The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rep. Ilhan Omar called Stephen Miller a ‘white nationalist.’ GOP critics accused her of anti-Semitism.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) stands with fellow Democrats as they rally outside the Capitol on March 8. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A familiar story line played out Monday night for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who condemned one of President Trump’s most trusted advisers, only to end up being accused of anti-Semitism.

“Stephen Miller is a white nationalist,” she tweeted Monday afternoon. “The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.” But because Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, is Jewish, Omar’s fervent detractors on the right viewed her comments not as incendiary criticism of Miller’s hard-line immigration policies but instead as part of a pattern of targeting Jews.

“During my time in Congress before @IlhanOmar got here, I didn’t once witness another Member target Jewish people like this with the name calling & other personal attacks,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), perhaps Omar’s most relentless critic, wrote on Twitter. “In 2019 though, for @IlhanOmar, this is just called Monday.”

On Tuesday, Trump took to Twitter to highlight another of Omar’s critics, Jeff Ballabon, a conservative commentator and Trump campaign adviser.

In early afternoon tweets, Trump quoted Ballabon lambasting Omar and then sent out a clip from his morning appearance on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.,” in which he argued that Omar is “more dangerous” than white nationalist and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

“Jews are the most victimized minority in this country, far more than blacks, Muslims and women, which is what Ilhan Omar keeps on being characterized as though she’s being attacked,” Ballabon said during the segment.

The latest spat comes just days after a New York man was arrested on charges of threatening Omar by pledging to “put a bullet in her [expletive] skull,” rhetoric that the freshman congresswoman’s supporters say has been emboldened by the heated accusations of Jewish bias coupled with Islamophobia. Omar, a Somali refugee, is Muslim.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on March 23 criticized President Trump for "dehumanizing, villifying" Muslims. (Video: Reuters)

Claims of anti-Semitism have vexed Omar since she took office this year, after she suggested that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential Jewish lobbying group, wielded power over members of Congress through money. But to Omar’s backers, the ubiquitous attacks from the right since then have amounted to a politically expedient smear campaign that trivializes the meaning of true anti-Semitism. To others, it’s part of a greater effort to silence women of color in Congress, fueling vitriolic attacks and death threats.

Omar’s remarks Monday were spurred by reports that Miller’s desire for tougher candidates to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement contributed to Trump’s decision to withdraw the nomination of Ronald Vitiello. Miller has been the architect behind numerous hard-line immigration policies, such as family separations, and has advocated for closing the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Omar called Miller a “white nationalist” in a string of tweets decrying the Trump administration’s immigration policies, while expressing concern about what a “tougher” Homeland Security secretary might look like. Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday as DHS secretary.

Critics including Donald Trump Jr. and pundits from various conservative news outlets immediately pounced on Omar, questioning how a Jewish person could be accused of being a white nationalist.

“I see that the head of the Farrakhan Fan Club, @IlhanMN, took a short break from spewing her usual anti-semitic bigotry today to accuse a Jewish man of being a ‘white nationalist’ because she apparently has no shame,” Trump Jr. wrote.

Matt Wolking, deputy communications director for the president’s reelection campaign, offered this straightforward take on Twitter: “He’s Jewish, and Ilhan Omar is a racist anti-Semite.”

The backlash reflects an apparent effort among some members of the GOP to use Omar’s comments to sow division within the Democratic Party and among Jewish Democratic voters. Take Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the Florida GOP, who used the backlash to urge “my Jewish friends” to join the alleged “#jexodus” movement, encouraging Jews to leave the Democratic Party en masse.

Some mocked the critics for appearing to extrapolate an anti-Jewish bias from Omar’s remarks, while others attacked Zeldin, the Republican congressman from New York.

“Rep. Zeldin is using his Jewishness to provide cover for a white nationalist regime that stokes hatred and terror for Jews (and many other peoples) in a US that until President Trump felt so safe and secure for us,” economist David Rothschild wrote.

“Inappropriate accusations of anti-Semitism masks the ugliness of the real thing,” Perry Gershon, a Democratic businessman who lost to Zeldin in 2018 and plans to challenge him for his seat in the next election cycle, wrote on Twitter, linking to Zeldin’s comments.

Omar has long argued that her condemnation of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people has been erroneously conflated with condemnation of Jewish people. In February, she apologized for using what was criticized as an anti-Semitic trope when she suggested that AIPAC could buy support from members of Congress. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she tweeted at the time, making a reference to $100 bills. Last month, she was accused of suggesting that Jews harbor “dual loyalty” to the United States and Israel after slamming “the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

In her apology, Omar said she either did not intend to offend Jews or was ignorant to the fact that she was using anti-Semitic tropes. The House passed a generic resolution condemning bigotry in response.

But the attacks on Omar didn’t slow. On Saturday, one day after federal prosecutors announced charges against the man who allegedly threatened to kill Omar, Trump mocked her during a speech before members of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas.

The comment came one day after a New York man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill the Minnesota Democrat. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Special thanks to Representative Omar of Minnesota,” Trump told members in attendance, including Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and prominent Republican donor. “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel. I forgot. I’m so sorry.”

Trump was also accused of expressing the same “dual loyalty” trope that critics said Omar had used. Speaking to the group of Republican Jews on Saturday, Trump described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister,” and asked the audience to explain “to some of your people” why they shouldn’t oppose his tariffs on imported goods.

“Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted. “Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry.”

A spokesman for Omar could not immediately be reached to comment early Tuesday regarding the latest accusations of anti-Semitism.

John Wagner contributed to this report.