I’m usually not interested in town hall meetings with 2020 Democrat candidates. (And, the cataclysmic ratings for Kirsten Gillibrand’s recent CNN town hall show that I’m not alone.)
However, when America’s most famous avowed socialist (sorry, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez) decides to have a town hall meeting on Fox News, color me interested.
There were a lot of takeaways from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Monday contretemps-fest before a mostly simpatico audience in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Most of them were fun periods where the Vermont independent tried to explain away his wealth and why he’s not willing to follow his own tax prescriptions.
More disturbing, though, were his thoughts on Rep. Ilhan Omar and her quickly accumulating history of anti-Semitic remarks. And even Sanders’ supporters should be worried.
Omar’s most recent controversy, we needn’t remind you, doesn’t involve anti-Semitism. She’s currently under fire for minimizing the 9/11 attacks in a speech by describing them as an instance where “some people did something.”
Democrats have turned this around to call most criticism of Omar an incitement to hate, in particular, a video of the comments interspersed with 9/11 footage tweeted out by President Donald Trump.
In a Twitter post, Sanders echoed that defense of Omar, writing that that, “Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.”
Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 13, 2019
During Monday’s town hall, he made clear that he was going to defend Omar on her anti-Semitic remarks, as well.
“I will do everything in my power — and I hope that every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism but racism and anti-Muslim activity so we create a non-discriminatory society,” Sanders said.
“But it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel,” he added to applause.
Bernie defends Ilhan Omar: “It’s not anti-Semitic to to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel”
1. Omar was promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories/tropes
2. Sanders said criticisms of Omar over her exact words were “racism,” “hate,” “disgusting,” and “dangerous” pic.twitter.com/YJiNAIv8Yw
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 16, 2019
This wasn’t all that different from Sanders’ remark when she got in her last specifically anti-Semitism controversy, where he said “(w)e must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel … What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate.”
Here’s the thing, though — that’s not at all what Omar found herself in the soup for doing. In fact, her criticism wasn’t even levied on Israel — it was on American Jews and Jewish organizations.
Let’s just give a quick recap of the highlights of Omar’s anti-Semitism since she was inaugurated in January.
First, she tweeted that support of Israel by members of Congress was “all about the Benjamins, baby,” implying money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was influencing votes.
She apologized for this and said she needed to be educated about anti-Semitic tropes. Omar then went back to one of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes that there was, accusing American Jews of having dual loyalties by saying that she wanted “to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
After another congresswoman called her out on the comments, she responded that “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,” just in case you didn’t know she meant it.
Those aren’t criticisms of the Netanyahu government. They’re criticisms of American Jews or American Jewish groups, all couched in the terms of very familiar anti-Jewish stereotypes.
Then as now, Sanders, who is himself Jewish, stands behind Omar.
To the extent that this is scary, let’s point out that the Democrats have shown, at most, a total unwillingness to seriously hold Omar to account for any of this.
In fact, there’s a whole list of people willing to turn their fire on the president instead of Rep. Omar over her remarks concerning 9/11.
However, you’d find few who have been willing to unwaveringly co-sign her statements about Jewish-Americans as just an expression of anger at the Netanyahu government.
To the extent that Sen. Sanders is willing to do that, it should frighten every American — particularly since he wants to become our next president.
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