The Democratic Party’s civil war flared anew this week with a battle on the Israeli front. Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., made headlines with a Twitter outburst that criticized Israel backers, which was widely seen as anti-Semitic. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer echoed other party leaders when he called her comments “offensive and irresponsible.” Omar apologized, claiming ignorance of the “painful history of anti-Semitic tropes” — as if she had never heard them before, or been exposed to them her entire life?
Please. The person who tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world” knew exactly what she was doing.
Rep. Omar seems to be managing her crisis. Maybe she will be disciplined by Democratic Party leaders, maybe not. President Donald Trump called on her to resign from Congress, or at least from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and she blasted him right back. But in a larger sense, l’affaire Omar is a symptom of a much deeper problem in the Democratic Party. Most of them just don’t like Israel.
According to a Pew survey, in the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, only 27 percent of Democrats side with the Jewish state. Almost equal numbers of Democrats side with the Palestinians, and the subset of left-wing Democrats are pro-Palestinian by almost two to one. So it is not at all controversial for Omar to trash the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for its pro-Israel advocacy, especially among progressives.
The now trendy Democratic Socialists of America have even called for Israel to be eliminated.
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Of course, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to be anti-Zionist — but it helps. We saw this dog whistle becoming more audible during the recent liberal crackup over the Women’s March.
What began as feminists expressing solidarity with Palestinians evolved into a claim from organizers Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez that “Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people,” according to Tablet magazine.
Mallory had ties to arch-anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, and it was revealed this week that freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., wrote for Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam newsletter The Final Call in 2006.
Tlaib had also tripped on a trope last month when she accused members of Congress of dual loyalties when it came to Israel.
Meanwhile, Women’s March organizer and Israel critic Linda Sarsour surprised no one by rushing to Rep. Omar’s defense along with — also no surprise — former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Progressives naturally align against Israel
Progressives see Israel as an occupying power, an apartheid state, and fundamentally illegitimate. Furthermore, the concept of “intersectionality” forces them to put the Jewish state in the “bad” category. Activist Yonah Lieberman explains that all progressive issues necessarily tie together: “We don’t see a distinction between supporting Palestinian freedom and supporting a Green New Deal. We don’t see a distinction between believing that the occupation is a moral crisis and believing that health care is a human right.”
Practical politicians know that these issues have nothing to do with each other, but that kind of sensible thinking is abhorrent to the ideologically motivated progressives who are driving the Democratic Party to the far-left edge of sanity. Forcing the formerly moderate-liberal Democrats into the Procrustean bed of progressivism is not a winning model in a politically pragmatic country like the United States. In this sense, the fight over Israel mirrors the general conundrum faced by old-school liberal party leaders trying to explain the facts of political life to their unruly progressive progeny.
Expect more of this from Democrats
Contrast the Democrats’ rising anti-Israel focus with the Republican Party’s embrace of the Jewish state. Pew survey data going back to 1978 show that the GOP has always been the more pro-Israel party, but lately Republican support has climbed to 79 percent, more than 50 points greater than Democrats.
Trump is probably the most pro-Israel president in American history, exemplified when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, something three previous presidents had cynically promised and then ducked. (Meanwhile, many Democrats booed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on the floor of their 2012 nominating convention.)
And while most American Jews inexplicably continue to back even the most left-leaning Democratic candidates, President Trump has received overwhelming support from the more observant Orthodox Jewish community.
Rep. Omar said it was “exciting” that her views are forcing Democrats to finally “have conversations that we weren’t really willing to.” Indeed, Democrats should have an open, honest debate over whether their party is rapidly becoming an incubator for the kind of anti-Semitism that has infected the liberal parties of Europe.
Jewish Democrats who think this controversy is only about Israel could be in for an unpleasant surprise.
James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and author of “Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past,” has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins