The Democratic Party spent the week working through an ugly internal drama arising from Representative Ilhan Omar’s depiction of supporters of the U.S. alliance with Israel as promoting “allegiance to a foreign country.” Pro-Israel Democrats wanted to get the party on record calling such claims a form of anti-Semitism. Omar’s allies rallied around her.
Democrats managed to smooth it over with an anti-hate resolution, first incorporating more fulsome disavowals of anti-Muslim bigotry, and then language denouncing bigotry against … basically everybody (“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”). The resolution declared Nazis are bad, Martin Luther King Jr. was good, and — the real heart of the matter — rejected “the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”
It was a very Democratic Party solution. Adding to the comedy, 23 House Republicans voted no on the resolution, joined by a judicious abstention from white nationalist Steve King. Amazingly, after spending days focusing relentlessly on Omar’s comments, Republicans voted against a resolution specifically deeming those comments to be anti-Semitic. And their stated reason is that the resolution also attacked other kinds of racism.
Possibly their actual gripe was that the resolution noted, “On August 11 and 12, 2017, self-identified neo-Confederates, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen held white supremacist events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they marched on a synagogue under the Nazi swastika, engaged in racist and anti-Semitic demonstrations and committed brutal and deadly violence against peaceful Americans.”
The House resolution vote had good people on both sides. But all the bad people were on the Republican side.
Some conservative attacks on the resolution have revealed the hollow bad faith of their objections. Ben Shapiro calls it a “sham resolution constructed to shield an open anti-Semite.” Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel complains that it mentioned the Nazi rally in Charlottesville:
The resolution did not “shield” Omar. It specifically cited the form of anti-Semitism she employed, even repeating her exact terms and specifically defining them as a kind of anti-Semitism. This was a step several presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren refused to take. Both Warren and Sanders released statements portraying Omar as having been smeared as an anti-Semite for her innocent criticisms of Israel. The House resolution plainly contradicted that stance.
Now, what about the fact that the resolution also highlighted other kinds of bigotry? That does not undermine its renunciation of Omar’s anti-Semitic remark. It does reveal a lot about where her right-wing critics are coming from, though.
Omar’s allies kept deflecting the question of her anti-Semitism to the worse bigotry on the right. Bringing up the other side’s flaws is inadequate as a substitute for addressing your own. But it’s fine if you do it in addition to addressing your own.
And it is actually true that the Republican Party is far more bigoted, in far more ways, and that Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes is hardly the gravest crisis of racism in the United States. It’s notable that the formal denunciation of anti-Islamic bigotry, a widespread and serious phenomenon that George W. Bush tried to halt but which has been stoked by Donald Trump, has never passed Congress before last night. Republicans blocked such an effort in 2016.
Republicans may be offended that the resolution mentions a Nazi rally. But the fact that Trump is the first president to inspire Nazis to rally to his side is hardly irrelevant to the issue of bigotry. And their objection to its inclusion highlights the bad faith of their whole effort. Their real goal is not to oppose dual-loyalty smears. It’s to focus single-mindedly on this one form of bigotry as a way of excusing the bigotry on their own side.
This was not a fight over whether Democrats are as compromised by bigotry as the Republicans. It was a fight over how much higher its standards would remain. The answer is: much higher.
This post has been updated throughout.