Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace

An attempt by Democratic Party leaders to pass a resolution rebuking U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) with false claims of anti-Semitism was defeated by a groundswell of grassroots support for the Congresswoman, including major backing from progressive Jewish groups. Under this pressure, Democrats instead presented on March 7 a resolution denouncing all forms of bigotry, including anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacy. The resolution, which  passed overwhelmingly, was the first ever to condemn bigotry against Muslim people.

After publicly condemning AIPAC and the widespread bi-partisan support for Israeli apartheid in Congress, Omar  was attacked by both major parties for alleged “anti-Semitism.” On March 6, a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and clearly aimed at Omar, drafted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, was set to go up for a vote on the House floor.

The resolution detailed recent anti-Semitic attacks, including the Oct. 11 Pittsburgh shooting that killed 11 Jewish worshippers at a synagogue, when no such resolution condemning the attacks was introduced at the time of the incidents. No resolution was introduced to condemn such heinous hate crimes resulting from the rise of the violent far-right. Instead, this resolution came right after Omar, a Black Muslim woman, condemned the U.S. government’s uncritical support of Israeli apartheid. The resolution placed an equal sign between opposing Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.

This was a attempt to censure Omar’s progressive anti-imperialist message. For example, Omar refused to recognize Venezuela coup leader Juan Guaidó as that country’s president. She also confronted Elliot Abrams on his record as a war criminal for U.S interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala in 1980s as he testified in front of Congress as the Trump administration’s envoy to Venezuela.

1,200 Jewish groups and individuals sign letter supporting Omar

But many people were not having this attack on Omar and launched a social media campaign with the Twitter hashtag #IStandWithIlhan and people posting selfies holding signs supporting Omar on Facebook. Muslim and Jewish organizations held a news conference on March 6 across from Capitol Hill to support her. Progressive Jewish organizations and individuals around the country come out in support of Omar and against conflating her criticism of AIPAC and Israeli apartheid with anti-Semitism. An Open Letter signed by over 1,200 Jewish groups and individuals declared:

“There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about calling out the noxious role of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which spends millions each year to buy U.S. political support for Israeli aggression and militarism against the Palestinian people. …

“Genuine anti-Semitism and the growth of white supremacy are indeed growing concerns in Donald Trump’s America. Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim congresswomen in this country’s history, are not part of this ugly growth of white supremacy. Instead, they are part of movements which seek to confront it. For that, and for their courageous support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, they are being smeared by a racist and Islamophobic chorus, including the House Democratic leadership itself. …

“As Jews with a long tradition of social justice and anti-racism, AIPAC does not represent us. #WeStandWithIlhan.”

As House Democrats held a closed-door session on the evening of March 6 to argue the resolution in Congress, representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus and others pointed out the hypocrisy of this attempt by their leaders to condemn a Black Muslim woman while white supremacist comments from GOP officials and the White House were never challenged. The outpouring of support for Omar split the Democrats and forced Pelosi and Co. to go along with a resolution condemning many forms of bigotry, including anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacy. It passed by an enormous margin – 407-23.

Omar  released a joint statement with the two other Congress members who are  Muslim – Andre Carson of Indiana and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – calling the vote on the resolution “historic.” They explained, “It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history.”

This series of events has exposed the Democratic Party leadership’s real priorities: attacking one of the few progressive anti-war voices in Congress while they pretend to put up a resistance to the racist Trump White House. But these events also showed the power of grassroots protest. The people, including the growing and energetic Jewish progressive movement, intervened, and showed what our priorities are. We will continue to fight to build the anti-war movement and challenge efforts to gag progressive voices in Congress and in our schools and workplaces.