When Chelsea Clinton lines up with conservatives against a fellow Democrat, something pretty outrageous has probably happened.
That’s what happened Sunday when Clinton joined the right in condemning Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for her latest anti-Israel tweets. The former first daughter went so far as to accuse Omar of trafficking in anti-Semitism.
Rep. Ilhan Omar – Americans Say ‘Al Qaeda’ Like It’s a Bad Thing/strong>
It started when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who last October faced his own anti-Semitism allegations, on Friday promised to “take action” against Omar and another freshman Democrat, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, for their history of condemnatory remarks about the Jewish state. Omar and Tlaid are the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.
“If [Pelosi and Democrats] do not take action I think you’ll see action from myself,” McCarthy told reporters. “This cannot sustain itself. It’s unacceptable in this country.”
McCarthy noted that he had recently moved to isolate Rep. Steve King, who has associated with white supremacists, after the Iowa Republican wondered in an interview last month why terms like “white supremacy” are stigmatized.
In response to left-wing anti-Israel journalist Glenn Greewald’s commentary on the news, Omar, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, seemed to accuse McCarthy of being beholden to monied pro-Israel interests.
It's all about the Benjamins baby ? https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
Many saw Omar’s tweet as a version of the timeworn anti-Semitic canard that Jews manipulate world affairs with money. When The Forward writer Batya Ungar-Sargon challenged Omar via Twitter on who she “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro Israel,” Omar made herself clear, specifying that she was referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading US lobbying group on behalf of Israel.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
Ungar Sargon tweeted back on behalf of American Jews: “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way.”
Clinton then added, “Co-signed as an American,” followed by her accusation that Omar was promoting anti-Semitism. While Clinton is not Jewish and has shown little love for right-wingers in the past, she is married to Jewish hedge fund manager Marc Mezvinsky.
Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 11, 2019
Meagan McCain, the Republican voice on ABC’s “The View,” thanked Clinton for stepping up.
Thank you, Chelsea – antisemitism on all sides, in all spaces, no matter how uncomfortable should always be called out and condemned. https://t.co/H1R6l6rXnY
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) February 11, 2019
Further condemnations rolled in from other conservatives, including many Jews.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from New York who has sparred with Omar on Twitter in the past, called her tweets “sick and twisted” and “grossly wrong.”
So sick & twisted. This continued anti-Semitic trope from Omar is grossly wrong. There should be NO home in US politics, college campuses, or halls of Congress for ANY of this garbage. Now she tweets that if Members of Congress support Israel then they were bought off by Jews.? https://t.co/jJMplUNCqd
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) February 11, 2019
Tablet magazine writer Yair Rosenberg referred to a 2012 tweet by Omar alleging that “Israel has hypnotized the world” by wondering why, in that case, the country would also need to buy-off US politicians.
What I really want to know is why Israel needs all that money to bribe politicians if they've already hypnotized the world into doing what they want. Seems like inefficient overkill to me.
— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) February 11, 2019
Meanwhile, some liberals defended Omar. Left-wing activist-journalist Shaun King, argued that criticizing Omar for speaking the truth about the “effective and well funded” Israel lobby was “outrageous.”
The notion that it’s anti-Semitic for @IlhanMN to state that lobbyists for Israel effectively sway politicians to support Israel, is outrageous.
The Israeli lobby is effective and well funded. This isn’t a trope or a slur. It’s a fact. We are allowed to critique Israel. We must
— Shaun King (@shaunking) February 11, 2019
Omar is far from the first prominent commentator to allege that the pro-Israel lobby has undue influence. Political scientists
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt made a more sophisticated version of the argument in their 2007 book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.”
Their analysis was rebutted by experienced Middle East experts, including former diplomats Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, both of whom served under Democratic presidents.
Clinton was not the only member of Omar’s political tribe for whom her tweets were beyond the pale. New York Rep. Max Rose, another freshman Democrat, said on Twitter that he was “deeply” hurt as a Jew.
Daniel Shapiro, President Barack Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, also Jewish, went on a Twitter rant against Omar’s remarks, which he called “outrageous” and “vile.”
1. @IlhanMN's outrageous comments equating politicians' support for Israel with being bought off by American Jewish money are a vile anti-Semitic trope. They need to be condemned by all in our party.
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) February 11, 2019
British-born Israeli journalist Anshell Pfefer framed the issue as a global one, and warned against anti-Semitism on the right and left.
In the space of just 6 hours the whole Corbyn shitshow c.2015 has crossed the pond. The right-wing is scandalized. Jews are hurt. The soft-left is hoping she didn't really mean it. The hard-left is in "criticizing Israel isn't antisemitic" mode and antisemites having a field-day.
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) February 11, 2019
Muslim reformers also spoke out against Omar. Zudhi Jasser, the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, tweeted against letting Omar should off the hook for her comments, as doing so would mark a “new low” in the left’s “bigotry of low expectations for Muslims.”
As an American Muslim, I plead that this is only a good first step to be followed by a swift sanction against @IlhanMN for bigotry unfit for the US Congress with removal from all committees. Ignoring this would bring the "bigotry of low expectations" to a new low for Muslims. https://t.co/szawtKBQlV
— M. Zuhdi Jasser زهدي جاسر (@DrZuhdiJasser) February 11, 2019
Maajid Nawaz, the founding chairman of the counter-Islamic extremism think tank Quilliam, suggested that maybe Omar is “just a raving.. anti-Semite.”
1) You promised during elections *not* to support a boycott of Israel. After you won, you supported a boycott 2) You said Israel has “hypnotised the world” & later apologised 3) Now you’ve casually done it again with this tweet. I dunno, maybe you’re just a raving.. anti-Semite pic.twitter.com/mQN7Gtx9xE
— Maajid – (Mājid) [maːʤɪd] ماجد (@MaajidNawaz) February 11, 2019
AIPAC responded to the controversy on Sunday night, saying: ‘‘We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.’’
While conspiracy theories are by their nature difficult to disprove, there is clear evidence that Jewish money is not what motivates American support of Israel. A Pew survey last year showed that over 70 percent of Americans generally hold favorable opinions about Israel, the highest rate since the 1990s.
Still, Omar, who is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction campaign against Israel, and a growing number of Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have sought sought to sway Congress toward their pro-Palestinian views.
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- Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesotta Democrat.: Screen grab from YouTube