'Intersectionality' and the New Anti-Semitism

Rep. Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar / Getty Images
March 6, 2019

The real Ilhan Omar scandal isn't that a high-profile member of a powerful House committee hates Jews and Israel. The real scandal is that progressives don't think her hate is a problem, and in fact they don't even consider it hate.

When I was in college, we were required to take a race relations class, taught out of the sociology department, where a quasi-mathematical formula was offered as the only correct way to understand bigotry. I remember it well because it was so disturbing: Racism = Prejudice + Power.

Its tidiness is brilliant, and in the years since I was an undergraduate this formula has become a core principle of progressivism. It means that only white people can be guilty of racism, because America is defined by institutional race-based oppression and the powerless oppressed cannot be judged by the same rules as their powerful oppressors. (Of course, this ignores the fact that when you're a member of Congress sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee, you have real power even if you are a black Muslim immigrant.)

Since bigotry for progressives no longer depends on what is said, but on the identity of the speaker, Ilhan Omar simply cannot be guilty of anti-Semitism. She is black, Muslim, female, and immigrant, and American Jews tend to be white, wealthy, and "privileged." Progressives usually don’t admit this explicitly, but it's what they're saying when, no matter how awful Omar's anti-Semitism, they change the subject, or make up elaborate excuses for it, or simply ignore it and promote her anyway.

This is also why media reporting tends to frame these stories as "allegations"about Omar, "controversy" surrounding her tweets, or "concern" about her use of "tropes," instead of simply stating the anti-Semitism as fact. Reporters don't state it as a fact because they don't believe it is a fact.

If the media believed that anti-Semitism was genuinely inexcusable, we would see, surrounding the past month's coverage of Omar, major context pieces exploring the culture of anti-Semitism that Omar was raised in, the epidemic levels of anti-Semitism among Muslims, the anti-Semitism of the BDS movement she supports, and so on. There would be a full-fledged campaign as the media undertakes on so many other issues.

But no such pieces will ever torment Omar. Progressives don't believe her anti-Semitism is the kind of bigotry that counts, and they certainly don't believe it is acceptable to engage in the public vilification of someone who shares their politics and checks so many victimhood boxes.

For those hoping Omar's brazenness will be a wake-up call for progressives, you will be disappointed. No lessons will be learned. No line will be drawn. This case will speed along the normalization process. For many progressives today, bigotry against the right kind of people is a virtue.

Published under: Ilhan Omar