DemDaily: The Politics of Hate

March 8, 2019

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia.  The motivation was not about the occupant of the White House, who is the poster child for bigotry, but as a message by Democrats to members of their own party.

The resolution spurred further debate, however, about the lines between free speech and racism, and the accountability of public leaders.

Although bipartisan legislation that passed with a 407-to-23 vote, it was driven by Democratic leaders anxious to show party unity under the new Democratic-controlled House.

It also comes at a time when the Democratic Party, now with the most diverse ranks in its history, struggles to balance the sometimes conflicting interests of its constituencies while focusing on the 2020 presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's (D-MN) comments spurred debate (pic: Mark Wilson/Getty)

The resolution was a reaction, in part, to the debate surrounding recent comments made by freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

In mid-February, Omar tweeted that support for Israel in Congress, as driven by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, was "all about the Benjamins." The reference, criticized as an anti-Semitic stereotype that Jewish money is controlling foreign policy, led to public condemnation by Democratic leadership.

But it was Omar's comments last week about pro-Israel lawmakers pushing "for allegiance to a foreign country," that pushed some colleagues to call for more formal action.

Although Omar apologized, she stated she stands by her critique of the influence of the pro-Israel lobbying group, as well as that of other lobbying groups in DC.

Hate: to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward

While some accused Omar of hateful speech, others defended her right to openly discuss Israel's policies and its relationship with the US, and suggested she was singled out as one of two Muslim women in Congress who was herself a victim of hateful attacks, including from the sitting President of the United States.

An anti-Muslim poster linking Rep Ilhan Omar with the September 11 attacks

The 2020 candidates, put on the spot for comment over the delicate division, walked a fine line.

Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT) stated, "Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed ... We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel."

"Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace ... What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate...That's wrong."

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), another presidential hopeful, said
"We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry ... I also believe there is a difference between policy and political leaders, and anti-Semitism."

Another contender, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was more direct, "Those with critical views of Israel, such as Congresswoman Omar, should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence ... Just as those critical of Congresswoman Omar should not be using Islamophobic language and imagery that incites violence, such as what we saw in West Virginia."

Last Friday, an anti-Muslim poster associating Omar with the September 11 attacks appeared at a Republican-sponsored public gathering at the West Virginia statehouse.

Speaker Pelosi: "It's not about her, it is about these forms of hatred"

In announcing the decision to craft an anti-hate resolution, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the freshman's intentions, saying "she did not understand the weight of her words," but that it was an opportunity to address all forms of hatred.

The Resolution
The end result included condemnation of "hateful expressions of intolerance" against "African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others" victimized by bigotry.

It also calls out white supremacists and cited the racial attacks in Charlottesville in 2017, the killing of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston in 2015 and the deadly attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October that left 11 dead.

In a February, 2019 YouGov poll, nearly seven in ten voters felt that racism was still a serious problem in the US, and over 50% felt it has become worse under President Trump's tenure.

The 'no' votes against the resolution came from 23 Republicans: Andy Biggs (AZ) * Mo Brooks (AL) * Ken Buck (CO) * Ted Budd (NC) * Michael Burgess (TX) * Liz Cheney (WY) * Chris Collins (NY) * K. Michael Conaway (TX) * Rick Crawford (AR) * Jeff Duncan (SC) * Louie Gohmert (TX) * Paul Gosar (AZ) * Tom Graves (GA) * Doug LaMalfa (CA) * Thomas Massie (KY) * Steven Palazzo (MS) * Michael Rogers (AL) * Chip Roy (TX) * Greg Steube (FL) * Mark Walker (NC) * Ted Yoho (FL) * Lee Zeldin (NY).

Click to Read Full Resolution

Congressman Steve King (R-NY), who was stripped of his committee assignments this year for bigoted comments that also prompted a House vote denouncing white supremacy, was recorded as "present."

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: Washington Post, Roll Call, New York Times, The New Republic, The Hill, Vox

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