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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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+42 # bobhintz 2019-03-09 11:06
Now wait a minute. I interpret the statement "It's all about the Benjamins" as a reference to $100 bills. In other words it's all about the money.

How did this become a Jewish slur? Benjamin Franklin was not Jewish.
+22 # economagic 2019-03-09 12:54
Whut th ...? Was this intended as a joke? If so, it is a very bad one.

Ma. Omar's remark was a slur against the members of Congress from both parties, perhaps calling out the Democrats in particular, who denounce any and all criticism of the State of Israel as "antisemitic" in order to remain in the good graces of AIPAC to keep the bribes (the Benjamins) flowing their way.

This is not rocket science, and it doesn't even require "critical thinking" (formerly known simply as "thinking"). Mr. Boardman has clarified any reasonable confusion by placing all of the tweets and twits in their entirety in chronological order, AND pointing out the meaning of each one.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-10 08:26
Did you ever listen to the rap song with that title or see the movie with that title? The reference is about black people who are cashing in on stardom for money and not doing anything to help their communities.

This is all about a mass media that is so stupid it might as well be dead.
-49 # skylinefirepest 2019-03-09 11:48
Isn't it amazing that almost every sentence from the right is hate speech...but your muslim idiot can spout hate speech and it's all right with y'all. You guys are just freaking crazy.
+39 # Carol R 2019-03-09 12:09
The US has always shown favoritism towards Israel. Is it anti-Semitic to acknowledge that Jewish money does affect foreign policy?

AIPAC has deliberately fed a one-sided view of the Israel-Palestin ian conflict into American politics.

Both sides are contributing to this disaster that has continued for years. There needs to be a two-state solution. The US needs to work with the Palestinian people to improve their horrible standard of living. Palestine needs a state of its own while Israel needs its security.
+20 # Anne Frank 2019-03-09 16:51
I insist, it is not "Jewish money." It would be fair to call it "Jewish supremacist money," since the Zionist billionaires buying U.S. politicians are racist fanatics like the rich white supremacists who funded the KuKluxKlan. They called themselves "Christians," but it would be absurd to call their funding "Christian money." It's way past time to recognize that Israel is no more "Jewish" than Nazi Germany was "Christian." Real Jews oppose lynching Palestinians, just as real Christians oppose lynching Negros.
+3 # wrknight 2019-03-09 18:28
Or a single state solution - a sectarian state - wherein Palestinians have equal rights with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and anyone else choosing to live there.

Obviously, that's purely wishful thinking on my part as that could never happen under the apartheid policies of the Zionists.
+14 # Thomas0008 2019-03-09 12:23
Ilhan's reply to HR 1 was as full of class as she is. === Shortly after the vote, Omar in a joint statement with Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson -- the other two Muslims currently serving in Congress -- expressed pride in the Democrat-backed measure. from this article. ===
+11 # wrknight 2019-03-09 18:22
What never ceases to amaze me is the incredible skill the Democratic Party leadership has in loading their gun, pointing it at their own feet and pulling the trigger.

With leadership like that, Republicans will have a field day.
+3 # economagic 2019-03-09 20:23
It has long been known as "the circular firing squad."
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-12 06:00
Or shooting other Democrats in the back. It does seem like some sort of pathology.
+27 # janie1893 2019-03-09 14:08
Jewish folks, themselves must stop overreacting to anything they consider an anti-semite slur and begin to differentiate between criticisms of Israel, the Israeli government, Israeli leaders and Zionism from anti-semitism. Stop being victims, please!! The actions of Israel military in Gaza are, indeed, repulsive and deserve UN condemnation.
+4 # harleysch 2019-03-11 04:38
It is probably not very well known that David Ben Gurion, a Founding Father of Israel, referred to the Greater Israel fanatic Vladimir Jabontinsky as "Vladimir Hitler." Jabotinsky's American secretary was Ben Zion Netanyahu, the father of Bibi, a Greater Israel fanatic, with racist views regarding Palestinians.

Was Ben Gurion an "anti-Semite" when he attacked the openly pro-fascist ideology of Jabotinsky, and ideology shared by Netanyahu?
+10 # ahollman 2019-03-09 16:21
A nuanced view about Ilhan Omar and about US support for Israel.

I think it's great that a 12-year-old Somali immigrant could become a US Congresswoman.

I believe that criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism are not automatically the same. Criticism of Israel is reasonable; it can and should be made without anti-Semitism.

Omar's "It's about the Benjamins", a a quote from a song, was anti-Semitic due to its context. It wasn't about Donald Trump's receiving receiving revenue when foreign diplomats stay at his hotel, which -is- about the Benjamins. It was her explanation as to why the US supports Israel.

Her comment invoked an anti-Semitic refrain that Jews influence others with money. It ignored reasons for US support. Despite Israel's atrocious treatment of the Palestinians, Israel is the only democracy in the mideast (all others are monarchies or dictatorships). Like the US, it is a haven, for Jews who fled post-Holocaust Europe, for those expelled from Arab countries when Israel declared independence, and for many more over the decades.

For all its actions to the contrary, Israel's official policy continues to be to live in peace with a Palestinian state. That is despite 4 Arab wars of attempted extermination in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, 2 intifadas, and a split Palestinian government.

I am not an AIPAC Jew, but neither am I a K St. Jew. Our "Benjamins" are often spent on far worse (e.g. Saudi Arabia's war).

Israel and Palestine need 2 states, soon.
+19 # Wally Jasper 2019-03-09 19:52
Excuse me, but Ilhan Omar's quote "It's all about the Benjamins" was not anti-semitic, even in that context. She was simply pointing out the use of money in politics. As she later said, she could have used the same language to talk about the influence of money by the NRA, the oil lobby, Big Pharma, etc.; in fact, she was talking about the whole machinery of how politics happens in the USA since Citizens United ruling, but in this case applying it to the Israel lobbies' stranglehold influence on our congress members with regard to US foreign policy. No other foreign government has inserted itself so outrageously into our national government policy; no other foreign government enjoys almost total support for all its actions, even when said actions are condemned as 'crimes against humanity' by the UN and institutions like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

As for the so-called "two state solution", it is dead. Israel killed it by allowing and supporting settler-colonia lists to build their settlements all across Palestinian land, cutting up what was to have been the Palestinian state into little separate enclaves by erecting walls, Jewish only highways, checkpoints and demolishing homes and confiscating land belonging to Palestinians. Please educate yourself on what is going on over there. The Electronic Intifada is a great news source for covering the daily Israeli atrocities towards Palestinians. Democracy Now! also regularly covers Israeli/Palesti nian issues.
+11 # lfeuille 2019-03-09 23:19
It was not anti-semitic because it is true. It is not a "trope". It is an description of how AIPAC actually operates. It not acceptable for it it be beyond the pale to point this out. There is no way to describe AIPAC'S actions accurately with evoking these so-called "tropes" because AIPAC puts the stereo-types into action and expect to get away with it by screaming anti-semitism. Anyone sincerely concerned about anti-semitism should be criticising AIPAC for claiming to speak for the whole of the Jewish people and making them look bad.
+18 # NAVYVET 2019-03-09 18:06
Go, Ilhan Omar! Keep speaking out! Don't let the Joe McCarthyites in the Dem establishment shut your truthful mouth, and don't let them play their dangerous game of using the real and horrible Holocaust to shut people up from the truth! That, to me, is pure evil. You DID NOT say anything antisemitic--yo u only spoke reality.
All my Jewish friends are FOR you, my dear, and so am I, a white Unitarian Universalist woman raised in the South, about to turn 83. I'd be proud to call you a granddaughter.
+7 # tpmco 2019-03-09 21:45
Having witnessed the silence of Democrats over many years regarding the persecution of Palestinians by Israel, I have long suspected the complicity of Congressional Democrats in what is now painfully clear blind support of Israel. Maybe not totally blind when considering the money factor—the “Benjamins” as has it’s been aptly termed.

I think Boardman has done the most eloquent job so far in putting a wrap on the current controversy involving Ms. Omar from Minnesota. Certainly far better than the double-words I use to describe the presiding Democrat leadership in both the House and the Senate of the US Congress. Double words like MF, just to be clear.

It would be unfair of me not to mention the other party, the Republicans, who spare no evil word or thought toward the Congresswoman from Minnesota in jumping all in with the resolution just passed in the House. Not a one of these people, both parties, would ever honor the resolution.

I think Obama was on target when he said he wanted to change the way we do politics in the USA. You all can see now what he was up against. No different from what has become of our relationship to Russia, or any other foreign country.

Thank you Mr. Boardman.
+1 # harleysch 2019-03-11 04:42
It is surprising that no one has brought up Rep. Omar's thoughtful and cogent attacks on former President Obama, for his immigration policies, including detaining children, and for his support of war against Muslim populations.

Omar is to be commended for targeting sacred cows, with truthful polemics.
+9 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-10 08:32
Thank you, WB. This is very good and very honest.

I'd like to emphasize the way the accusation of anti-Semitism has been "weaponized." Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is being taken out by AIPAC is the way they have done to so many others. The case of Cynthia McKinney is the most notorious. She said that Washington DC was an AIPAC occupied territory. AIPAC targettd her and she lost her seat.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are being targeted by the Israeli government because he has made comments in support of Palestinians and the Isreali government does not want him to be the next PM of the UK.

Sanders did not go to the AIPAC conference in 2016 and he has supported Palestinians. He will be targeted by a weaponized anti-Semitism charges and taken out as a presidential candidate.

If anything, the attacks on Ilhan Omar just prove that what she is accused of saying is, in fact, true. What she really said was a criticism of the democratic party for taking money from lobbyists.
+4 # DongiC 2019-03-11 15:13
Very well said, RR. I too thought of Cynthia McKinney and her battle with AIPAC. I stood with Ms. McKinney then, as I stand behind Ms. Omar now. It is a different time, indeed.
+3 # RICHARDKANE.Philadelphia 2019-03-10 19:07
There is overwhelming evidence of President Trump in conclusion with Saudi Arabia, but discussing this bumps into conclusion with Netanyahu, another crook on par with Trump. The spy equipment Saudi Arabia used to spy on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend would have been big new if Israel hadn’t sold it to the Saudi’s, Google: intricate details at: How the Saudis Made Jeff Bezos Public Enemy No. 1 - The Daily Beast
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-03-11 06:41
Chris Hedges has a very good article on this subject on Truthdig.

"Israel’s Stranglehold on American Politics"

He says that Israel's stranglehold on US politics is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact.

It is very interesting that congress has just voted to ban facts from the congress. That is, inconvenient facts.
-2 # Chipster 2019-03-11 13:59
Mr. Boardman didn't notice that Rep Omar's comments interpreted as anti Semitic predate the tweets he copied but go back a several more weeks to her interview with Amanpour where older comments from 2012 were resurrected stating Israel had "hypnotized" the world. This was then objected to by the commentariat as an anti semetic trope going back centuries that Jews were "sorcerers:"

"Omar appeared on CNN International's "Amanpour," where host Christiane Amanpour asked the congresswoman about her controversial comments about Israel.
"Should Jewish Americans be worried about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib because of the BDS movement, because of one of the tweets you made a long time ago?" Amanpour asked. "You are part of a new wave of Democrats not afraid to be critical of the government of Israel."
Amanpour then read Omar's tweet from 2012 during an Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 16, 2012

"How do you put that into context now and what do you say to American Jews?" Amanpour asked.
"I remember when that was happening, watching TV and really feeling as if no other life was being impacted in this war, and those unfortunate words were the only words I could think about expressing at that point," Omar said.

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