Weekend Open Thread: Jews Defend Muslim from Christian-ish Attack

A couple of days ago, after a vote of the full House of Representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, ostensibly over a supposedly anti-Jewish (the more accurate version of “anti-Semitic”) comment made four years ago and five other anti-Israel comments.

What interests me here is, in these troubled times, which members of which religion (their affiliations being conveniently listed at this link) voted which way.

Of the 25 Jewish members of Congress, 2 voted in favor of the resolution. Both were Republicans. One Democratic member, liberal Steve Cohen of Memphis, TN, did not vote — being absent due to the funeral of Tyre Nichols. The other 22, all Democrats, voted against it. One Republican abstained; three Republicans did not vote.

(This is another way of saying that this was a party-line vote.)

Not to open old wounds, but Rep. Ilhan’s comment, a tweet, was this:

Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.

She quickly generated controversy after entering Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.

In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.

Asked on Twitter who she though was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”

The comments sparked a public rebuke from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made clear that Omar had overstepped.

She soon apologized.

“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

This may come as a shock to some, but attacks on Omar for her identity have continued unabated — not only without consequence, but without note in the establishment national media.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, politically martyred by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

That Rep. Omar apologized is her business. From my Jewish perspective, all I can say is that what she said was largely (and I’d say intentionally) misinterpreted — and that, correctly interpreted, it is one of the funniest things that I have ever heard from any politician while in office.

Yes, “Benjamins” is a slang term for $100 bills, as made famous in a movie that most Republican members of Congress have probably never even heard of. And if that had been the only thing it referenced, it might not have been funny.

What made it hilarious is that it was also the first name of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was at the time (and still is) doing his best to intervene in American politics on behalf of the Republican Party, and especially its dominant Trumpublican faction, due to their slavish support of Israel’s right wing and its anti-Palestinian policies.

In other words, it’s the “Benjamin” in power and the political spending (based on his ties to way-to-the-right of American Jewish political opinion organizations like AIPAC) that he can drum up, largely from Christian evangelicals) he can generate. Note that I say “spending” rather than campaign donations, because AIPAC doesn’t traffic in ads supporting pro-Israeli-government candidates nearly as much as it does in attacks on opponents of hardline policies of, primarily, Israel’s dominant right wing.

“All about the Benjamins” was a startlingly witty way of tying the political and economic sources of influence on U.S. politicians together.

What’s the evidence? Look at those numbers again. I think that we can presume that any Jewish member of Congress who thought it necessary could have gotten a pass from Hakeem Jeffries (Baptist, if you’re curious) to vote to take Omar off of this committee, had they really wanted it.

None of them wavered. They knew that Rep. Omar’s presence on the committee would make sure that important viewpoints — some of which they might personally reject — from a Muslim, an African, and an immigrant perspective would be raised on the committee by someone fitting into all these categories. That is a plus for the U.S. as it seeks to understand and reaches out to all three communities. But instead, bigot-curious and (as as his critical supporter George Santos might have said) “Christian-ish” — and oh, yeah, I’d love to argue about that ishKevin McCarthy wanted to get Omar off of the committee largely because of the other five comments that he identified from her — ones that were critical towards the government or state of Israel.

That was what was worth the frankly stupid move of making a political martyr out of Ilhan Omar was about — spitting at the feet of the worldwide demographic communities she represents: keeping the discourse of the House purely pro-Netanyahu. (I don’t say “pro-Israel” because I don’t think for a moment that Netanyahu is actually pro-Israel. He’s probably closer to Hungary’s classic anti-Semitic leader Viktor Orban than to Joseph Biden.)

This just makes it easier for Jews like me to convince my fellow American Jews that the U.S. has to take a big step away from Israel so long as Kevin McCarthy’s love object dominates its politics. Netanyahu is busy trying to place his country among our political enemies — and we should treat it with an appropriately cold shoulder until its citizens vote for reform. That doesn’t mean attacking it — it just means that someone acting unfriendly get to be treated as an unfriend. That people won’t be able to sat this in the House Foreign Affairs Committee just underscores how bad it is when those suckling at the conservative evangelical teat combine internal repression with bowing to external governments. I’m happy that at least it’s not us U.S. Jews being accused of “dual loyalty” to Israel this time.

That this happened exactly a week after the worst Israeli attacks on Palestinians and the worst Palestinian attacks on Israeli Jews in years began makes the expulsion of the sole Muslim member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee too place just makes it all the more obscene. At a time like this, we need more understanding of the side further away from the center of American power, not less. Thank you to the Democratic leadership for understanding that.

This is your Weekend Open Thread. Talk about that or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of discretion and decorum.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)