The Democratic Party’s Anti-Semitism Problem Is Obama’s Legacy
Why does Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) still have her position on the House Foreign Relations Committee? House Republicans stripped Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee positions after making his own controversial remarks. Omar should have met the same fate. But considering recent history, it's not surprising that Omar remains unpunished. It's just the latest example of their party turning a blind eye to the rise of anti-Semitism in their ranks over the years—if not embracing it at times. Perhaps the most shocking thing was Omar's subsequent criticism of Barack Obama, calling his “hope and change” slogan a mirage. “We can’t be only upset with Trump,” she said. “His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.” She added, “And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.” Ouch.
This was shocking because Omar should have thanked Obama. If not for his “pretty face” and smile, she likely would have experienced the public rebuke she deserved and lost her spot on the House Foreign Relations Committee. But, after eight years of anti-Semitism disguised as opposition to longstanding U.S. policy on Israel, the anti-Semitism she preached (and continues to preach) has become far more palatable in her party.
Prior to being elected president of the United States, Obama spent twenty years in the congregation of Jeremiah Wright. Wright’s anti-American and anti-Semitic remarks became a liability for Obama during the 2008 election but didn’t matter enough to the people who voted for him. Obama may have been forced to quit his church and distance himself from Wright, but that didn’t change who Obama was at heart—and it presented itself once he showed up to the White House.
Since the founding of the Jewish State in 1948, each president has affirmed the United States' commitment to the preservation of Israel and the safety of the Israeli people … with one exception. In his first year in office, Obama promised that his policies would put “daylight” between America and Israel, and he meant it. During his eight years in office, Obama surrounded himself with anti-Semites and Israel haters, and the Obama White House often aligned itself with Israel's enemies over Israel.
In 2009, Obama nominated Charles W. Freeman Jr. to be director of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Amongst other things, Freeman’s controversial (and often described as anti-Semitic) positions on Israel generated enough opposition to his nomination that he had to withdraw his name from consideration. In 2010, Obama appointed Nawar Shora, a member of the anti-Israel, American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee (ADC), as senior advisor to the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) on civil rights and civil liberties matters. His third secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, had a long record of anti-Semitism when Obama nominated him. Samantha Power, who became Obama’s U.N. Ambassador after Susan Rice’s promotion to National Security Advisor, was an anti-Semite and anti-Israel radical who supported shifting aid from Israel to support the Palestinians and suggested invading Israel. John Kerry, Obama’s secretary of State during his second term, had a bad habit of making ominous threats against Israel as the Obama administration tried to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He issued a veiled threat that Israel should make more concessions in peace talks or risk “a third Intifada,” and also warned that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” without a two-state peace deal with Palestine. Obama aligned himself with the Occupy Wall Street movement despite the group’s anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Obama’s public statements toward Israel were incredibly duplicitous. While campaigning for president, he told AIPAC that Jerusalem must “remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” then retracted that sentiment the next day. In 2011, despite calling the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security “unshakable,” Obama became the first president ever to call on Israel to return to pre-1967 borders—which Prime Minister Netanyahu described as “indefensible.” Then, in his 2012 speech to AIPAC, Obama promised “I have Israel's back,” before backtracking on that promise two days later. He also promised Iran that if Israel ever defended herself by launching a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel—our ally—was on her own and would not be helped by the United States. Obama also exposed top-secret information about Israel’s nuclear program to the world in what was clearly an attempt to undermine Israeli efforts to stop his nuclear deal with Iran.
And then there’s the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) movement against Israel—which is undeniably anti-Semitic. Obama did sign the bipartisan Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which contained anti-BDS provisions within it, but he opposed the language, and, upon signing the bill, announced that he would not enforce the anti-BDS provisions. Obama’s IRS also improperly targeted pro-Israel groups the same way it infamously targeted conservative groups. Before leaving office, the Obama administration refused to veto an anti-Israel U.N. resolution, ensuring its passage. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, ranked it as “the most anti-Semitic incident of 2016.”
Obama repeatedly stood against Israel and with Israel’s enemies, revealing the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel elements running deep in the party base. The most memorable example came during the 2012 Democratic National Convention when a push to reinsert language recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel into the party platform was met with a chorus of boos. The direction the party was going with regards to Israel and the Jewish people was quite clear at that moment. The American Left elected Obama knowing his troubling values and even reelected him after seeing those values in action. Democratic Party leaders also stood solidly behind him.
Today, the Democratic Party is more willing to tolerate anti-Semitism and embrace anti-Semites... because they can. Even 2020 presidential candidates and party leaders are choosing to support Omar and her blatant anti-Semitism rather than risk backlash from their base. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) defended her by downplaying the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she doesn’t think Omar is anti-Semitic but “has a different experience in the use of words,” and she “doesn’t understand that some of them are fraught with meaning that she didn’t realize.” The excuses keep rolling in, but what can't be denied is that Obama’s “pretty face” and smile made anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments more acceptable in the Democratic Party, paving the way for Rep. Ilhan Omar to speak her heart yet maintain her position on the House Foreign Relations committee. This is the party Obama left behind. This is Obama’s legacy.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis