The United States of America was founded on the principles of liberty and equality for all. In its early days, it came up short of those ideals, most notably in its treatment of African Americans who were kept as slaves, and of women who were denied the right to vote. Over the course of many years, the discriminatory laws fell and all people were understood to have a right to participate in every part of the public forum.
Some of the restrictions which were impediments to sections of society were marked in law while others were inherently physical. If the communal forum could be described as a public park, the American migration towards inclusion did not only remove the “No Jews Allowed” signs and the separate entrance for African-Americans, but removed the large flight of steps from the entrance, to enable all people to navigate into and throughout the park. The goals and actions of inclusions targeted both the intentional historic biases as well as the manifest material barriers which prevented all people from enjoying our collective world.
There are times when America falls short. As a society, we may not have removed all of the obstructions to enable everyone to join activities or we may have actually facilitated de facto hurdles which prevent certain segments of the community from engaging. Those are critical moments which need our attention, not a repetition of society’s aims.
As a continuation of the park example above, if a physically challenged person fell down stairs at the park, the appropriate action is to address the injury (perhaps with ice) and to fix the problem (build a ramp or smooth walkway). The immediate action should NOT be to pass out ice packs to everyone at the park nor to make pronouncements that the park is a space for all. Inclusion is a mission for our society, but it is not a salve to be uttered when things or people need attention. At those moments, required actions are the appropriate course.
Ilhan Omar Waves the Ice
In the winter of 2019, a new Democratic member of the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar, seemingly could not stop attacking Americans who supported Israel. She accused Americans of bribing government officials to get them to support Israel, and she said that those pro-Zionists had misplaced and dangerous loyalties to foreign governments. After past comments in which she called Israel an “apartheid” state, “evil,” and a demonic institution that “hypnotized the world,” Omar was widely labeled an anti-Semite.
Many Americans – Republicans and Democrats – called on Omar to be censured from the House floor. They demanded a clear call to denounce antisemitism, the most prevalent type of bigotry in the United States, which has only grown more prevalent in recent years.
But the Democratic leadership under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted not to do that. She did not strip Omar of her committee assignment (on Foreign Affairs, no less!) nor did she unambiguously rebuke Omar’s antisemitic words. Instead, Pelosi simply offered a general denunciation of all forms of bigotry. It was as if someone was singled out in the public park for injury, and Pelosi handed out ice packs to everyone she could see.
The insult to Jews would remarkably get worse, as Omar used the opportunity to wave her Pelosi ice pack in front of teary Jewish eyes as they remained on the ground in pain. She said:
“Today is historic on many fronts. It’s the first time we have ever voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history. Anti-Muslim crimes have increased 99% from 2014-2016 and are still on the rise.”
It is not as though the statement on its own is problematic. However, a call of inclusion at a moment that requires attention is misplaced and is hurtful. The Democratic leadership acted just like the United Nations, which calls for inclusion for “all” people when Jews are victims, but specifically gives attention to Palestinian Arabs when they are victims. It is a disgraceful tacit blessing of antisemitism by those in power in the face of Jews who just suffered from bigotry.
Donald Trump’s “Many Sides”
The Democratic leadership is not alone in missing the boat on focused attention in moments of stress.
In August 2017 a group of white nationalists took to the street of Charlottesville, VA shouting racist and antisemitic slogans and killed a woman counter-protester. Republican President Donald Trump condemned the bigotry – but broadly – on “on many sides, on many sides.” A person was run over in a racist riot and the citizens of the country needed attention at such a fragile moment, not equivocation.
The stain on Trump has not gone away, and the United Nations remains an antisemitic cesspool. Will Nancy Pelosi suffer the same consequences from her failure to clearly and unambiguously call out antisemitism and instead reward the instigator?
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