Ilhan Omar is using President Trump’s playbook
WASHINGTON — What does Rep. Ilhan Omar have in common with President Trump? Sadly, more than you would think.
The Democratic freshman from Minnesota is perhaps the most prominent victim of the anti-Muslim hatred that Trump spews. The president appeared to be referring to Omar, a Somali American, when he told a conservative audience Saturday that certain members of Congress “hate our country.” She has also been the target of regular death threats and vile displays such as a poster at a GOP-sponsored event in the West Virginia Capitol on Friday linking her to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Yet Omar herself is doing something akin to what her disgusting opponents are doing to her: She has suggested that Americans who support Israel — by implication, Jews — are disloyal to the United States. At an event in Washington last week, Omar said, in the context of the pro-Israel lobby, that “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.”
When Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, protested Omar’s use of “anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty,” Omar doubled down by tweeting, “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.”
This comes a few weeks after she apologized for suggesting that pro-Israel lawmakers had been bought (“it’s all about the Benjamins”) and for an old quote of hers about “evil” Israel hypnotizing the world. Democratic leaders planned to introduce a resolution on the House floor on Wednesday rebuking such comments.
To be clear, the bigotry practiced by the president and by the racists behind the West Virginia poster is orders of magnitude worse than what Omar is doing. But at the core, they are using versions of the same technique: accusing those from other cultures of betraying America by putting their loyalty — their “allegiance” — elsewhere.
Muslims, more than any other group in the United States, are routinely accused of disloyalty. For Omar to turn around and use the same trope against others boggles the mind.
Those behind the West Virginia poster are probably irredeemable. The poster, which juxtaposed photos of Omar and of the World Trade Center burning, proposed that Americans have “forgotten” the 2001 attacks because they elected Omar to Congress.
Likewise, Trump has, with his talk of a Muslim ban, proposed that Muslims are disloyal. “Right now, we have people in Congress that hate our country and you know that,” he said recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in remarks widely believed to be referring to Omar (some in the crowd shouted her name). “When I see some of the things being made, the statements being made, it’s very, very sad. Find out: How did they do in their country? ... Not so good, not so good.”
“Their country.” Because they don’t have “allegiance” to America.
Part of the far-right’s anti-Muslim bigotry is the slander that Muslims can’t hold office and won’t respect U.S. justice because they are loyal to Sharia law. Anti-Sharia bills have been introduced in most states and enacted in about 10. They are legally meaningless (the Constitution already trumps foreign law) and serve largely to create the perception that Muslims are loyal to a foreign set of beliefs.
The age-old “dual loyalty” slander against American Jews is similar. As the Anti-Defamation League put it, in response to Omar’s latest use of the technique, “it alleges that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens because their true allegiance is to their co-religionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda.” Omar’s explanation — that she is referring to pro-Israel lobbyists and not Jews — is a distinction without a difference in anti-Semites’ minds.
Omar protests that “I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel” and that “my colleagues remain silent” when Trump and Republicans question her “Americanness.” In fact, I have seen many of Omar’s Democratic colleagues and American Jewish groups denounce the bigotry practiced against her, and I have heard none suggest that she is “anti-American” because she is not “pro-Israel.”
“I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise,” Omar tweeted. Exactly! That’s why Omar should stop accusing other Americans of “allegiance” to a foreign power.
Most American Jews are little more pleased with Israel’s current policies than Omar is. But those who support Israel’s policies aren’t disloyal to America. When Omar questions their patriotism, she is reading from the same bigoted playbook that launched Trump.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist. You can follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.