House anti-hate resolution fails the Jewish community

By JERRY WU | March 14, 2019

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LORIE SHAULL / CC BY-SA 2.0 Wu believes the House should take stronger action against Representative Ilhan Omar.

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 183 (H.R. 183), the “anti-hate” resolution condemning discrimination toward a wide variety of “traditionally persecuted peoples,” by an overwhelming majority of 407-23. 

Taken out of the context of recent controversies in the House, the sentiment conveyed by H.R. 183 is admirable. As events of the past few years have shown us, hateful ideologies continue to plague this country, and denouncing them is simply the right thing to do. 

But when H.R. 183 is contextualized within the recent controversy involving Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn), who made comments that were widely construed as anti-Semitic, it becomes clear that the resolution is far less noble-minded than it appears on the surface. By denouncing a diffuse range of hateful ideologies, H.R. 183 shifts the focus away from anti-Semitism. And by failing to mention Omar by name, the resolution allows the congresswoman to escape without any consequences. H.R. 183 is, at its core, not the noble-minded declaration of tolerance it purports to be. Rather, it is a shrewd political move by the Democrats that takes the heat off of Omar while maintaining the façade of moral righteousness. 

In early February, Omar posted a series of anti-Semitic tweets. In one tweet about why American politicians support Israel, Omar asserted, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” playing into the anti-Semitic trope involving Jews and money (“Benjamin” refers to hundred dollar bills and is a common Jewish name). She used this trope again in another tweet, in which she falsely claimed that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pays politicians to support Israeli interests.

Omar has apologized, but it is difficult to believe that her apology was entirely genuine as her tweets in February were neither the first nor last instance of her expressing anti-Semitic ideas. In 2012, she tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” which alludes to the trope of Jews controlling world events. And in a tweet posted this month, she tweeted, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” insinuating that many politicians have their allegiances split between the United States and Israel, an anti-Semitic trope involving Jews and treacherous politicians.

Omar’s tweets make it difficult to believe that her remarks were anything but hateful. As New York Times Op-Ed columnist Bret Stephens asserted, “Ilhan Omar knows exactly what she is doing.”

Although members of the House have criticized Omar, she was not mentioned by name in H.R. 183, nor was she removed from any committee positions. This stands in stark contrast to the discipline meted out to Representative Steve King (R-Ia), who in early January made comments deemed white-supremacist. House Resolution 41 (H.R. 41), passed in the aftermath of that controversy, called out King in the very first line. King was also stripped of all of his committee positions, which included seats on the Judiciary, Agriculture, and Small Business committees. There has clearly been a double standard.

There has also been a double standard in how H.R. 41 and H.R. 183 respectively confronted hateful ideologies. The former specifically condemned white supremacy throughout, while the latter condemned anti-Semitism as only one of many hateful ideologies. As politicians and political commentators have opined, by denouncing so many forms of hate and failing to explicitly condemn Omar, Democrats “watered down” H.R. 183, which originally condemned anti-Semitism specifically. It’s like saying “all lives matter” to the Black Lives Matter movement. By declaring that “all hateful ideologies are bad” when the issue at hand is a Congresswoman making anti-Semitic remarks, H.R. 183 distracts from and trivializes the specific problem of anti-Semitism.

The diffuseness of H.R. 183 suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that the Democrats genuinely thought it was a good idea to water down the original message of the resolution. The second is that the Democrats intentionally watered down the resolution for political reasons. Politicians are, by nature, shrewd communicators — that’s how they get elected. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Democrats were so tone deaf that they failed to anticipate the implications of not specifically denouncing Omar and denouncing anti-Semitism as one of many forms of hate. Indeed, reports of Democrats confronting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Omar being unfairly targeted suggests the second explanation — that the resolution was watered down to protect Omar. In a way, H.R. 183 was a brilliant political move. Democrats could say they fulfilled their responsibility of condemning hate speech while protecting one of their own. And opponents could not really oppose an “anti-hate” resolution as the optics would be terrible. 

Normally, a resolution condemning hate should be welcomed with open arms, but in the context of Representative Ilhan Omar’s recent controversies, it rings hollow. H.R. 183 should have officially rebuked Omar. It did not. Thus, the House of Representatives — and the Democrats in particular — has failed to properly condemn a hateful ideology and hold its members accountable. It has failed the Jewish community — and all Americans — by setting a dangerous precedent for dealing with anti-Semitism in this country. 

Jerry Wu is a sophomore majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Potomac, Md.

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