By Jack Rosen
The Democratic Party recently ruptured itself over comments made by freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that many viewed as anti-Semitic. While Democrats are fractured in a fierce back-and-forth, Republicans have been unified in condemning both Omar and those who defended her.
In particular, President Trump has sharply criticized Democrats for their lukewarm handling of the controversy, highlighting a significant wedge between Jewish Democrats and the rest of their party. So far, it’s working — top Democrats are falling into the same trap that Trump and other vocal Republicans anticipated, and this wedge will grow more pronounced the longer the Democratic leadership fails to address it.
This was not Omar’s first time making comments like this, nor was she the only new member of Congress to be accused of such foul rhetoric. But Omar’s most recent claims toward AIPAC, Israel and Jewish “dual loyalty” sparked heated reactions from many quarters and notably, debate within Democratic circles.
Indeed, despite being few in number, a cadre of so-called progressives came overwhelmingly to Omar’s aid, and, bewilderingly, forced the Democratic House leadership to water down Congress’ condemnation of anti-Semitism. And while several key Democrats have criticized Omar vocally, party leadership did not follow their example. So, when Trump claims the issue has divided Democrats, he is not grasping at straws.
Trump has been vocal about Omar for some time. Earlier this month, when she became embroiled in controversy over her tweet, referenceing AIPAC, that insinuated that memebers of Congress who defend Israel are motivated by money (evoking age-old tropes about Jewish monetary power in the process), Trump was quick to call for both her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and her full resignation.
Then, in the wake of the watered-down Resolution 183 last week, Trump told reporters that the Democrats have become an “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” party. Since then, he has further stoked the flames by tweeting about Jexodus, a new conservative Jewish movement calling on Jewish Americans to leave the Democratic Party, citing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment.
Trump’s ability to label his enemies is formidable. His aggressive name-calling tactics have a proven capability to stick and endure, and many nicknames — for instance, “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” and “Rocket Man” – survive in our cultural lexicon even after Trump has stopped spreading them.
Trump’s accusations against the Democratic Party may stick in the same way if Democrats are not quick to disavow and disprove them. Jewish Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat, but one tactic Trump has mastered is planting seeds of doubt. Whereas most politicians would hesitate to be so blunt about what is happening to Democrats, Trump has no such qualms. The seed is now out in the open to be planted.
Unfortunately, his statements are not completely unfounded. Although I do not believe that most Democrats are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, the Democratic Party has enabled its members who do espouse anti-Semitic ideas or rhetoric and looking the other way when they play to anti-Semitic tropes, as we saw in the deliberations over Resolution 183. And when fringe far-left progressives laid on the pressure, seasoned Democratic leaders allowed an important resolution on anti-Semitism to be diluted into a general resolution against hate.
Without a doubt, Jews are being held to a double standard by the Democrats of tomorrow. The Democrats would never allow one of their own congressmen to make a statement that openly invokes offensive stereotypes about any other minority group, yet when Omar makes several in a row about Jewish people, Democratic leadership excuses and enables her.
While some Democrats have sufficiently defended Israel in light of her comments, they were exceptions, running against the grain of the party overall. This is even more upsetting given that many senior Democrats are pro-Israel. Why are they now silent? In past years, Democrats have come out swinging at the phrase “All Lives Matter.” Yet, that is exactly the message Democrats gave Jews with Resolution 183.
Most of all, Democrats need to show Jews on both sides of the aisle that they are listening. Israel is increasingly perceived as a right-wing issue, but it didn’t used to be that way. Democrats, including progressives, should be working to understand why so many Jewish liberals are pro-Israel. With anti-Semitism on the rise in the U.S. and abroad, Jewish Americans are searching for allies, and the Democrats are not filling that role.
None of this is to say that Democrats are the only enablers of anti-Semitism in Congress. The president and others in the Republican Party are also guilty of problematic statements, double standards and silence when they should speak out. But to use the shortcomings of one side to excuse the shortcomings of the other is harmful to us all. When both parties point out each other’s enabling of anti-Semitism, it doesn’t inspire Jews to join their side — it makes Jews feel that neither party is their home anymore.
Trump’s targeted nicknames have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Democrats: We have seen the kernel of anti-Semitism within your party. You must nip it in the bud and come out as an ally for Jewish Americans — before it is too late. Don’t make liberal Jews ask whether you really consider them your own. Don’t let Trump be right about you.
Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress. Follow Rosen on Twitter at @JackRosenNYC.