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What was, and what was not, troubling about the Ilhan Omar affair

3 6 59
12.03.2019

A whole weekend, plus a couple of days, has elapsed since the House Democratic majority dealt with the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) allegedly anti-Semitic statements by passing a generic resolution condemning bigotry and hatred.

The calm, however temporary it may be, provides a chance to reflect on the affair and to be clear about precisely what was, and was not, troubling about it.

The first misconception, spread by some media and political figures, is that Omar faced a vehement negative reaction because she offered “criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel” (the Wall Street Journal) or “legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel” (Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.).

Incorrect. In recent weeks, Omar offered no new criticism of U.S. policy or what she has called “the apartheid Israeli regime.” What she did was to attack Israel’s supporters in the United States, and specifically in Congress. She did so by suggesting their motives were corrupt: either to enforce “allegiance to a foreign country,” or to accumulate political cash from pro-Israel lobbyists — “the Benjamins.” (She apologized for the latter.)

Many understandably considered these phrases loaded with anti-Semitic imagery. Less noted was the fact that, even if they had not been susceptible to that interpretation, Omar’s comments........

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