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Boardman writes: "Democrats have gone all atwitter (pun intended), scattering ruffled feathers all over the barnyard as if a fox were after them when the only serious threat to their blinkered preconceptions comes from a bird of different plumage."

Representative Ilhan Omar. (photo: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)
Representative Ilhan Omar. (photo: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

The Sins of Ilhan Omar Start With Challenging Rigid Orthodoxy

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

09 March 19


emocrats have gone all atwitter (pun intended), scattering ruffled feathers all over the barnyard as if a fox were after them when the only serious threat to their blinkered preconceptions comes from a bird of different plumage. Not all Democrats are squawking like chickens with their heads cut off (as it were), but enough of the older, backward-looking birds are making enough noise to make the whole party look idiotic.

In plainer language, the Democratic Party remains in the grip of white privilege, which can only be a losing position in a country where there’s no effective challenge to Trump for the white supremacy vote. Want proof? Nominate Biden. But that’s only a prediction. What’s going on right now in the House of Representatives is reprehensible enough as reflexive ideologues swarm to block the smallest whiff of any fresh air.

The demonization of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a hari-kari move for the party, led by people dug in against almost any real change, doing as little as possible about all the actual crises. Demonizing a forthright congresswoman from Minnesota, who came to this country as a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia, is reactionary, mindless, unjustified and fundamentally stupid. Stupid? Yes, stupid, because it helps Republicans inflame division among Democrats with no offsetting gain. The American role in Somalia has been destructive for decades, but who’s thinking about apologizing for that?

As this is written, the state of play is that a minority of old-line Democrats want a nonbinding resolution condemning anti-Semitism, but only their figment of anti-Semitism as imagined in a handful of remarks by Ilhan Omar. There has been enough pushback from others in the party that there’s no agreement on whether the resolution might also condemn Islamaphobia. So far, no one’s much suggesting adding any of the many other bigotries to the resolution, which is pretty weird if you stop to think about it. Basically, the resolution pretends to be all about anti-Semitism, which is abhorrent, but the overall reaction kind of illustrates Ilhan Omar’s point in the first place: it’s all about Israel.

Or more to the point, it’s all about saying nothing bad about Israel, which is straightforward political censorship. Coming in the wake of the UN Human Rights Council report that Israeli soldiers likely committed war crimes by killing 189 unarmed civilians in Gaza during 2018, the freakout over Ilhan Omar looks like a very convenient and cynical distraction.

So what is the case against Ilhan Omar? There are a variety of alleged “smoking guns” claimed against Omar, all of which, on close examination, shoot blanks. The one that touched off the current rush to misjudgment was a short, simple tweet on February 10, 2018, here in its entirety:

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” [musical-notes emoji]

This is obviously a quote from a Puff Daddy song (on the album “No Way Out,” 1997), that’s what the musical notes mean. The quote is about as anti-Semitic as saying, “Money makes the world go ‘round.” It’s not anti-Semitic, it’s just true, in a pretty obvious and superficial way. It’s also a truth widely subjected to political denial.

And is there anyone out there who isn’t aware that a Republican-dominated Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates to the money-corruption of American politics we suffer from today? Ilhan Omar spoke the truth, a small truth to be sure, but the truth all the same.

So what about the context? Maybe that helps. Ilhan Omar’s tweet was in response to a tweet from journalist Glenn Greenwald:

Greenwald based his tweet on a report saying just that in Haaretz. McCarthy even equated the two women with serial racist Republican Steve King, about whom McCarthy never felt the need to do anything. McCarthy’s promise of “action” against the two Muslim women was clearly an empty threat from a minority party leader. Then Democrats panicked, took the bait, and created an irresponsible hysteria-storm that really is a witch-hunt. So it looks like the Democratic knee-jerkers got played, badly played, by a corrupt Republican whose interest in bigotry is only self-serving. Or have we forgotten all the times McCarthy has called out the president on his racist tropes of all sorts?   

In any event, Ilhan Omar responded in a mature and straightforward manner in a tweet at 2:46 p.m. the following day:

In a rational where people operated in good faith, none of what Ilhan Omar said would have provoked much disagreement, never mind the irrational ritual scapegoating that erupted. The deeper context for this flare-up was much nastier, as reported by Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times on February 1, referring to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib:

… their uncompromising views on Israel have made them perhaps the most embattled new members of the Democratic House majority. Almost daily, Republicans brashly accuse Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar of anti-Semitism and bigotry, hoping to make them the Democrats’ version of Representative Steve King as they try to tar the entire Democratic Party with their criticism of the Jewish state.

Referring to “their uncompromising views on Israel” as if that were unquestioned fact – and by definition reprehensible – not only highlights the bias of the writer, but works to foreclose any discussion of Israel in anything like an objective manner, which would necessarily include both the crimes of the state and the crimes of the prime minister. As the Times sort of predicted, the viciously bigoted Republican Party laid a trap for the Democrats and, lacking judicious consideration, they stumbled right into it.

Why would they do something so stupid and self-destructive? One can only speculate. But why did the entire Democratic leadership in the House feel it was necessary to call out Ilhan Omar the same day she apologized? What is really going on? Does the tweet “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” really call for THIS kind of over-the-top response? Even the title is a little crazy: “Democratic Leadership Statement on Anti-Semitic Comments of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar,” especially when not one “anti-Semitic comment” is cited. The statement itself is weird in other ways as well (here in its entirety from February 11, with no time stamp):

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark issued this joint statement condemning anti-Semitic comments made over Twitter by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar:

“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception.

“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests. Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share. But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.

“As Democrats and as Americans, the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered.”

The first sentence is a hypocritical and self-approving falsehood. When was the last time the Democratic establishment called out any other anti-Semitism, real or imagined? When was the last time the Democratic establishment made any effort to distinguish between anti-Semitism (bigotry against Jews) and anti-Israeli politics (where anti-Semitism is used as an epithet to quash any discussion of killing unarmed civilians, or pick your issue)?

When it comes to Israel, American politics is largely coherence-free. Israel is the golden calf of American politics. Israel has long been a profoundly corrupting factor in American politics and American public discourse generally. No wonder the “Democratic Leadership” pledges eternal fealty to Israel – “We are and will always be strong supporters …” In other words, kiss judgment goodbye. And to talk about “shared values,” that would include an illegal occupation, killing civilians, torturing prisoners – well, maybe the Democratic leaders feel those really are shared values.

The hollow fatuity of the dishonest last paragraph would be stunning if such hypocrisy hadn’t been rampant for so long. Of course the sentiment expressed is unexceptionable, but it’s way more honored in the breach than the observance. Stampeding into Islamaphobia makes the objection to anti-Semitism ring hollow. Ritual humiliation is, or should be, intolerable. Especially when it’s in the same room with you. But it’s not. Remember the Michael Cohen hearings on February 27? Remember Republican Mark Meadows using a black woman as a hand puppet in defense of Trump? Remember who objected? The most forceful objection came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, causing a minor ruckus in which Rep. Elijah Cummings came to her rescue.

Rashida Tlaib never should have been a target. Rashida Tlaib objected to manifestly objectionable behavior, behavior that wasn’t just racist, wasn’t just demeaning to women, but was despicable in every aspect. Rep. Meadows was arguing that Trump couldn’t be a racist because he has a black employee, which should have been laughed down from the start. But it wasn’t, Meadows was allowed to ask this black woman – whom he had summoned to the hearing on his own authority – to stand behind him while he told the world what she thought. She was his muted hand-puppet in a disgraceful abuse of human dignity.

And no one objected at the time. None of the Democrats who are white men had any objection. None of the Democrats who are white women had any objection, not even on gender grounds. The only Democrats who made any objection were women of color. The only Democrats who offered any defense of simple human dignity were women of color. And that’s where the Democratic Party is these days, divided among the old guard, mostly white, which acts like its psychically numb, and newer, younger Democrats of all hues, who have some vision of a future that would be dramatically better for most of us.

Old guard Democrats retain a perhaps tenuous control of the party, but to get to any kind of future worth having, that old guard will have to do some serious soul-searching. And they will have to find a soul.


[AFTERWORD: Shortly after this story was filed, the House passed H. RES. 183, a seven-page resolution with this preamble:

Condemning anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values and aspirations that define the people of the United States and condemning anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States.

The vote was 407 to 23, with all 235 Democrats and 173 Republicans in favor. All the No votes were Republicans. Republican Steve King voted present.

The Resolution is an incoherent hodgepodge with little meaning beyond the cliché of “be nice to each other.” Interestingly, it notes that hate crimes against Jews were up 37% in 2017 and that hate crimes against Muslims were up 99% from 2014 to 2016. The first item in the resolution is to reject “the pernicious myth of dual loyalty ...” even though that’s what the Democratic leadership essentially expressed. There is no language defending free speech, especially, as noted, no language to the effect that “Criticism of Israel cannot be equated with anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace reaffirmed that “valid criticisms of Netanyahu, AIPAC, and Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians are being falsely attacked as anti-Semitism.” Of course, this happens all the time, as a crudely effective means of shutting down debate. Or enforcing dual loyalty? For all that this resolution is largely unobjectionable, it also lacks honesty and integrity. It has no soul.]

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William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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