Newly elected U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar is well situated to speak her mind. In today’s identity politics, she is top drawer: a woman; a black, in addition from Africa; a Muslim. It’s all here. Who could ask for more? Seizing the opportunity of her elevated status, she proceeded to touch on the third rail of politics – American support of Israel.
She remarked that money from the Israel lobby is distorting U.S. policy and even leading to allegiance to a foreign country. Actually, this is not too different from what some other Americans are saying, including Jewish ones. But support for Israel is paramount in the U.S., and the reaction to Omar was quick and brisk across the political spectrum. She exhibits anti-Semitism, hurtful and dangerous.
Such a charge is usually lethal, but in this case maybe not. Her fellow Democrats have a dilemma. Party leaders want to censure Omar, but then she represents a crucial new constituency they don’t want to alienate. Having boosted identity politics, they’re reluctant to crush one of its first expressions. As a compromise, they resorted to a general statement condemning bigotry, listing every possible group that’s a subject of prejudice without, however, naming Omar. Many Democrats, along with Republicans, were furious at what they considered a capitulation to anti-Semitism.
The American media know how to ignore a subject to death, even important ones like the multiple U.S. wars, our ever-expanding spy state, the ceaseless violence in Mexico. So why are they keeping Omar alive with non-stop coverage, much no doubt to her delight? It must be said that today’s media has become quite dull and predictable with its practitioners saying much the same thing with the same choice of words. Along come Omar and the other spirited newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who say the opposite. And it may not be so much what they say as the way they say it – with a certain flair, allure and devil-may-care. Identity politics has glamour and relieves the boredom. The ponderous coverage of the pair adds to the contrast.
The opposition, to be sure, is gunning up. Enough is enough. There’s talk of running a well-financed opponent against Omar in the next election, though she won her Minnesota district with an overwhelming vote and shows no sign of changing her ways. “I really think that the most exciting things happen when people are extremely uncomfortable,” she says. Is she a fresh breeze in American politics or a brewing storm? We’ll probably soon know, and with that may lie the future of identity politics.