Since the 2016 election, Democrats have highlighted their diverse and inclusive image. But party leaders have displayed homogeneity on one issue: Israel.
The issue of Israel has been bubbling up largely thanks to the reaction to comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). On a couple of occasions, Omar has been critical of U.S. support for the country. Most recently, Omar said that those who support the Israeli government have an “allegiance to a foreign country,” sparking allegations of anti-Semitism.
In the past, the party’s top lawmakers have called on Omar to apologize. This time, they are taking things a step further. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reported that some Democrats were so “enraged” by Omar’s comments that lawmakers plan to vote Wednesday on a House resolution condemning anti-Semitism.
The draft resolution “acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes” and “rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States,” according to DeBonis. It does not specifically rebuke Omar.
The response from top Democrats may reflect their allegiance to Jewish American voters or the fact that a majority of voters support Israel. But the Democrats’ response carries risks.
Dig deeper in the polling, for example, and you’ll find some of the party’s most loyal voters have politics on Israel that line up with Omar’s.
According to a January 2018 Pew Research Center survey, the share of liberal Democrats sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians declined from 33 percent in 2016 to 19 percent. “Currently, nearly twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel (35% vs. 19%); 22% of liberal Democrats sympathize with both sides or neither side and 24% do not offer an opinion,” the survey’s authors wrote.
There’s also a risk that the Democrats’ response to Omar will highlight the ways the party has failed to react as strongly on other issues. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) put it in a tweet:
"One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico!” on the floor).
“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid. But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”
That double standard is reflected in the treatment of Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. She has been the target of Islamophobic attacks since arriving on Capitol Hill. A poster connecting her to the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to the resignation of at least one staff member and left another injured after a physical altercation spilled into the chamber of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The Democratic Party has traditionally won the support of Jewish American voters — more than 70 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — along with other historically marginalized groups during elections. But the fight over Israel may put those groups in tension. When it comes to foreign policy and identity politics, one of the biggest battles in Washington might not be between opposing parties, but internal.