From the Editor: Ilhan Omar repeatedly crossed the line

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

On March 7, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 407-23 to approve a resolution condemning racism, hatred and intolerance – specifically including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia – that was sparked after recently-elected Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to the U.S. Congress, repeatedly used anti-Semitic tropes while criticizing Israel.

For example, Omar suggested that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the largest of the pro-Israel lobby groups in the U.S., uses money to control the U.S. government via campaign contributions that make senators and congressmen beholden to Jewish money. “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” Omar tweeted, a reference to the U.S. hundred-dollar bill which features a portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

In fact, AIPAC does not make campaign contributions.

Another anti-Semitic trope Omar used was to imply that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. or that they have divided loyalties.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism has become the standard in recent years. Reflecting how anti-Zionism has often become a cover for anti-Semitism, the IHRA definition does specify that anti-Zionism can be a form of anti-Semitism.

Some critics of Israel, particularly on the far left, reject any conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism because, they suggest, it stifles debate and legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies and leaders. That’s nonsense, of course. Virtually every Israeli I know is not shy about offering such criticism.

To offer criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his policies or actions is not anti-Semitic. Just as criticizing Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau or Theresa May and/or their policies and actions does not make someone anti-American, anti-Canadian or anti-British. Open criticism and dissent are essential components of democratic societies. It is part of what distinguishes us from authoritarian dictatorships.

But there are anti-Semitic lines that must not be crossed. A couple of them that the IHRA definition notes are, “Making… stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”; and, “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Omar crossed both of those lines and that’s why she was called on the carpet by many of her colleagues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was one of those who criticized Omar. Pelosi said she didn’t think Omar was anti-Semitic but that she just didn’t understand the inherent anti-Semitism in the tropes she used.

Hopefully, Omar has come to understand the anti-Semitism in her rhetoric. She joined all of the other House Democrats and voted in favour of the resolution. All 23 nay votes were by Republicans.