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Overly aggressive response to Omar’s comments reflects distorted priorities in America

Greg Nash

The controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) comments about Israel and AIPAC highlights a crisis of proportionality in American politics. At a fraught moment in our history, when the Republican Party under Donald Trump is unapologetically running roughshod over constitutional norms and principles, it is disturbing that the House of Representatives would prioritize a resolution intended to rebuke Rep. Omar, who, while standing by her argument, apologized for her choice of words.

On Feb. 11, 2019, Omar issued a statement saying that anti-Semitism “is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

{mosads}The fact that Rep. Omar, a progressive Muslim woman, has been singled out for reprimand, is an unacceptable double standard. As attorney and author Rabia Chaudry commented, the House resolution “is not about what was said. It’s about who said it.”

The overly aggressive response to Rep. Omar’s comments reflects a larger problem in American politics: the distorted priorities that are a result of the false equivalence peddled by mainstream pundits and politicians. Claiming both sides are equally at fault makes it possible to devote as much, if not more, attention to Rep. Omar’s words than to far more urgent and significant breaches that have come to light during the same period.

For example, at the same time that Rep. Omar was the subject of a media and political firestorm, reports surfaced that Donald Trump had pressured White House officials to grant top secret security clearance to his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner against the advice of the intelligence community. “It’s called clearance by nepotism and a serious abuse that endangers our security,” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Our democracy is not functioning properly when Rep. Omar is singled out for weeks of harsh criticism and subjected to a public display of disapprobation (even after she apologized) while actions by the president and his GOP apologists that involve our nation’s secrets receive less attention.

The disproportionate response to Rep. Omar is not without serious consequences. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) warned that although “we all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism and all forms of hatred and bigotry … the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.” Indeed, a poster linking Rep. Omar to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was featured at the West Virginia statehouse during a celebration of “WV GOP Day.”

It is an insult to America’s intelligence to pretend that Ilhan Omar, one of only two Muslim women elected to Congress and herself the target of Islamophobia, is the true culprit when it comes to bigotry and intolerance.

The Republican-led White House has presided over a border policy that forcibly takes migrant children from asylum-seeking parents and locks them in frigid holding cells. GOP lawmakers have found common cause with the most radical elements of the far right. The Republican president said there were “some very fine people on both sides” of a neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. These offenses deserve far more congressional censure than the words of a single member of Congress.

Perhaps most discouraging in this entire episode is that the Democratic Party leadership has enabled the crisis of proportionality. Yes, the language of the House resolution, which passed on March 7, ultimately condemned hate of all kinds, but bending to the GOP’s hypocrisy is a failure of politics, principle and priorities. It does virtually nothing to address the culture of hate and fear fostered by an increasingly extremist Republican Party. If anything, it exacerbates the problem by perpetuating the myth that both sides are equally culpable; they are not.

Peter Daou is a digital media strategist who has advised major political figures, including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. He is the author of “Digital Civil War: Confronting the Far-Right Menace.”

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Ilhan Omar Jared Kushner John Kerry

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