Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images
the national interest

The GOP Attack on Ilhan Omar Trivializes Antisemitism

Elevating Marjorie Taylor Greene while punishing Omar exposes the hypocrisy.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

One of the first things the Republican Party did upon gaining control of the House of Representatives was to restore committee privileges to Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose positions were stripped over a series of deranged and bigoted statements. One of its next moves is to impose the same punishment on Ilhan Omar over her past antisemitic statements, and it officially took this step in a House vote Thursday.

The absurdity and vindictiveness of the Omar decision is thrown into the starkest relief when you consider it in conjunction with the treatment of Greene.

Omar is not completely blameless here. In 2019, she attacked support for Israel as being “all about the Benjamins” and expressing “allegiance to a foreign country.” These comments had more than a faint whiff of antisemitism. They depicted American support for a pro-Israel foreign policy as a form of dual loyalty, which depended on buying influence rather than a legitimate form of political participation.

Notably, though, Omar apologized for both remarks. House Democrats even passed a resolution denouncing them by name, which Omar supported.

Now consider Greene. Within the last few years, she has written social-media posts praising QAnon and insisting Muslims should not be able to serve in government, 9/11 was an inside job, various mass shootings were staged, “Zionist supremacists” are secretly engineering Muslim immigration to Europe in order to dilute the white population, and, most notoriously, the Rothschilds may have used a space laser to set forest fires in California in order to clear land they could sell for a rail project. (Links to all these statements can be found here.)

Greene’s only defense of these comments was to insist she did not realize the Rothschilds — who have featured centrally in antisemitic lore for more than a century — were Jewish. She has brushed off the rest of her deranged racist fever dreams by saying she wrote them (very shortly) before running for Congress.

However, after arriving in Congress, Greene continued her streak of extreme racism. Last year, she appeared at a white nationalist conference, which featured Nick Fuentes, a Nazi who has built links to Republican politics. She defended the decision as a rebuke to “identity politics,” casting her appearance as outreach. “It doesn’t matter if I’m speaking to Democrat union members or 1,200 young conservatives who feel cast aside and marginalized by society,” Greene said in a statement. “The Pharisees in the Republican Party may attack me for being willing to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people who are desperate for love and leadership.”

Greene also likened COVID restrictions to the Holocaust, saying, “We can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens — so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” and tweeting “Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear a gold star.”

She did apologize for the comments, but then retracted her apology, insisting, “I have nothing to apologize for.”

By any standard whatsoever, Greene’s comments are more inflammatory, more frequent, and less contrite.

One could imagine a standard of strict enforcement of norms against antisemitism that would justify punishing both Omar and Greene. Alternatively, one could defend a standard of forgiveness and latitude that would avoid punishing either. But to punish Omar and forgive MTG is the height of absurdity.

Indeed, Republicans almost seemed to want to advertise their own hypocrisy by giving the job of leading the charge against Omar to Representative Max Miller, a former adviser to Donald Trump. Trump spent his presidency spewing antisemitic tropes: complaining about American Jews being ungrateful and lacking the good sense of either their Israeli compatriots or Evangelical Christians, being good with money, naturally loyal to Israel, owning Congress, and on and on.

Every one of these comments was worse than anything Omar said. None produced an apology or any detectable level of concern from his party.

Republicans are not unique in their hypocrisy on the antisemitism issue. The easiest thing to do in polarized times is to excuse bigotry by your allies while denouncing it only by your enemies. But to do that is to implicitly say you don’t care about antisemitism, you only care about partisan advantage. Democrats at least took the issue seriously enough to censure Omar and obtain her apology. The Republicans are sending a message that antisemitism is nothing more than a partisan attack line. Their censuring of Omar and elevation of Greene is an open door to antisemites on the right.

The GOP Attack on Ilhan Omar Trivializes Antisemitism