We’ve witnessed some truly remarkable floundering this week from House Democratic leadership in the wake of the Ilhan Omar controversy, in which the Muslim-American freshman Congressswoman was accused of anti-Semitism for daring to say (correctly) that pro-Israel lobbies like AIPAC exert enormous influence on U.S. politicians, to the point of seeking dual allegiance. If you missed that smear campaign, I would point you to my summary on Monday, or Glenn Greenwald’s excellent piece at The Intercept, or Jacob Bacharach’s thoughtful essay at TruthDig, or the short, simple, and brilliant editorial by Paul Waldman at WaPo. All of them make the same fundamental points:
1. AIPAC absolutely does have a huge amount of influence on American politics, and a big part of that influence comes in how they indirectly funnel money to their favorite pro-Israel candidates.
2. Ilhan Omar was not saying that Jewish people writ large have dual allegiance to Israel—in fact, the majority of political figures targeted by groups like AIPAC are conservative Christians or Democrats (Jewish or otherwise, mostly otherwise) sympathetic to the imperialist alliance. In fact, Omar wasn’t even talking about them—she was saying it was wrong for her to be pressured into dual allegiance.
3. Even though Omar was referring to herself, It’s super hard to argue that the broader “dual allegiance” idea isn’t real when 26 different states have laws punishing people for supporting the BDS movement against Israel, and as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, even a speech pathologist in Texas found out you can literally lose your job for not signing a loyalty oath to Israel:
[she] lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel (to keep her job with Texas, she’s allowed to boycott any other nation or even an American state: just not this one favored foreign nation).
From Waldman, on that same instance:
When Gov. Greg Abbott® — also not a Jew — proclaims that “Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,” he’s expressing his dual loyalty.
4. The fact that Omar was so thoroughly shouted down actually proves her point to perfection. Waldman again:
As it happens, this punishment of criticism of Israel is exactly what the freshman congresswoman was complaining about, and has on multiple occasions. The fact that no one seems to acknowledge that this is her complaint shows how spectacularly disingenuous Omar’s critics are being.
Nevertheless, if you thought the House Democrat leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, would actually examine the situation and try to understand what Omar was saying, and at least consider that her detractors were operating in bad faith, you’d be woefully wrong. Instead, for the second time since Omar took office just two months ago, they planned to vote on a resolution condemning “anti-Semitism,” but really condemning her, and sending a clear message to anyone else in Congress with thoughts of either supporting Omar or criticizing Israel themselves. You can read that resolution here are eight paragraphs on the concept of “dual loyalty” representing a specific shot at Omar—or, more accurately, a specific shot at something Omar never actually said.
The resolution was scheduled for a Wednesday vote. Then something interesting happened—among progressive groups (Muslim, Jewish, and unaffiliated alike), across media, and even to some extent in the halls of Congress, progressive voices grew louder in their defense of Omar. Israeli influence is so broad in American government that it generally goes unchecked, but the witch hunt was too egregious this time, and the pressure mounted. Eventually, reading the tea leaves, those same Democrats who were so eager to pass the resolution decided to delay it. The Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus added to the pressure, as did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, though she wouldn’t expressly reject the idea that Omar was guilty of anti-Semitism, began to push back on Twitter in more and more concrete ways:
In a move so cautious it’s almost comical, Democratic leaders now plan to water down the resolution into a general expression against bigotry:
They also said a draft resolution would be updated to include additional language rejecting anti-Muslim bias, although some Democratic sources believe that an entirely new document might be crafted…
“We’re still discussing it,” Hoyer said on Tuesday. “The sentiment is that it ought to be broad-based. What we’re against is hate, prejudice, bigotry, white supremacy, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.”
“Yes, we’re strongly against anti-Semitism, but we’re strongly against prejudice directed at any group,” Hoyer added.
It remains to be seen what they’ll actually bring to the floor, if anything. But there’s a good lesson here: The old guard of the Democratic party, represented by the likes of Pelosi and Hoyer, seem to completely lack core principles. They didn’t plan to indirectly condemn Omar because of some deep abiding love for Israel—they did it because they know pro-Israel forces have a ton of power, and they had no desire to stand up to that kind of pressure. To take it further, they’re not backing down and changing the resolution to a fatuous “hate is bad” word gloop because they’ve had second thoughts about Omar—they’re doing it because they got hit with pressure from the other side, which they weren’t expecting, and they don’t want that fight either!
When the Omar debacle is over, progressives can take this lesson forward: Whether the fight is for a Green New Deal, or Medicare for all, or free public education, or anything else, we can’t expect the Nancy Pelosis of the world to care. But with enough pressure, from enough people, we can expect them to cave. That’s how politics is won.