Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Somalian-born Muslim, is plainly hostile to Israel. But her Twitter messages of Sunday evening, February 10, calling into question the legitimacy of Israel, a reliable U.S. ally, were way out of bounds. To their credit, Democratic Party leaders issued a written rebuke. They now should take action.
The controversy revolves around a pair of retweets sent by Congresswoman Omar, who represents the Left-leaning 5th Congressional District of Minnesota, which encompasses Minneapolis and several suburbs. In the first instance, she favorably commented on an absurd allegation by radical blogger Glenn Greenwald that GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was attacking the freedom of speech of anti-Israeli (and fellow Muslim) Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Rep. Omar remarked about Israel’s supporters, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” (Note: A Benjamin is slang for a $100 bill). In the second instance, she contemptuously responded to a tweet by Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor of the Jewish newspaper, The Forward, who had expressed dismay over Rep. Tlaib’s hostility toward Israel. “AIPAC!,” retorted Omar. That would be the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The following afternoon, House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, called for an apology from Rep. Omar. “…Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” their statement read. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.” An hour and a half later, she offered an apology. “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes…I unequivocally apologize,” she said.
Critics believe this is insufficient. “I think she should be ashamed of herself,” President Donald Trump told reporters. “I think it was a terrible statement and I don’t think her apology was adequate.” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, also weighed in. “What she (Rep. Omar) doesn’t realize is AIPAC, like every other advocacy organization in Washington, is exercising its constitutionally protected rights to advocate on behalf of its agenda,” he said. “When you call it out and differentiate the Jewish community, it feeds that stereotype of controlling the world.” He had a point. Rep. Omar avoided mentioning that Israel’s enemies have their own Washington lobbying outfits such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
Omar’s apology looks like strategic backtracking given her longstanding animosity toward Israel. Back in 2012, she tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Six years later, after her 2018 campaign, she announced her support for the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement which seeks the economic isolation of Israel as leverage in persuading that country to surrender sovereign territory to terrorism-endorsing Palestinian leaders. This was a reversal from what she had told a Jewish audience during the campaign.
Now in office, she’s not as brazen. But she still has that radical spirit. On February 11 she tweeted, “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.” Five days before her tweets of February 10, she told CNN that it is “exciting” to be sparking debate about Israel’s place in the world. “It is really important for us to get a different lens about what peace in that region could look like and the kind of difficult conversations we need to have about allies,” she remarked. In recent years, the world has seen what such a “peace” would look like. Consider, among other things, the prodigious number of rockets that Hamas terrorists continue to launch from Gaza (from which Israel withdrew in 2005) into Israeli civilian areas.
Democrats, to be credible, need to impose sanctions against Ilhan Omar. Issuing a critical press release is not enough. Here are three sensible courses of action.
Remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This is essential and doable. It is grossly irresponsible to give Rep. Omar a visible platform to sound off against Israel. A request by a member of Congress for a committee assignment should not necessitate compliance by party leaders. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., himself Jewish, should take the lead.
Bar her from caucuses on Israel-related issues. Rep. Omar’s presence in a caucus room in this context would be disruptive and noxious. Come to think of it, party leaders should bar Rep. Tlaib from such discussions as well.
Cut off national party funding for her next election campaign. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) should recognize that it is not in the party’s interest to alienate moderately liberal voters by bankrolling an extremist like Rep. Omar. Given that the DNC’s chairman is former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, a radical multiculturalist, achieving a funding cutoff will be a tough task.
In a real sense, Ilhan Omar’s presence in Congress is a by-product of the ethno-racial “diversity” promoted by the people who now control the Democratic Party. Her district has seen massive Somalian refugee settlement in recent years. That’s mainly how she won the nomination. Perhaps lawmakers in both parties can connect contempt for Israel with immigration by people inculcated with such contempt.