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Antisemitism is not the reason Ilhan Omar lost her committee seat

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Republicans in the House of Representatives successfully ousted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee in a party-line vote today. The approved resolution listed a number of justifications for the vote, including a tweet by Omar from 2019 claiming that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” which critics denounced as antisemitic.

At the time, the congresswoman subsequently deleted the tweet and apologized. Although she has been one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of Israel, a fact also recounted in the resolution, she has not said anything of the kind since.

While this may be an unwelcome reminder about the speed of life, it has been four years since Omar’s offending tweet. Other than partisan point-scoring, which Speaker Kevin McCarthy desperately needs after requiring 15 floor votes to be elected by his own party, it is hard to think of why this controversy should now be re-litigated. But one reason that is certainly not a catalyst for Omar’s expulsion from the committee is House Republicans’ concern for antisemitism.

As Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) stated before the vote today, 90% of Jewish members of the House were set to vote to keep Congresswoman Omar on the committee “because we believe in the human capacity to learn from mistakes, to make amends, and that atonement should be rewarded.”

It is true the lopsidedness of the Jewish vote in the House is a reflection of the partisan nature of the vote, but it is also worth remembering that many of these Jewish Democrats who supported Omar issued strong condemnations of her tweet at the time — including Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, her most outspoken and persistent Democratic critic.

Yet these Jewish members of Congress supported Rep. Omar today because they understood this old news was not being dredged up for the benefit of American Jews, but rather for a historically weak Speaker of the House who has chosen to humiliate an opponent loathed by the Republican base. That Congresswoman Omar is a member of a religious and ethnic minority demonized by white nationalists ascendant on the American right is also undoubtedly motivating this solidarity.

Hypocrisy is primarily an offense of shamelessness and it was palpable in the Republican vote against Rep. Omar. If the world were a fair place, we would be spared any and all lectures on antisemitism from a congressional majority that relies on the support of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been named to the House Homeland Security Committee and has previously alleged the existence of Jewish space lasers, and Rep. Paul Gosar, an open and proud associate of Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Additionally, unlike Rep. Omar, former Republican President Donald Trump has never dreamed of apologizing for his multiple and overt uses of antisemitic tropes surrounding Jews, finance and political influence.

What may be most baffling in the hypocrisy department is that McCarthy himself has invoked the antisemitic specter of disproportionate Jewish political power in America — and on Twitter, no less. Before the 2018 midterm elections, McCarthy tweeted that “we cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA.”

McCarthy has dismissed the notion that he was being antisemitic, noting the three Jewish donors he accused of trying to “buy” the election were united in his mind not by faith but politics. Perhaps so, but wasn’t this precisely the problem with Rep. Omar’s tweet? It is not antisemitic to point out AIPAC’s political influence in Congress, which it proudly touts in its own materials, but it may be problematic to do so with careless language that could harm American Jews.

There may be no one in Congress morally less fit to judge Ilhan Omar than Kevin McCarthy (Perhaps Greene). While he deleted his own trope-laden tweet, he has never apologized for it, let alone faced any formal censure.

But if there was one moment that encapsulated the absurdity of the Republican claim that this political assault on Rep. Omar was about fighting antisemitism, it definitely arrived when Rep. Max Miller of Ohio, who sponsored the resolution, rose to speak in its favor alongside an enlarged poster of Rep. Omar’s words from 2019.

Rep. Miller is one of two Jewish members of the House Republican caucus, and I have no basis for doubting the sincerity of the offense he took upon reading those words. But the words he amplified for the country have not existed in their original form in almost four years. Omar deleted the tweets two days after writing them and apologized; they have been artificially kept alive not by Omar but by Republicans who refuse to accept her disavowal of them. Ironically, if any viewer finds themselves agreeing with those words, Republicans are arguably much more responsible for that than Omar.

What we witnessed today was not a congressional majority standing up against antisemitism. Instead, a deadly serious issue was exploited for partisan purposes. The vast majority of American Jews did not call for this unnecessary and cynical spectacle, but we may be haunted by its endless afterlife.

To contact the author, email opinion@forward.com.

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