As the Democratic Party tilts left, it faces hefty liabilities, which the controversy over Omar has powerfully illustrated. In progressive activist circles, support for Palestine is often part of the price of admission, along with support for LBGT rights and causes such as Black Lives Matter. This can foster a lack of sensitivity around language that tends to alarm American Jews, progressive and otherwise, including anti-Semitic tropes around Jews’ love of money, outsize influence on banks and governments, and divided loyalties. “We carry some responsibility on the left for not acknowledging that anti-Semitism just exists in American society,” says Eric Ward, the executive director of the Western States Center, which trains Jewish and Muslim leaders on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. “It is not simply a phenomenon of the right, nor a phenomenon of the left. It is in the air we breathe. If we aren’t conscious of it, we will sometimes act out anti-Semitism, in the same way that we may act out sexism or homophobia or racism.”
Anti-Semitism highlights the tension inherent in Democrats’ effort to be the party of the marginalized: Sometimes defending one group can come at the expense of hurting another. In general, it can be difficult for Jewish fear to be heard in progressive spaces. “We live in a society that is based off of the binary race definition of black and white. Most Jews are not people of color,” Ward says. “For the left, it has become very difficult to understand that there are people in the United States who aren’t people of color, yet still face a form of racialized bigotry.” On Thursday, several members of Congress, including the Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, criticized the fact that the House resolution grew over the past two days to include basically every form of discrimination against minorities, rather than specifically addressing anti-Semitism. The 23 Republicans who voted no ostensibly did so for this reason. Steve King, the Iowa representative who has been accused of supporting white nationalism, voted present.
The difficulty of any group being heard is exacerbated in conversations about Israel and Palestine, an issue that many Jews and Muslims see as a central part of their identity. Often, “Muslims and Jews come in with the biggest and best of intentions,” says Aziza Hasan, the head of NewGround, a group that facilitates Muslim-Jewish dialogue. But they “start to realize and uncover that [with] some of the things we say, we unknowingly walk into tropes and histories that we weren’t aware of.”
While this round of the ongoing Omar controversy has seemingly come to a conclusion, the underlying conflict is going to remain urgent for Democrats, especially in the lead-up to the 2020 election. “Part of the genuine, multiracial, multireligious coalition-building of today is recognizing that African Americans, Jews, queer folk, women, poor folk, Native Americans, Muslims, Hispanics—all of us have experienced a kind of marginalization,” Safi says. “At different points in time, the Trump regime is going to target one or more of us, or even try to pit us against one another.”