Opinion

Trump's Call for Ilhan Omar's Resignation is Just a Distraction from the GOP's Own Anti-Semitism | Opinion

Donald Trump and his Republican allies deployed their disingenuous outrage machine in full force against Rep. Ilhan Omar this week, after her tweets caused real hurt within the Jewish community.

While Rep. Omar was quick to apologise, and rightly so, her comments demonstrated how individuals can internalize and unintentionally give voice to anti-Semitic stereotypes. But Trump’s call for Omar’s resignation is too hypocritical and opportunistic to comprehend. Coming from a man who wholeheartedly embraces white nationalism, is on the record referring to a mob of  neo-Nazis as "very fine people," and uses racist and violent rhetoric to target immigrants, Muslims, refugees, women, people of color, people with disabilities—and yes, Jews—these attacks on a progressive, Muslim, woman of color leader are clearly in bad faith. 

Trump’s hypocritical hand-wringing is a distraction from the true threat to us as Jews and to our allies today: a Republican Party that has been all but captured by the white nationalist movement. Its agenda includes hunting down immigrant families across America, violently separating children from their parents at the border, threatening Muslim Americans at houses of worship, and blocking black Americans, young folks, and the poor from exercising their most basic rights at the ballot box.

As a means to achieve this xenophobic future for our country, Republicans have weaponized anti-Semitism with a degree of consistency and deliberation that makes Rep. Omar’s choice of words, however regrettable, pale in comparison: first through campaign ads and conspiracy theories that use anti-Semitic tropes to rile up their base, and then through calculated attacks to divide Democrats by accusing them of anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear: anti-Semitism does exist among Democrats and progressives. The difference is that anti-Semitism is actively exploited by the right, with the intended results being a divided, angry and fearful America and an end to the pursuit of a true multiracial democracy.

Trump and the Republicans’ weaponizing of anti-Semitism is an effort to entrench their own power and a calculated distraction from the pursuit of the better America that most Americans, Jewish or not, want to see. They get away with this primarily because tropes about racism and anti-Semitism tell us, wrongly, that people of color and Muslims are more anti-Semitic than white Christians—so someone like Trump is automatically exempt, while someone like Rep. Omar is automatically suspect.

As a Jewish woman of color, I know both racism and anti-Semitism—and how these forces are used to pit us against each other—when I see it. I won’t fall for it; none of us should. We cannot allow anti-Semitism and the American Jewish community to be used as props to distract from our work to stop the Republican Party’s white nationalist agenda.

Just as we push back against the racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia that are embedded in our society, we must combat anti-Semitism wherever we find it. In this era, that means fighting, together, the right-wing’s agenda that uses anti-Semitism to threaten to our collective safety, both with the policies they champion and the rhetoric they preach. That includes attempts by Trump and his allies to build a racist border wall, scale up immigrant detentions and deportations, and massively curtail legal immigration and refugee quotas.

This recent controversy around Rep. Omar’s comments demonstrates the task before us. Our charge is to fight anti-Semitism as Jews and as a progressive movement, while also advancing the project that unites Rep. Omar and the great majority of American Jews: building an inclusive, multiracial democracy where every one of us can live, love and thrive. We must continue to work with people with whom we share a vision of the future we need to build.

And we will only be successful in solidarity. What good people say and do today, this week, this year to keep families together, to welcome the immigrant, and build toward a nation of opportunity is of paramount importance, and transcends our individual failings or missteps—especially when we acknowledge our errors and make amends.

Trump’s call for Ilhan Omar’s resignation is just one illustrative and hypocritical example of the right wing’s strategy at work. We cannot be consumed by the division that Trump and his allies seek to achieve through their one-sided protestations about anti-Semitism. Our collective vision of a better world depends on it.

Ginna Green is the chief strategy officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

The views expressed in the article are the author's own.

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