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 OmarOcasio-Cortez plans visit to Kentucky despite being disinvited by GOP colleague Man arrested for threatening Dems, citing Omar comments Omar mocks Trump's claims of 'presidential harassment': 'Just lived through one!' 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 TlaibTlaib rallies in support of Green New Deal at Detroit town hall Warren calls for House to begin impeachment proceedings Man arrested for threatening Dems, citing Omar comments MORE, a progressive Democratic freshman from Michigan, accused Israel advocates in Congress of “dual loyalty.” Progressives such as Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTlaib rallies in support of Green New Deal at Detroit town hall Ocasio-Cortez plans visit to Kentucky despite being disinvited by GOP colleague Overnight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide MORE of New York rushed to defend Omar, as did several 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Senators Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' The STATES Act will expose flawed marijuana legacy Impeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent MORE, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers MORE, and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Harris: Integrity of US justice system 'took a real blow' with Barr's actions Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina MORE.

Arguably the most reprehensible defense came from House Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnNew Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall Democrats hurting themselves with handling of Ilhan Omar controversy Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report 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.”