US Democrats face their own anti-Semitism scandal

Like their Labour counterparts, US liberals have been side-tracked by an ugly row over bigotry

Orthodox Jews gather outside the office of Ilhan Omar 
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

US Democrats have become embroiled in a bitter internal row about anti-Semitism that threatens to derail their legislative agenda and side-track the party ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Since becoming the first Muslim woman elected to Congress earlier this year, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar has drawn sharp criticism for her comments about Israel.

In a series of tweets she was accused of using anti-Semitic tropes and suggested Republican support of Israel is fuelled by donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), a prominent pro-Israel lobby group.

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The growing backlash prompted a swift apology, but she was back in the spotlight again earlier this month after questioning the allegiance of Jewish lawmakers.

In comments at a bookstore reported by the New York Times, Omar said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”.

She questioned why it was acceptable for her to speak critically about the political influence of the National Rifle Association, fossil fuel industries and “big pharma,” but not Aipac.

In a furore that mirrors, to some extent, the one that has engulfed their counterparts in the British Labour party, the response of the Democrat hierarchy has sharply divided opinion.

In a bid to head off the growing scandal, the nominal head of the party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, decided to adopt a firm stance by pushing a resolution strongly condemning anti-Semitism.

CNN reports that “members from both the Congressional Black Caucus and the younger, progressive wing of the party were furious about the leadership's gambit”, questioning why there was not the same denunciation of Republican bigotry and whether it could even put Omar’s life in danger.

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The vote was eventually pushed back to next week “as Democrats became increasingly divided over the language of the resolution, and whether it would be broadened to include anti-Muslim bias – a sign of the delicate balancing act for Democrats on a notoriously complex issue spanning identity politics, party politics, geopolitics and a generational divide”, reports The Guardian’s David Smith.

“On the other side of the debate, moderate Democrats were frustrated that Omar's comments have derailed the agenda in the House and exposed divisions in an otherwise unified caucus” says CNN, adding “there are also concerns that a watered-down statement might end up looking like tolerance of anti-Semitic views within the caucus.”

The Independent says it has been seized upon by Donald Trump as a means of “exploiting divisions” within the Democrats.

On the back foot over a series of investigations, an ongoing trade dispute with China and a 11-year-high budget deficit, the president yesterday sought to go on the offensive by saying it was “shameful” the opposition had not taken a “stronger stand”.

“So while there is nothing new about the US-Israel relationship drawing scrutiny from the left, the political moment is ripe” says Smith, “and it coincides with a younger generation far more willing to challenge old orthodoxies of foreign policy.”

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