Attacks on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar are rising. One of the first Muslim women elected, Omar is also black, an African immigrant, a former refugee from Somalia, and wears her hijab in the halls of Congress. She is under attack from the leaders of her own party for anti-Semitic statements she never made, for anti-Jewish prejudice she never expressed, for hatred of Jews she doesn’t hold. And the Democratic Party leadership is considering a resolution whose early text, at least, while not mentioning Omar by name, is clearly aimed at accusing her of precisely those things, despite the fact—ignored by the Speaker of the House and other top officials—that she never said or believed any of those words.
In what began as the most shameful decision of her time as speaker, Nancy Pelosi decided that the House should rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for things she didn’t actually say and ideas she didn’t actually express. In the process, Democrats were helping to propagate misconceptions about anti-Semitism, Israel and U.S. political debate. Fortunately, the rebuke turned into a more general House condemnation of hate in general.
Please understand, I address this issue as someone who was raised in an intensely Zionist family with a long history of devotion and sacrifice for Israel, but who also — like many American Jews — has become increasingly dismayed by developments in Israel and by how we talk about Israel here in the United States.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is an outspoken critic of President Trump. But she’s also critical of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
“We can’t be only upset with Trump,” Omar told Politico for a profile that was published Friday. “His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.
“That’s not what we should be looking for anymore,” she continued. “We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
Omar, a Muslim and a Somali refugee who wears Islamic dress in public, noted the “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border and the “droning of countries around the world” — for which Trump has been criticized — happened on Obama’s watch too. Obama’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Here is the exact text that appears to have generated today’s uproar:
‘As she saw it, the party ostensibly committed to progressive values had become complicit in perpetuating the status quo. Omar says the “hope and change” offered by Barack Obama was a mirage. Recalling the “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border and the “droning of countries around the world” on Obama’s watch, she argues that the Democratic president operated within the same fundamentally broken framework as his Republican successor.
“We can’t be only upset with Trump. …His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was,” Omar says. “And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”’
Please notice that in this piece all of the references to Obama appear outside of quotation marks, in paraphrases offered by the author — who is clearly out to “get” her. Her point is rather simple: Trump is awful, but many of the bad things he does draw on a repertoire that began before he came to office. Drone attacks, a harsh border policy — these things, she insists, began before Trump. And she is right. Indeed, in a different register, even Elizabeth Warren says, regularly, that the inequalities that must be challenged go back decades.