Progressive groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are pushing back against plans by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership to hold a vote denouncing anti-Semitism from a “progressive rock star.” And the pressure worked, as the vote scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been repeatedly called out and forced to apologize for anti-Semitic comments, the most recent accusing pro-Israel lawmakers and activists of “pushing allegiance to a foreign country.” In response to her statement echoing the “dual loyalties” trope regarding Jewish Americans, eleven Jewish and pro-Israel organizations asked that Rep. Omar be removed from her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel, called Rep. Omar’s words a “vile, anti-Semitic slur,” and the Anti-Defamation League sent Speaker Pelosi a letter urging her to take action. As a result, Democrats plan to vote Wednesday on a resolution that “acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes; and rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States,” according to a draft of the proposed language.
But rather than ending the controversy, the decision to force members to vote on this rebuke to Rep. Omar has opened up a debate among Democrats and progressives about how they should view the issue of Israel. Some on the Left are defying Speaker Pelosi and openly defending Omar.
The Liz Warren-linked PCCC, for example, sent out an email calling it “outrageous [that] some congressional Democrats are attacking Congresswoman Omar for speaking out against big-money influence in politics.”
“Ilhan Omar is a progressive rockstar — one of AOC’s top allies pushing bold ideas into the congressional debate,” the email read. “And she’s been part of the PCCC family for years, attending our first National Candidate Training. We need to get her back!”
And the aforementioned “AOC” (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY) also complained publicly about the decision to hold a vote inspired by anti-Semitic comments when other behavior was not treated the same way.
“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which a reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid. But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia?”
Linda Sarsour, co-founder of the Women’s March and a nationally-known progressive activist, attacked Pelosi for holding the vote on the anti-Semitism resolution, calling her a “typical white feminist upholding the patriarchy doing the dirty work of powerful white men. God forbid the men are upset – no worries, Nancy to the rescue to stroke their egos.
“I reject this. I will speak out. I won’t be silent. I am not following this. They don’t speak for me as a Democrat,” Sarsour said. “We stand with Representative Ilhan Omar.”
At the progressive website The Intercept, senior contributor Mehdi Hasan says Rep. Omar is being singled out unfairly:
“Whether or not you agree with Omar’s remarks, whether or not you were personally offended, anyone who tells you that these nonstop, bipartisan political attacks on her are about fighting anti-Semitism is gaslighting you.”
Late Tuesday night came word that Speaker Pelosi is delaying the vote and the language of the resolution may be changed to add references to anti-Muslim bias, or perhaps be re-worked entirely. Also late Tuesday night, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez launched a midnight tweetstorm suggesting that Omar’s anti-Semitic comments were similar to the “racist tropes” behind supporting the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The fear of some Democrats is that animosity towards both Israel and the concept of a Jewish state is an ingrained part of modern progressivism, as seen in the popularity of the “BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement, and chants at progressive gatherings of pro-Hamas/Hezbollah slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This fight over the party’s stance on Israel and where to draw the line between opposing policy towards Israel and embracing anti-Semitism could be the beginning of a battle that might divide the Democratic coalition.
In fact, it’s already happening to the British Left. The U.K.’s Labour Party recently suffered several high-profile resignations over concerns that their party has become a haven for anti-Jewish sentiment. Writing at Buzzfeed, British liberal and journalist Rachel Shabi observes:
“For those of us watching from the UK, seeing the Democrats grapple with allegations of anti-Semitism in their ascendant left flank has brought on a serious case of déjà vu. For British progressives, it was only a few years ago that we cheered the rise of the left wing of the Labour Party, and the leftward tilt on domestic and foreign policy that followed.
“Today, we are spectators from the near future, a place where a full-blown anti-Semitism crisis led to a literal split of the party last week.”
The resolution decrying anti-Semitism may bring the Rep. Omar controversy to a close, but it will not end the ongoing debate over Israel, Judaism and the Middle East on the American Left.