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Ilhan Omar’s tweet revealed core truths about anti-Semitism in America

Ilhan Omar’s tweet revealed core truths about anti-Semitism in America

The controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets about the pro-Israel lobby will not die.
After the Muslim Congress member tweeted Sunday night that American political leaders’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” a political firestorm broke out over the question of whether the tweet was anti-Semitic. Omar apologized on Monday under pressure from the House Democratic leadership, who issued a unified statement condemning her comments. On Tuesday, President Trump called on her to resign her seat in Congress.
There’s an air of farce about all of this. Her tweet really was troubling, but the reaction to it has devolved into a partisan fight by bad-faith actors that obscures the reality of how anti-Semitism works in the United States.
There are two related, yet distinct, kinds of anti-Semitism that have snuck into mainstream politics. One is associated with the left and twists legitimate criticisms of Israel into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. On the mainstream right, meanwhile, political leaders and media figures blame a cabal of wealthy Jews for mass immigration and left-wing cultural politics in classic anti-Semitic fashion.
Omar’s tweet was a pretty clear example of the first kind of anti-Semitism. Plenty of Jews who are critical of the Israeli government, including me, found her comments offensive. It was false — support for Israel is complex and related to many more factors than just lobbyist money — and it played into centuries of conspiracy theories about Jewish money corrupting Western politics.
But it’s also clear that a lot of Omar’s critics don’t have much of a leg to stand on. Conservatives have been trying to label Omar an anti-Semite since she was elected in November, on the basis of fairly flimsy evidence. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, blasted her tweet despite having sent his own tweet accusing prominent Jewish Democrats of trying to “buy” the 2018 election. Trump once told a room full of Jewish Republicans that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” adding that “you want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”