Democrats hurting themselves with handling of Ilhan Omar controversy

Democrats hurting themselves with handling of Ilhan Omar controversy
© Stefani Reynolds

The civil war for the soul of the Democratic Party took a disturbing turn last week. Representative Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid MORE, a progressive Democratic freshman from Minnesota, came under intense scrutiny for a series of anti-Semitic comments and tweets. Arguably her most outrageous statement, and the one that has prompted such strong public backlash, was her insinuation that pro-Israel groups are pushing an “allegiance to a foreign country.”

These comments do not stand as an isolated incidence of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric from Omar. She recently tweeted veiled remarks that the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee was buying off politicians in the United States, and even made a statement in 2012 that Israel has “hypnotized the world.” To be sure, her comments are not merely the remarks of a junior representative in Congress who has not “understood the full weight of her words,” as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBattle over reopening schools heats up Pelosi: Trump wearing a mask is 'an admission' that it can stop spread of coronavirus Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools MORE said.

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What Omar said is bigotry plain and simple. Democrats have exhaustively argued that the troublesome and divisive rhetoric of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE has essentially given a platform to racial animosity, misogyny, and bigotry in the public sphere. As such, for the last three years, the factions within the Democratic Party have united around the idea that they are the morally upright side that will condemn bigotry and hateful rhetoric in any form. Regrettably, that no longer seems to be the case.

Omar is now stoking the same ethnic religious threats and animosities that Trump has, and the Democratic Party is letting her get away with it. Ultimately, her statements blew a divisive issue within the Democratic Party wide open with the focus on the anti-Israel, and arguably borderline anti-Semitic, sentiment within the progressive wing. The blowback from the comments of Omar has forced Democrats to lurch even further to the fringes of the left, and has created a situation where Republicans will be in a position to exploit Democrats for their poor handling of the controversy.

Indeed, her remarks have even paved the way for Trump, who once said there were “fine people” within a crowd of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, to openly criticize Democrats for anti-Semitism and solidify his position as a pro-Israel president. “It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against anti-Semitism in their conference,” Trump tweeted last week. “Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!” This could just be the start.

Now Pelosi, who like many establishment figures has long been an ally of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is in a difficult position as she must manage the divide over the comments of Omar that has further deepened the civil war between the moderate and progressive factions of the Democratic Party. It is clear is that the newer progressive Democrats have legitimized and given a voice to anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Semitic sentiments that will only hurt the party in 2020 and beyond.

Just last month, Representative Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDemocrats see victory in Trump culture war The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid MORE, a progressive Democratic freshman from Michigan, accused Israel advocates in Congress of “dual loyalty.” Progressives such as Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Goya CEO dismisses critics for praise of Trump: 'I'm not apologizing' Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE of New York rushed to defend Omar, as did several 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Senators Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Trump defends Roger Stone move: He was target of 'Witch Hunt' Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' MORE, Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Puerto Rico primary In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Biden wins Louisiana primary MORE, and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE.

Arguably the most reprehensible defense came from House Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Biden and BLM must set aside differences, focus on beating Trump The blessing of Black men: Our lives, our voices, and our votes matter MORE, who attempted to mitigate the remarks of Omar by saying that her experience escaping violence in Somalia was “more personal” than that of Jewish people whose parents survived the Holocaust. The fact that the third ranking Democrat in the House is defending a representative in Congress who has made repeated anti-Semitic comments is incredibly disquieting to me, especially as a Jewish Democrat in the United States.

Indeed, it is deeply disturbing and disheartening that many prominent Democrats, who are in party leadership positions or maintain millions of followers on social media, are all collectively peddling a defense of Omar which essentially argues that she should be given a free pass to target a religious minority group repeatedly, merely because she too is a religious minority. There should be no place for hateful rhetoric in any capacity in our great country, and the fact that the Democratic leadership has been complicit with anti-Semitic rhetoric today is a troubling trend that holds the potential to damage the party immeasurably for many years to come.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of several books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”