ilhan omar

Intelligencer Chat: Is the Democratic Anti-Semitism Resolution Playing Into GOP Hands?

The source of much Democratic hand-wringing. Photo: REX/Shutterstock/REX/Shutterstock

Ahead of a planned Thursday vote on a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism — and apparently all hate in general — Intelligencer staffers Jonathan Chait, Benjamin Hart, Ed Kilgore, Eric Levitz, and Max Read discussed the continuing fallout from Representative Ilhan Omar’s controversial comments about Israel, and Democrats’ handling of them.

Jon: How about a resolution simply stating that Steve King’s views on all minorities are more offensive that Omar’s statements about American Zionists? That might satisfy everybody.

Ed: Adding Islamophobia to the items condemned in the resolution is another potential angle.

Jon: It already mentioned Islamophobia.

Ed: Sorry, I may not be keeping up with versions of this.

Ben: I don’t see the point of a resolution in the first place. The whole thing feels like overkill — like a silly distraction.

Max: Last night the Daily Beast was reporting that one option on the table was a resolution condemning “all hate.”

Ed: Condemning “all hate” is pretty edgy, eh?

Max: It’s the kind of bold stand that makes me proud to be a Democrat.

Jon: Counterpoint: The party’s strong stance of opposing hate against everybody is a good thing.

Max: I cede the point.

Ed: Meanwhile, for Republicans, this is like a three-cushion shot: They get to claim that Democrats are hypocrites; they pander to the Christian right and whatever Jews are open to their appeals; and they can indirectly protect Trump and the entire GOP hate machine. Oh, and I left out the fourth cushion: 10,000 more “Democrats in Disarray” stories. I could see a take with a headline like: “For Republicans, Attacks on Omar Are Peak Whataboutism.” They’ll be talking about Omar for years.

Jon: Democrats should be able to design a resolution that condemns the dual loyalty canard and takes enough shots at Trump’s bigotry against everybody (African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews) that the GOP reps have to make a really tough choice.

Ben: Why does there have to be a resolution in the first place?

Jon: Are you talking about this resolution or the general practice of holding resolutions to condemn Bad Things?

Ben: This one. It just feels like they’ve already condemned it multiple times, and it’s a matter that would better be dealt with in-house than in this kind of spectacle-ish fashion.

Jon: Well, if you’re going to have the latter, as they do, then deciding not to scold those remarks becomes an implicit way of condoning them.

Ben: Everyone has scolded them.

Jon: Who’s everyone?

Ben: Much of the Dem leadership has. I just don’t see why you’d expose yourself to this kind of division on the House floor; Republicans must be salivating. And while that in itself isn’t a reason not to do it, I’m struggling to see the upside.

Ed: See above comment on “three-cushion shot.”

Ben: And now it’s probably going to be some nebulous “all hate is bad” thing that just makes Dems look squishy and indecisive. The whole thing has been mishandled.

Jon: IMO the objection that Omar is not as bad as Trump or even Kevin McCarthy is perfectly well-taken, and it’s fine to accommodate that.

I think there’s a real question at stake here: Is the Democratic Party going to normalize dual-loyalty accusations as part of the Israel debate — not directed against Jews per se but against American Zionists? And I think a major reason for the impasse is that there isn’t really agreement on this.

Ben: I think this kerfuffle already shows that it has not been normalized.

Jon: To the contrary, I think the statements by Warren and Sanders are presenting Omar as simply being hounded for fair criticisms of Israel. In their view, expanding the boundaries of the Israel debate includes depicting support for Israel as allegiance to a foreign country. Other Democrats disagree. Of course, some Democrats don’t want to expand the boundaries at all, and some are willing to allow more criticism of Israel as long as it steers clear of dual-loyalty tropes, or the idea of Jewish money as all-controlling force.

Ben: I don’t think the statement would have been necessary if this wasn’t day five of the controversy, or whatever it is.

Jon: I think there’ll turn out to be constituencies on either end of the party that have a lot at stake in this question.

Ed: Jon and I disagree about the relative novelty of the kind of slavish submission to Bibi exhibited by Republicans recently. I’m guessing we don’t disagree at all about U.S.-Israeli relations generally. So you can see how there might be some tensions among Democrats generally.

Eric: One thing I feel like everyone is ignoring (Omar’s critics because it weakens their case, her defenders because it feels insensitive or uncomfortable to point out) is that Omar does not speak perfect English. The syntax of her controversial quote is really convoluted and strange. So, we’re talking about someone speaking in a second tongue, who is trying to make a legitimate critique of the Israel lobby’s influence in Congress without saying anything that could be construed as anti-Semitic (a task that is nigh-impossible for the most eloquent among us). Or at least, that is plausibly what we are looking at.

Jon: I feel like her doubling down on her statement on Twitter undermines that defense.

Ed: I would like to see the next Democratic administration pressure Israel over the occupation, and as I’ve noted, I think Omar is going to make that harder.

Ed: To finish my thought, I figured Omar could repair much of the damage by saying she was thinking of Republican pols, not “Jews” (after all, there are only two Jewish Republicans in Congress). Jon seems opposed to the whole “allegiance to a foreign government” argument, no matter who we are talking about. So it gets complicated.

Ben: It’s not an easy situation.

Ed: I realize it sounds like we’re engaged in condescending retroactive advice to a freshman member of Congress from a marginalized community. But you’d have to figure if you are elected as one of the first Muslim women ever to serve in Congress, you’d have everything you intend to say on Israel worked out in advance, in detail.

Jon: Maybe Jared Kushner should be brought in. It’s the kind of knotty dilemma he specializes in solving.

Ed: Well, we are on the brink of eternal Middle East peace at his hands, if only he can clear his calendar.

Intelligencer Chat: The Ilhan Omar Mess