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Voices: Ilhan Omar’s removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee has nothing to do with antisemitism

Congress Public Safety (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Congress Public Safety (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives removed Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs committee on a strict party-line vote.

Republicans claimed the vote was intended to punish her for antisemitic remarks. This is transparent nonsense. By cynically using charges of antisemitism as a partisan cudgel, the GOP does a disservice to Jewish people.

In 2019, Omar claimed that support for Israel in the US Congress was “all about the Benjamins.” The vision of shadowy wealthy Jewish people manipulating representatives evoked antisemitic tropes.

Omar’s remarks were condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike, and she “unequivocally” apologized. “I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she said, thanking her critics for their criticism.

Antisemitism is a serious, dangerous issue. Omar recognized as much, took responsibility, and tried to make amends. That’s what you hope public figures will do. As a Jew myself, I appreciate her acknowledging the error and trying to do better.

The GOP, however, is still looking for payback after Democrats removed Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees for threatening their colleagues. So Speaker Kevin McCarthy has decided to pretend Omar’s apology never happened, and to present her use of an inadvertent trope as the most dangerous example of antisemitism today.

The pretense that this is about antisemitism is thin. Even very conservative Colorado congressman Ken Buck, who voted for the resolution, said it was the “stupidest vote in the world” when he didn’t think reporters would hear him.

Democratic representative Cori Bush argued that Omar was being targeted as “a Muslim woman in Congress.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that the resolution was a racist, sexist attack on a woman of color. Those are convincing arguments.

In weaponizing antisemitism, though, the GOP also shows a blatant disregard for Jews.

Antisemtitic attacks have been rising over the past five years. Jewish people need policymakers and the public to take this threat seriously. When Republicans shout “antisemitism!” even when they know there is no antisemitism, they distract from a real problem. Worse, they make it easier to dismiss real examples of antisemitism as more gamesmanship.

The far-right Qanon conspiracy theory is closely tied to antisemitic beliefs. And right-wing media and politicians regularly demonize billionaire Democratic donor and Holocaust survivor George Soros, falsely claiming he’s behind everything from migrant caravans to antiracist protests.

The hatred of Soros is linked to Nazi tropes about an international Jewish-Marxist left-wing plot against white people, and it is incredibly incendiary and dangerous. The gunman who murdered 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 was motivated by far-right Soros conspiracy theories. Soros himself has been targeted in assassination attempts.

Antisemitism is a bipartisan problem. Omar and the Democrats acknowledged as much following Omar’s remarks and worked to address it. The GOP, in contrast, acts as if their own hands are clean.