rank hypocrisy in the face of their close alliance with white supremacists and neo-Nazis.  

As we point out Republican hypocrisy, it is worth noting that the attempts to silence and intimidate Rep. Omar went as far as they did because several Democrats fell for and aided Republican attacks. Leading this charge was the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, Eliot Engel. Rep. Engel is the most powerful Democrat on Foreign Policy issues by virtue of his chairmanship. But, his views on foreign policy are diametrically opposed to those held by rank and file Democrats.

In order to frighten Americans into supporting a U.S. takeover of Iraq, Engel falsely claimed just prior to the 2002 war authorization vote to invade Iraq that the Iraqi government was still producing chemical and biological weapons. He was among a rightwing minority of Congressional Democrats who voted to authorize the illegal, unnecessary, and predictably tragic U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country. — progressive.org/…

In 2015, he was one of a handful of Democrats who opposed President Obama’s P5 nuclear deal with Iran.  Rep. Engel’s views are far closer to Trump’s than Obama when it comes to Iran.

In a recent poll, 98% of self-described liberals supported stopping arms flow to the Saudi and Emirati coalition bombing Yemen. Yet, in 2017, Rep. Engel helped kill a resolution that would have done what 98% of liberals wanted.

In 2014, Israeli forced bombed large swaths of Gaza. This included the targeted bombing of homes, which claimed the lives of hundreds of children. In a Gallup poll conducted during the bombing of Gaza, non-white voters called Netanyahu’s war unjustified by a 49-25 margin. 18-29 year olds called it unjustified by 51-25 margin. 20-49 year olds said it was unjustified by a 43-36 margin.

Overall, Democrats opposed it by a healthy 10% margin:


In contrast, Rep. Engel unabashedly defended Netanyahu’s merciless war. In 2014, as today, Rep. Engel’s views were far more aligned with those of Republicans than with rank and file Democrats.

Which should lead us to ask why Rep. Engel holds the powerful position of chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His views do not reflect those of most Democrats. His positions are far, far more hawkish than those of most Democrats. He also has terrible political instincts. By escalating unfair Republican attacks on a black, muslim Congresswoman, one who is herself a child refugee from a war, Rep. Engel is playing into Republican hands.

Why indeed, does he have the powerful chairmanship? That’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.

And as we do that, it absolutely must be stressed that these attacks are unfair, deeply hypocritical and part of a Republican strategy to appeal to their base. Why is any Democrat aiding them in this?

Paul Waldman has an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that is very much worth the five minutes it takes to read:

You may have noticed that almost no one uses “dual loyalty” as a way of questioning whether Jews are loyal to the United States anymore. Why has it almost disappeared as an anti-Semitic slur? Because, over the last three decades, support for Israel has become increasingly associated with conservative evangelicals and the Republican Party.

Not coincidentally, this happened at the same time as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most prominent and influential pro-Israel lobby, went from supporting Israel generally to being the lobby in the United States for the Likud, Israel’s main right-wing party. While AIPAC works hard to keep Democrats in line, its greatest allies are in the GOP, where support for Israel and a rejection of any meaningful rights for Palestinians have become a central component of party ideology. When the most prominent advocates for Israel are people such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, “dual loyalty” loses any meaning as a slur against Jews. […]

Ilhan Omar certainly didn’t say that Jews have dual loyalty. For instance, in one of the tweets that got people so worked up, Omar said, “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.” You’ll notice she didn’t say or even imply anything at all about Jews. She said that she was being asked to support Israel in order to have the privilege of serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was true. Many on the right have called for her to be removed from that committee (see here, or here, or here, or here). Her argument, to repeat, isn’t about how Jews feel about Israel, it’s about what is being demanded of her.— www.washingtonpost.com/…

As usual, AOC gets to the heart of the matter.

It should come as no surprise that Republican politicians are consistently found supporting white-supremacy, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and actual anti-semitism. These forms of bigotry are related, and in a Trumpian Republican party, they have found a natural home. There is absolutely no reason powerful Democrats should be supporting hypocritical attacks by Republicans who do not have the interests of ordinary people at home and abroad, at heart.

Rep. Omar may have inadvertently caused hurt to some with a poorly phrased remark. She has apologized for that where warranted.

There is no doubt, in my mind though, that as former refugee whose life was torn apart by a civil war that the US had a hand in exacerbating, she has a unique and invaluable perspective in Congress. She has quite literally been in the shoes of millions of ordinary people caught in the horrors of war. Wars that are often perpetrated, financed and supplied by powerful people like Trump, who would never put themselves in harm’s way for anyone else.

We need more people like Rep. Ilhan Omar in Congress if we are to transform our foreign policy, which has rarely had the interests of the world’s most vulnerable people at heart. Thankfully, many Democratic leaders know this and have expressed it:

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is again running for the Democratic presidential nomination, took the opposite tack and suggested House Democratic leaders were trying to tamp down legitimate discussion of the conduct of the Israeli government. […]

But that was not enough for many lawmakers, especially African-Americans who see Ms. Omar getting singled out as a woman of color, while Democratic leaders have let slide other racist and bigoted remarks — including those of President Trump. According to several people in the room, a number of African-American representatives stood up to challenge Ms. Pelosi. — www.nytimes.com/…

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the two largest in Congress almost uniformly opposed the resolution targeting Rep. Omar. 

Finally, as usual, there’s a tape of Bernie pointing out the hypocrisy, way back in 1994.

Embedded video


.@BernieSanders in 1994, calling out the hypocrisy of the House for condemning anti-Semitic remarks (by the Nation of Islam) while refusing to condemn any other kind of bigotry. #TheMoreThingsChange #Sanders2020 #IStandWithIlhan #NotMeUs1,84211:21 AM – Mar 5, 2019751 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

— @subirgrewal