As the competing votes tracked upward on the Congressional scoreboard last week, my memory summoned up a moment more than two decades ago when I spotted an anti-Israel sketch posted on a bulletin board at work. It featured a message that compared Israel to the civil rights struggles in the South.
I felt a sense of humiliation. The sketch signaled that the Israeli military had supplanted Sheriff Bull Connor, and the southern Black protesters beaten by his officers have taken the form of displaced Palestinians. The sketch told Jewish employees like myself that we shared what blame it conjured up despite the 5,400-mile distance. Why else would such a message be posted in a Philadelphia office building?
The woman responsible for this was a senior manager for a city government agency who eluded punishment – not only from the department’s commissioner but also the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC excused her act on “Fifth Amendment” grounds, presumably a misnomer for her free-speech rights provided by the First Amendment.
So I watched the televised vote count with anxiety waiting for the House of Representatives to evict Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Omar, a Democrat representing Minneapolis, is in the same shameful league as the senior manager who made a second career of bashing Israel with distorted accusations. She never expressed legitimate criticism, and there is sufficient room for that.
Justice was served at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 2, when the vote to remove Omar reached 218-211, the bare majority of House members with the votes cast strictly along party lines. One Democrat did not vote, one Republican voted present and three Republicans did not vote.
I am registered as a Democrat who seldom votes for Republicans. I share most of Omar’s concerns to serve vulnerable Americans and I criticize the Israeli government myself. But I am embittered after too many years of hearing Omar’s kind of garbage and enduring her allies’ deception and hostility, and learning of their rhetoric likely triggering violence against Jews.
I am grateful to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for doing what people in power should have done long ago: bringing the Israel-bashing campaign to account in the People’s House, of all places. It does not matter to me what McCarthy’s reasons are for doing so, whether it was sincere or political. The narrow vote was imperfect and awfully late in coming, but I appreciated the gesture. McCarthy did the right thing, even if it was for the wrong reasons.
The outcome was deeply personal for me. Let the Omars of this world bear the House vote as an unsettling omen. They cannot feel comfort that they will get away with it in the future. Maybe the House vote will embolden reasonable people to openly condemn their rantings.
Yes, Republicans protect their bigots, but the overall failing is that both parties have extremists who are only vulnerable when the opposing party controls the House.
Champions for the Palestinians are at best crude and insensitive. Most American Jews vote for Democrats while feeling a strong emotional connection to Israel, even if they recognize that Israel is not error-free in its relations with the Palestinians.
So we feel confused and hurt when Omar, the city supervisor and many others spread sweeping accusations based on distortions and lack of context. I have taken shocked notice of these tactics since even before the incident at the city job. It destroys their credibility because people cannot take them seriously, which in turn harms the Palestinians.
McCarthy’s action was limited because his Republican colleagues could have voted to censure not only Omar but also Rashida Tlaib and other representatives who have distorted Middle East issues. It is obvious that McCarthy minimized his actions because he did not want it to appear as if he was stomping on her. Can’t you believe that?
What is most satisfying is that Omar and friends gave away their fears with disingenuous reactions. They were shouting and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even pouted and stomped her feet.
“I am Muslim. I am an immigrant. And interestingly, from Africa,” said Omar as she addressed the House. “Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?”
Added AOC, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens in New York City: “This is about targeting women of color.”
Between the two of them, Omar and AOC played five cards: race, gender, religion, immigrant and even Africa. The problem is not who Omar is but what she says and does.
Before her first election, in 2018, she told Jewish voters that she was against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. After her election, it turned out that she told a magazine reporter that she supports BDS. How trustworthy does that make her?
Then there was her strange tweet: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
On CNN five days preceding last week’s House vote, Omar insisted, “I was not aware that there are tropes about Jews and money.”
I never heard of Israel’s “evil doings.” It sounds as if she invented a trope of her own. Maybe she created the trope about “the Benjamins” for hundred-dollar bills which pro-Israel donors contributed to candidates.
For the CNN interview, Omar gathered with two other McCarthy victims, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of whom had already been removed from the Intelligence Committee. The trio purported to present a united Democratic front, but they sat there stiffly, peering ahead, hardly acknowledging one another. No sign of camaraderie. Swalwell sat between them, as if to distance Omar from Schiff, who is Jewish.
Omar is hardly in their class. Schiff and Swalwell have conducted themselves like statesmen in the public eye. They were victims of Republican revenge when McCarthy personally pulled them off the Intelligence Committee. He needed the full House vote to remove Omar, who undermines her social concerns when she misrepresents the conflicts between Israelis and Arabs.
Judging from their comments, who can believe that the Democratic leadership did not orchestrate the trio’s performance? Schiff attacked McCarthy’s political motives while ignoring Omar’s past conduct, and Swalwell stated: “These smears inspire violence.”
Sure they do, but what about Omar’s “smears” against Israel? Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are attacked on a regular, if not daily, basis. Jews dining in West Hollywood were once assaulted by champions of the Palestinians. A British-Pakistani terrorist flew to New York City and then to Colleyville, Texas, to hold the rabbi and three congregants at their synagogue hostage for 12 hours.
Or isn’t Swalwell aware of that? Please take note of how Omar’s sickness is sapping the credibility of some of the best people in Congress.