BY BEN SALES
(JTA) – After a self-avowed white supremacist shot up a California synagogue, some voices on the political right found their culprit: Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim immigrant who has posted tweets perceived to be anti-Semitic. In its statement on the synagogue shooting in Poway on Saturday, the Zionist Organization of America called on congressional leadership to discipline Omar and Rashida Tlaib, another freshman Muslim-American congresswoman who supports boycotting Israel.
Dov Hikind, a former New York state assemblyman, tweeted that Omar and Tlaib are among “the ones responsible for mainstreaming Jew hatred!”
On Sunday, April 28, in a discussion of the shooting on ABC, Meghan McCain, co-host of “The View,” pivoted to denouncing Omar.
“I do think, when we’re having conversations about anti-Semitism, we should be looking at the extremes on both sides, and I would bring up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of her comments that got so much attention,” she said. “And in my opinion, Nancy Pelosi wasn’t hard enough in her response to her trafficking in anti-Semitic language.”
Earlier this year, Omar was criticized for tweets claiming that Israel hypnotizes the world and AIPAC pays politicians to be pro-Israel, and for a statement suggesting that Israel’s supporters are disloyal to the United States — all of which reminded Republicans and Democrats of anti-Semitic tropes. She apologized for some of the comments, and the House of Representatives subsequently passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of hate.
Omar Condemns Shooting
Omar condemned the Poway shooting on Twitter.
“My heart is breaking after today’s deadly shooting at Chabad Congregation in San Diego — on the last day of Passover and 6 months to the day after the Tree of Life shooting,” she wrote Saturday, referring to the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October. “We as a nation must confront the terrifying rise of religious hate and violence. Love trumps hate.”
Some experts say it’s unfair to tar Omar for the actions of a far-right shooter who, in an apparent online manifesto, also professed hate for Muslims.
Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust scholar, called pivots to Omar an “outrageous” politicization of anti-Semitism by opponents of the political left.
“It’s weaponizing anti-Semitism,” said Lipstadt, author of the recent book Antisemitism: Here and Now. “It’s politicizing the fight. When people do that I don’t take them seriously. They don’t care about this fight. They care about winning political points.”
But Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank, criticized Omar in a tweet about the shooting and said statements like hers create fertile ground for anti-Semitic acts, even if they come from the opposite end of the political spectrum. He also has criticized President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against minorities, and said that anti-Semites on the right and left share ideas about undue, surreptitious Jewish control of government and the media.
Dubowitz tweeted to Omar that “Our heart is broken thanks to you and the many others, on the left & right, who have poisoned the discourse & brought back lethal anti-Semitism.”
“Her statements in the past have contributed to an environment of toxic anti-Semitism that is coming both from the left and the right,” Dubowitz said Monday, April 29, in an interview. “Her slurs against American Jews, which traffic in the same kind of imagery that we’ve seen over the course of Jewish history, contribute to an environment of demonization and Jew-hatred that sometimes manifests itself in acts of extremist violence.”
(Other conservative figures, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, criticized Omar in the course of denouncing an anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared last week in The New York Times’ international edition. The Times has apologized for the cartoon, which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Jewish star on his collar and leading a blind President Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke.)
Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, a progressive Jewish group in Omar’s home state of Minnesota, said it’s fair to demand that Omar continue to work on being sensitive to Jewish concerns. But she said blaming the congresswoman for an attack by an Islamophobe is unconscionable. The shooter’s manifesto cited the Christchurch mosques massacres as an example he hoped to follow.
“This continued conversation with Rep. Omar over her past use of anti-Semitic tropes and the work she needs to do to build relationships with Jewish community, that is valid,” Mrotz said.
“In terms of her words laying the groundwork for an attack like this, that is a really bad faith representation of the actions of a man who clearly said he was inspired by a shooter who killed 50 Muslims” in their mosques.
According to statistics compiled by the Anti-Defamation League, lethal extremism in the United States comes almost entirely from the right. The group reported that in 2018, 49 out of 50 extremism-related murders were committed by far-rightists. Over the past decade, the far right in the U.S. has been responsible for 73 percent of extremist killings, the ADL said.
But reactions to anti-Semitism have become increasingly politicized. Conservatives want to keep the heat on Democrats, saying they are weak on Israel and soft on efforts to delegitimize the country. The left focuses on Trump and the white nationalist followers who see him as furthering their agenda on immigration and other issues. And many in the pro-Israel community have made combating the Boycott Israel and campus pro-Palestinian movements their top priority ahead of calling out white supremacy.
Marc Dollinger, a Jewish studies professor at San Francisco State University, said the community can focus on threats from the left and the right without blurring individual attacks.
“Both of them are coming after Jews — that’s where they conflate and where we see them together,” Dollinger said. “The threat from white nationalism is a much greater threat to American Jews than the left in that the shooters in Pittsburgh and Poway are coming from the right. That said, let’s get rid of both of them.”
Lipstadt believes that Omar has become a favorite enemy of the right both because of her past statements as well as her Muslim religion and gender. She said that Iowa Rep. Steve King, a Republican, avoided similar criticism for years despite cozying up to white nationalists.
“She’s an easy target, she’s tweeted and said things that are overtly anti-Semitic, she’s an open Muslim and she’s a woman,” Lipstadt said. “Steve King wasn’t criticized like that and he’s said some pretty horrible things.”