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 OmarHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens 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 PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments 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 TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 TlaibHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens MORE, a progressive Democratic freshman from Michigan, accused Israel advocates in Congress of “dual loyalty.” Progressives such as Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezPolice say man trespassed into Ocasio-Cortez's office Police say man trespassed into Ocasio-Cortez's office Ocasio-Cortez starts petition to repeal Hyde Amendment MORE of New York rushed to defend Omar, as did several 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Senators Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' O'Rourke unveils plan to support women, minority-owned businesses MORE, Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party MORE, and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA 2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA MORE.

Arguably the most reprehensible defense came from House Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos Clyburn22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Impeachment will reelect Trump Impeachment will reelect Trump 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.”