Ruhle: Why Would Condemning Anti-Semitism 'Alienate Progressive Groups?'

March 7, 2019

MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle reacted strongly Thursday to Democratic lawmakers's foot-dragging over Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) continued anti-Semitism.

Speaking with Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines and Bulwark editor in chief Charlie Sykes, Ruhle wondered why Democratic leadership is struggling to organize a response condemning Omar.

"I don't understand that. Hate seems pretty clear to condemn," she said. "If not, you're swimming in the dirty pool you condemn Republicans for being in."

"This is not a good look," Sykes agreed.

During an event in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday, Omar gladly took on past accusations of anti-Semitism, and in the process, made fresh anti-Semitic comments. "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," she said. The comment provoked condemnation from members of both parties.

Omar responded by making additional anti-Semitic comments. After Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) tweeted, "Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel," Omar responded that members of Congress should not be "expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country" in order to serve or sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In response, Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) and Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) confirmed they and the House Foreign Affairs Committee would put forward a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, though it wouldn't name Omar directly.

Just as quickly, another group of Democrats came to Omar's defense. Some presidential candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), spoke up for Omar. Supporters in the House have been quick to accuse her critics of Islamophobia or otherwise excuse Omar, among them Reps. Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), Betty McCollum (D., Minn.), and Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.).

The Democratic Party's split over the anti-Semitic comments is expected to cripple any strong congressional response, Politico reported Thursday. Democrats postponed a vote on the resolution and are discussing making it about all bigotry, including islamophobia, rather than have it be a response, however veiled, to Omar's anti-Semitism.

During her show on MSNBC Thursday, Ruhle marveled at how condemning bigotry had become difficult for the left. "This puts Nancy Pelosi in a tough spot," Ruhle said. "What was expected to be a simple vote has exposed a deep rift within the party."

Ruhle lamented the party's inability to directly confront anti-Semitism. "Why?" she asked. "Why would coming down hard on anti-Semitic speech alienate progressive groups?"

Her guests were at a loss to explain why a progressive movement anchored in "tolerance" and "inclusion" was struggling to identify and denounce anti-Jewish bigotry.

"It shouldn't," Reines said. "What she said was anti-Semitic. As a Jew who's a Democrat, this drives me crazy."

Omar, a member of the Progressive Caucus, has drawn scrutiny and condemnation since taking office in January for a series of anti-Semitic remarks.

In early February, Omar shared several ill-advised tweets concerning Jewish Americans, the state of Israel, and the United States government.

Omar peddled in anti-Semitic stereotypes, mischaracterized a pro-Israel lobbying group, and garnered praise from the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. She shared a tweet from far-left journalist Glenn Greenwald, who claimed Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) was "defending a foreign nation" and "attacking free speech rights of Americans."

In reply, Omar claimed elected officials acted for Israel out of financial interest. "It's all about the Benjamins baby," she said in reference to $100 bills.

Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor of the liberal publication the Forward, has staunchly defended Omar's comments in the past but criticized her in this case. She responded by saying it was "the second anti-Semitic trope you've tweeted," and she asked Omar who would be "paying American politicians to be pro-Israel."

Omar replied, "AIPAC!" That tweet has since been deleted.

In another 2012 tweet, Omar accused Israel of having "hypnotized" the world. It has also been deleted.

Omar later agreed that her comments were anti-Semitic, and offered an "unequivocal" apology. In the same apology, she returned to her critique of AIPAC, a not-for-profit organization that promotes U.S.-Israel relations. Omar now denies that February comment was anti-Semitic, or that she ever apologized for the comment itself. Though she deleted the offending tweet, her Twitter page still hosts several retweets of others claiming her original comments were not anti-Semitic.

In another tweet responding to the early February controversy, Omar claimed the strong reactions to her tweets, which she herself called anti-Semitic, were really "smears" against her.

She supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, though during her campaign she spoke in a Minnesota synagogue and claimed to oppose it.

"Why would coming down hard on anti-Semitic speech alienate progressive groups?" Ruhle concluded the segment without a receiving a satisfactory explanation.