How Ilhan Omar Is Changing the Conversation About Israel—and Upending the 2020 Campaign

Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 15. She has changed the conversation about Israel. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

In late March, some 18,000 people crowded into a grand ballroom the size of a commercial airline hangar in downtown Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. Behind the stage were a dozen Jumbotrons, which, in between the speeches, broadcast short propaganda films about daily life in Israel. In some, Israelis residing close to the Gaza Strip described their experiences of living under Hamas rocket fire. Others showed Israeli agricultural fields being consumed by huge fires, caused by Hamas-launched kites carrying burning, gasoline-­soaked rags. Still others showed elaborate Hamas tunnels that ­Israeli security forces had discovered. Whenever there was downtime, ­Israeli songs blared through the sound system. The effect was total immersion—sight, sound and speeches—in a pro-Israel experience.

The event is traditionally a rare bipartisan affair, with both ­Republican and Democratic leaders heaping praise on the U.S.-­Israel alliance and each pronouncement of the two countries' strategic and cultural affinity prompting wild applause.

But this year, when Republicans hit the stage, they dispensed with the usual comity. Speaker after speaker claimed anti-Semitism had infected the entire Democratic Party—one of the most toxic charges in American politics. "It's astonishing to think that the ­party of Harry Truman, which did so much to help create the state of Israel, has been co-opted by people who promote rank anti-­Semitic rhetoric and work to undermine the broad American consensus of support for Israel," said Vice President Mike Pence. Later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that some congressional Democrats "think anti-Semitism can actually win them votes," and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the audience that hatred of Jews and Israel is "increasingly shaping the left's agenda." With each verbal assault, many in the audience cheered.

For Republican leaders, Exhibit A was a 37-year-old Demo­cratic freshman: Ilhan Omar, who, in just a few months, has become perhaps the most controversial member of the progressive caucus. One of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, Omar has attacked both harsh Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and AIPAC's power in Washington, at times, using language easily regarded as anti-Semitic. "It's all about the Benjamins baby," she tweeted six weeks before the conference, breezily referring to $100 bills that AIPAC lobbyists spend to fund pro-Israel lawmakers. Omar apologized for that remark after a storm of accusations—including from Democratic leaders—that she was employing an old ethnic slur regarding Jews and money. Only two weeks later, after Omar questioned the fealty that American Jews show to Israel, her critics seized on her suggestion of dual loyalty as yet another anti-Jewish insult. This time, she refused to apologize.

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota poses for a portrait during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studio on April 20, 2018, in New York City. Erik Tanner/Contour/Getty

"I say raise hell, make people feel uncomfortable," she told a crowd of American Muslims in the Los Angeles area a few weeks later. She said Israel's harsh treatment of Palestinians "is violating basic human rights…. We must also hold those we love, those with whom we have shared values, accountable."

Omar, a Somali war refugee, and her fellow Muslim freshman, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, are speaking out as ­never before against Israel's 52-year occupation of the West Bank, U.S. financial and political support of the Jewish state, and discrimination against Muslims in the United States. Their ­remarks have fractured the Democratic Party, with older, mainstream members like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly all the ­party's Jewish ­lawmakers condemning their remarks. But prominent progressives, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, defend them.

Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman in Congress, has called for a cut-off of U.S. military aid to Israel and a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict—a proposal Israel and its supporters view as spelling the end of the Jewish state. She also said that she wouldn't join an annual trip to Israel this summer sponsored by AIPAC's educational arm, which has become a rite of passage for new members. Instead, Tlaib said, she would orga­nize her own congressional delegation to the West Bank, where her grandmother still lives in a village outside of Ramallah. "I know this is something my colleagues don't usually get to experience, and I think it's an essential part of taking a fully informed, human-­centered and realistic approach as policymakers," Tlaib told Vice News. "I hope it inspires us to choose values rather than sides."

Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in January. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

To be sure, Omar and Tlaib are no friends of Israel. And while defenders acknowledge they could be more sensitive in their language, they reject the accusation that they're anti-Semites.

"These two congresswoman are shaking off the old mindset with regard to the Palestine question," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim civil liberties organization, tells Newsweek. "They're not trying to fit into the historical Washington mindset, which has been unjustly pro-Israel for decades. And they represent a whole new generation of progressive activists nationwide."

All of a sudden, Israel has become as partisan an issue as immi­gration and health care. As Republicans demonstrated in their AIPAC speeches, the congresswomen have become useful foils in their campaign for the 2020 elections. With their push to paint the entire Democratic Party as anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, ­Republicans hope to siphon enough votes and campaign donations from one of the most loyal Democratic groups to turn toss-up congressional districts and battleground states red. Such victories, they hope, could help guarantee the re-election of President Donald Trump, continued Republican control over the Senate or enough gains in the House to reclaim GOP control.

The election outcome could have profound impact on foreign policy. If Trump wins, he's likely to double down on his staunch support for Israel, although one never knows with Trump. If a Democrat wins, the influence of progressives like Omar could lead to previously unthinkable changes to the U.S.-Israel relationship amid a post-Trump backlash.

Representative Ilhan Omar. Photograph by Celeste Sloman

'The American Politicians Got the Message'

If the conversation about Israel has been, until now, mostly one-sided, few can claim more credit than AIPAC. Those who have challenged Israeli policies often find themselves on the wrong end of the organization's formidable political operation.

In perhaps the most storied case, AIPAC activists in 1984 targeted Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Percy had defied Israel on a handful of issues, most memorably by supporting the U.S. sale of AWACS early-warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia—a weapons sale Israel and AIPAC vehemently opposed but which narrowly cleared the Senate by a two-vote margin, thanks largely to Percy's influential endorsement as head of the panel that oversees such sales.

In response, AIPAC board member Robert Asher persuaded liberal Democratic congressman Paul Simon to run against Percy, Simon later wrote in his autobiography. With AIPAC's encouragement, pro-Israel PACs and wealthy American Jews provided Simon with $3.1 million—fully 40 percent of his war chest. A single Jewish activist alone financed $1.6 million worth of attack ads against Percy. Simon received 65 percent of the Jewish vote to Percy's 35 percent, which proved decisive in Simon's victory.

Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois, who defied Israel by supporting the U.S. sale of AWACS early-warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Bettmann Archive/Getty

"All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy, and the American politicians—those who hold public positions now and those who aspire to—got the message," Tom Dine, AIPAC's executive director at the time, told a closed fundraising dinner in Toronto, according to an investigative piece on AIPAC by CBS' 60 Minutes. Dine also said AIPAC's campaign against Percy "defined Jewish power in America for the rest of this century."

Percy's defeat established AIPAC as a powerful political force that lawmakers crossed at their own peril. Since then, the lobby has helped shape a reliably pro-Israel House and Senate, winning broad bipartisan support every year for foreign aid appropriations, out of which Israel receives more than $3 billion in security assistance annually, making it the largest recipient of U.S. foreign largess.

But in the view of many in Washington, AIPAC's power also has produced over the years a decidedly unequal view of the Israeli-­Palestinian conflict. Just a few of the lobby's successes include winning billions of dollars in additional aid to Israel for missile development and routine passage of resolutions recognizing ­Israel's "right to defend itself" after military operations against the Palestinians that some criticize as disproportionate. The lobby has even convinced the Trump administration to adopt Israel's anodyne terminology for the West Bank, calling the territory "contested" or "Israeli-controlled," rather than "occupied."

The Obama administration took a far tougher line with Israel, reflecting Democratic disillusionment that had been quietly building for years. Policy toward Israel became a partisan issue in March 2015, after Obama reached an agreement with Iran that curtailed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. At the invitation of the Republicans who then ran the House, ­Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a fiery speech ­before a joint meeting of Congress urging lawmakers to oppose the deal. Dozens of Democrats defiantly boycotted his speech.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers an address from his office in Jerusalem on April 3. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty

Netanyahu has openly aligned himself with Trump and the ­Republicans. In turn, the president, defying decades of U.S. policy, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and opened an embassy there last year. In March, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. He also has cut off aid to the Palestinians, closed Palestinian offices in Washington and sided with Israel in its continuing clashes with militants in Gaza.

Omar, Tlaib and their supporters in Congress are now speaking out forcefully against such policies. Last May, when Israeli troops opened fire and killed scores of Palestinians demonstrating at the Gaza border fence, Ocasio-Cortez, then a candidate challenging Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley, a staunch defender of Israel, wrote a tweet calling it a "massacre." "I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such," she added. "No state or entity is ­absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can't be silent about this anymore."

Representaive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who along with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has defended Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

A New Generation

The diminutive Omar has emerged as the most voluble—and visible—of Israel's critics. She appears to embrace the role of a political provocateur, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Omar articulates a view that is rarely heard from a sitting member of Congress, one that has been forged from her first-hand experiences of war and exile.

Born into a prosperous family in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, she was a child when civil war erupted in the 1980s. In interviews, she has said her earliest memories recall her fears as she huddled in her room, listening to the muffled thud of mortars firing and the ear-shattering blasts of shells landing nearby. At age 7, she and her family fled to neighboring Kenya, where they lived in a squalid refugee camp for four years. "I experienced and witnessed unspeakable suffering from those who, like me, had lost everything because of war," she recalled in a commentary published last month in The Washington Post. One of her few fond memories of the camp was the films she watched that showed manicured American towns. "I dreamed of one day coming to the United States of America—a land that promised peace and opportunity regardless of one's faith or ethnicity," she wrote.

Granted asylum as refugees, Omar and her family moved to the United States in 1992. Arriving in New York, Omar has said she was confused when she saw trash and homeless people in the streets—her first brush with the American underbelly. The family continued on to Minneapolis, where they settled among the city's large Somali population. After 9/11, Omar donned the hijab, not so much out of religious conviction, she has said, as from a determination to show her cultural identity at a time when many Americans viewed Muslims with suspicion.

A mother of three children by the time she was in her 20s, Omar enrolled at North Dakota State University, graduating in 2011. She then became involved in politics, first volunteering for local and state legislative campaigns, then working as an aide to a Minneapolis city councilman before running for a seat in the Minnesota Legislature herself. She won that contest in 2016 after campaigning on a progressive platform. After only a year and a half, she ran in 2018 for the open U.S. congressional seat for Minnesota's 5th District, which includes Minneapolis and some suburbs. She won, joining the Democratic freshman class that wrested control of the House from the Republicans.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a nationwide organization that promotes the community's participation in politics, says Omar and Tlaib are emblematic of a new generation of young Arab Americans who don't carry the immigrant baggage of their parents and grandparents. On college campuses, in city and state governments, and now in the U.S. Congress, these young Arabs not only assert their ethnic identity; they're also not afraid to speak out against the Trump administration's immigration policies and its support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, or to confront a much wealthier and better organized Jewish community over the issue of Israel. Moreover, Zogby adds, on these and other issues, Arab American activists have formed coalitions with other groups representing ethnic, racial and religious minorities, such as Black Lives Matter and even some left-wing Jewish groups that oppose the Israeli occupation.

"They have a greater sense of confidence than existed in earlier generations. It's a much more assertive generation," Zogby tells Newsweek. "People thought [the anti-Arab backlash after] 9/11 would quash their identity. In fact, it had the opposite effect: It sparked defiance. Arab Americans felt, 'We're not those guys, and you're not going to treat us that way.' It's a community that has come of age."

Voice for Victims

Taking a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar quickly established herself as an independent voice on the issue of U.S. foreign policy, approaching it from the view of those who have been victimized by war and U.S. policies abroad. At a committee hearing in February, she mauled Elliot Abrams, a controversial figure from the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, who later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, before being pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Today, he's Trump's special envoy for Venezuela.

Omar was clearly offended that a convicted liar was once again testifying under oath. "I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful," she said. An indignant Abrams tried to respond, but Omar quickly cut him off: "It wasn't a question." Omar then reminded Abrams he had dismissed as "communist propaganda" the infamous El Mozote massacre, in which U.S.-trained Salvadoran troops killed 800 civilians. She also reminded Abrams he had boasted U.S. policy in El Salvador had been a "fabulous achievement." Omar then asked, "Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement?"

"That's a ridiculous question," Abrams snorted. "Yes or no?" Omar persisted.

Just weeks after she was sworn in in January, a tweet surfaced that Omar had posted in 2012 during one of Israel's retaliatory bombardments of the Gaza Strip. "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel," she wrote. The reaction was swift and fierce. Critics called her language anti-Semitic, accusing her of trafficking in the age-old canard of the Jews' power to inveigle others. Omar deleted the tweet and apologized, saying she was unaware her reference to hypnosis carried anti-Semitic freight. A month later, however, she sparked more outrage with the "Benjamins" tweet about the power of Jewish money. Omar was forced to ­apologize a second time. But she pointedly refused to back away from her complaint about AIPAC's financial clout.

Civil Defense members putting out a fire after Israeli air strikes leveled a six-story building in Gaza City last year. Mohamed Zarandah/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

AIPAC, in fact, does not endorse or raise money for candidates; its acronym stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—not to be confused with a political action committee, or PAC, whose primary fundraising task for candidates would be illegal under AIPAC's tax-free status. But according to M.J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer who has become one of the lobby's harshest detractors, Omar's observation about the organization's influence is right on target.

In an article in The Nation, Rosenberg wrote that he "personally witnessed the whole process of funding and defunding" candidates. "I sat in AIPAC staff meetings at which the political director discussed whom 'we' would be supporting in this campaign and whom 'we' were going to 'destroy' in that one," he wrote. While AIPAC doesn't directly raise funds for candidates, Rosenberg explained, it researches and collects information on candidates—such as their voting record on Israel-related legislation, relevant speeches, and travel and meetings in the Middle East—and delivers it to pro-Israel activists, essentially guiding their campaign donations toward friendly candidates.

Omar has called on the Trump administration to apply a consistent, principled human rights standard, stressing that if the United States is to have any credibility abroad, the administration must condemn not only the violations of hostile governments such as Iran and Venezuela, but also those committed by allies like Saudi Arabia.

"This vision also applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," she wrote in her Post commentary, calling for a two-state solution that "recognizes the shared desire for security and freedom of both peoples." But she reserves her strongest sympathies for the underdog Palestinians. "Without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement," she wrote. "This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity."

The Israeli barrier separating the Palestinian West Bank village of Eizariya, in the foreground, and Jerusalem. THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty

Bipartisan Backlash

To the small number of Israel critics in Congress, Omar and her progressive colleagues are a revelation. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota told Vice News that Israel's "apartheid-like policies" were antagonizing a growing number of ­Democrats and other Americans. "What has changed is that there are now members of Congress who are not willing to ignore the Israeli government's destructive actions because they are afraid of losing an election," McCollum said.

The Democratic presidential candidates vying for the progressive vote—Sanders, Senator Kamala Harris of California and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—also have expressed their support for Omar. But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a more mainstream Democrat with unassailable pro-Israel credentials, has faulted both Omar and her detractors. "Those with critical views of Israel, such as Congresswoman Omar, should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money and influence," Gillibrand said in a statement, "just as those critical of Omar should not be using Islamophobic language."

Mainstream supporters of the Jewish state are also unnerved by the shifting landscape. Worried that the influence of Omar and other progressives will erode support for Israel within the Democratic Party, longtime Democratic pollster Mark Mellman and Ann Lewis, a former Clinton White House communications director, recently formed a new group called Democratic Majority for Israel, describing themselves as "progressive Democrats committed to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship."

In response to McCollum's "apartheid" remarks, Mellman ­issued a statement, accusing the representative of anti-Semitism. Such ­reactions have drawn derision from progressives on Twitter. "You're not fooling anyone with this farce," tweeted one respondent.

Meanwhile, Omar seems determined to push the boundaries.

At a town hall meeting that took place in a hip Washington bookstore just two weeks after her "Benjamins" tweet, she provoked yet another round of allegations of anti-Semitism when she said pro-Israel organizations in the United States "push for allegiance to a foreign country." House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, a fellow Democrat, demanded Omar apologize for her "vile anti-Semitic slur," and New York Representative Nita Lowey urged her to meet with members of the Jewish community to learn why they found such accusations of dual loyalty so hurtful.

Responding to Lowey on Twitter, Omar shot back: "Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! 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." In a long thread, Omar continued, "I am told every day that I am anti-­American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks."

Indeed, for weeks now, Republicans have demanded Omar's ­removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-highest-ranking House Republican, even expressed concern that Omar's presence on the panel allowed her to receive classified briefings, suggesting dual loyalty on her part that posed a national security threat. "Why would you have her on a committee that important, that sensitive?" he told Fox News. (Omar's defenders pointed out Scalise's own checkered past. In 2002, he addressed a white supremacist group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, founded by David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He later claimed he was unaware of the affiliation.)

With pressure building, the House Democratic leadership summoned the party caucus in late March to consider a resolution condemning Omar by name for what they regarded as her anti-Semitic remarks. But party progressives pushed back, protesting she was under fire primarily for criticizing Israel. Moreover, they argued, she had been singled out because she was Muslim and black. If the House was going to condemn anti-Semitism, it also had to condemn Islamophobia, these lawmakers said, citing a poster at a recent GOP event in the West Virginia Legislature that juxtaposed an image of the burning World Trade Center with an Omar photo.

Both Omar and Tlaib have received death threats, and in February, Christopher Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, was arrested and found to have a large cache of weapons and a roster of Democratic lawmakers he plotted to kill, including Omar and Ocasio-­Cortez. "No wonder why I am on the 'Hitlist' of a domestic terrorist and 'Assassinate Ilhan Omar' is written on my local gas stations," Omar tweeted. "Look no further, the GOP's anti-Muslim display likening me to a terrorist rocks in state capitols and no one is condemning them!" (Trump called Hasson's alleged plot "a shame.")

In the end, the resolution denounced anti-Semitism, as well as bigotry against Muslims and other religious groups, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, Pacific Islanders and LGBT people. It passed the House by a vote of 407 to 23, with all Democrats in attendance unanimous in their support.

The resolution, however, has only deepened the partisan ­divide over Israel, and the threats against Omar keep coming. In April, police arrested another man who called Omar's office and threatened to "put a bullet in her skull;" he labeled her a "terrorist." The next day, Trump made a sarcastic reference to Omar in a campaign speech to Jewish Republicans in Las Vegas. With the 2020 ­election cycle now underway, GOP leaders are seizing upon the broader anti-bigotry measure, as well as Omar's comments, to put in motion their election strategy of tarring all Democrats as both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.

Donald Trump addresses the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), March 21, in Washington, D.C. Brooks Kraft/Getty

Republicans are basing their strategy in part on polls that show far greater sympathy for Israel among Republican voters than Democrats. A 2018 Pew Research Center poll showed 79 percent of Republicans said they sympathized more with Israel than with Palestinians, compared with just 27 percent of Democrats. Pew said the partisan divide over the issue was wider than at any time in the past 40 years. A huge component of Israel's supporters are evangelical Christians, who make up a third of the Republican base.

But a couple of political realities should give Republicans pause. American Jews are not single-issue voters and don't choose their presidents on the basis of their pro-Israel sympathies alone. And most Jews historically vote Democratic. In the 2016 presidential election, 68 percent of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton, while only 28 percent chose Trump, according to a GBA Strategies poll. A Pew poll showed Obama captured 69 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012 and 74 percent in 2008.

Lastly, despite all of their pandering at the AIPAC conference, the Republicans have a dismal record when it comes to comments that offend Jews. During his campaign, Trump perpetuated stereotypes of Jews using money to buy influence, telling Jewish donors, "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money. You want to control your politicians—that's fine." At the same event, he drew on another Jewish stereotype, telling the audience, "I'm a negotiator, like you folks. We are negotiators," he said. "Is there anybody who doesn't negotiate deals in this room?"

Trump also has depicted Jews as "globalists," using their power for their own enrichment. The final television ad of his 2016 campaign showed images of the Hungarian-born financier George Soros; Janet Yellen, then-chairwoman of the Federal Reserve; and Lloyd Blankfein, then-chairman of Goldman Sachs—all Jews—as Trump warned of the "global special interests." Shadowy figures "partner with these people who don't have your good in mind," he said.

And after white supremacists chanting "Jews will not replace us" clashed violently with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides."

White supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus in August 2017, chanting "Jews will not replace us!" Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post/Getty

McCarthy, the House minority leader, also has offended Jews. Just before the midterm election last ­November, he tweeted, "We cannot allow Soros, [Tom] Steyer, and [Michael] Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA." All three are wealthy Jewish donors to Democratic candidates. McCarthy deleted the tweet but strongly denied any anti-Semitic intent.

Challenges Ahead

Omar was wrong to suggest that U.S. support for Israel is only about money, Rosenberg wrote in The Nation article. There are plenty of other reasons why the United States has allied itself with Israel over the past 70 years, ranging from Cold War strategic considerations to modern-day intelligence sharing against terrorists and Iran. But a major reason, Rosenberg noted, is the Holocaust, which underscored the need for a safe Jewish state. Inci­dents such as the white supremacist gunman who attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Sabbath services last October, killing 11 worshipers, only reinforce that reason.

But Rosenberg also argued the continuing need for a Jewish safe haven doesn't mean Israel must maintain its occupation of the West Bank and deny the Palestinians their own state on those lands. And, he added, it certainly doesn't mean a U.S. policy of uncon­ditional support for Israel's right-wing Netanyahu government.

Omar and her progressive supporters represent the first credible challenge to those policies. Their successful effort to produce a resolution that condemns all forms of bigotry, instead of only Omar and anti-Semitism, was no small accomplishment, given the strength of Israel's supporters among Democrats.

Future challenges are likely to prove more difficult—and taxing on Democratic unity. Next up: a looming battle in the House over Boycott, Divest and Sanctions, a pro-Palestinian campaign that calls for Israel's economic isolation as a way to pressure it to end its occupation of the West Bank. Israel and its supporters have called BDS anti-Semitic, and AIPAC sponsored a bill that would allow state and municipal governments to punish any company that participates. The measure, drafted by Florida Republican Senator ­Marco

Rubio and West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, has already passed the Senate. But significantly, nearly half the Democratic caucus voted against it, including all the senators running for the presidency in 2020, with the exception of Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Each of the senators who voted against the measure cited its infringement on the First Amendment right to free speech as the reason for their opposition. "While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American's constitutional right to peacefully engage in political activity," Sanders tweeted.

But another reason is also painfully clear: to remain a viable candidate in the upcoming primaries, it will be vital for contenders to win the support of the Democratic base, which skews younger, more multiethnic and progressive—in short, Omar's supporters.