I wrote yesterday about how Democrat leadership, embodied by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in the House, caved immediately and totally to pro-Israel interests and planned to throw Rep. Ilhan Omar under the bus with a condemnatory resolution…until pushback from the left made them re-think their strategy, to the point that the resolution was delayed. Now, if it even passes, it will be the “blandest possible “anti-hate statement which Pelosi insists doesn’t target Omar.
During the course of this debacle, a few Democrats expressed tepid public support for Omar, but it was typically the kind of support that didn’t mention Omar by name, and didn’t go all the way to saying that the charges of anti-Semitism were manipulative nonsense. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets were a good example of the halfway approach:
Which makes it so surprising that on Wednesday, three prominent presidential candidates released statements explicitly mentioning Ilhan Omar and expressing not just their support for her, but raising questions about the accusations of anti-Semitism directed her way. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren each came out and said the previously unsayable:
Here are those statements broken down by candidate.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace. What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
“We have a moral duty to to combat hateful ideologies in our country and around the world — and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Threats of violence—like those made against Omar—are never acceptable.”
We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry. But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region ? and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.”
There are a couple conclusions to draw here. First, the pressure mounted from the left changed the terms of this debate, and freed up these three candidates to speak their minds about how Omar was treated. The statements condemned anti-Semitism, but took the critical next step of overtly stating that Omar was not guilty of that charge. A move like this was previously unthinkable for a legitimate presidential candidate—you simply didn’t even begin to think about making noise that departed from the hard pro-Israel line.
Second, top Democrats are finally realizing the absurdity of the attacks against Omar, and further understanding that their constituents won’t accept what is essentially political bullying in the service of a foreign power. Third, they seem to understand that it’s actually dangerous to treat Omar this way, and it leads to death threats and people like the West Virginia GOP equating her with the 9/11 terrorists.
These developments—all of them—are very surprising, and very good.