On Saturday, June 15, CNN’s The Van Jones Show hosted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, along with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, to discuss, among other issues, an op-ed the two Congresswomen wrote together about confronting white nationalism.
Host Van Jones introduced the segment with the erroneous claim that Congresswoman Omar has “apologized unequivocally” for comments she made in February about AIPAC (“it’s all about the Benjamins,”) which Jones mislabeled an “Israeli lobby group.” He then said that “some people on the right” are “taking her words out of context and vilifying her.”
According to CNN’s own website, despite Omar’s use of the phrase, “I unequivocally apologize,” the statement in which she made that apology did, in fact, equivocate. She also said that “at the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.” An unequivocal apology would not have repeated a claim so similar to the one for which she was purportedly apologizing, merely adding two other targets to make it seem less like she was singling AIPAC out.
Moreover, only a couple of weeks after that purported apology, at a Washington DC event, Omar said about American supporters of Israel, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Included among American supporters of Israel and a strong US-Israel alliance, of course, are the vast majority of American Jews. Omar never apologized for this comment, and there is no context that makes it acceptable. The charge of Jewish dual loyalty is perhaps the oldest and most pernicious antisemitic trope.
Nor did the criticism of Omar come exclusively from the right.
Yet, Jones lent his considerable platform to Omar, and allowed her to use it to portray herself as the victim in this controversy. She said that:
I want to say, there are people who are genuinely interested in fighting antisemitism and then … there are those that are interested in weaponizing antisemitism to shut down debate on whatever they might not agree on and vilify anybody that they may not want to have any kind of platform to have influence.
While Schakowsky said that there was a “genuine feeling” among “some of the people who were upset about what they heard as antisemitism,” Omar agreed but countered that there are also “a lot of very loud people who may not have a genuine concern.”
In fact, the claim that Jews falsify or manufacture charges of antisemitism to shut down debate on Israel is yet another antisemitic trope. It’s so common, it has its own name, the Livingstone formulation. The Livingstone formulation makes an unfounded assumption that Jews are acting in bad faith. It then uses that assumption to justify avoiding the task of evaluating whether the statement that was the subject of the original complaint is in fact antisemitic.
When Omar deployed the Livingstone formulation on his show, however, Jones didn’t intervene. Throughout this portion of the interview, he never challenged her.
Instead, he asked her easy, supportive questions like, “what did you learn from that?” This gave Omar the opportunity to talk about “my shortcomings of not understanding what certain words could mean to your particular community.” Jones could have, but didn’t, point out that Omar understood perfectly well what the words meant when comments that were nearly identical in substance were aimed at her by Fox News host Jeanine Piro. (In early March, Piro said about Omar, “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”)
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 11, 2019
Nor did Jones ask her about the support that she’s received from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who has called her “the most important member of the US Congress” because of her “defiance to Z.O.G. [the Zionist Occupied Government].” Since Jones brought Omar onto his show to discuss her op-ed on confronting white nationalism, this seems like a notable oversight.
Jones also neglected Omar’s 2012 tweet, in which she said “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel,” Omar subsequently disavowed, but did not actually apologize for, the sentiments she expressed in it. Ascribing evil and supernatural powers to Jews is another ancient antisemitic trope.
Finally, Jones invented a country when he said that Omar has expressed concern for the “people of Palestine,” and invited her to “explain to my audience why you’re so concerned about what’s happening in Palestine.” Of course, the reason there is not such a state is because both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as his predecessor Yasir Arafat turned down opportunities to create one. One would expect a CNN host to know such things. If Jones knew this, though, he didn’t tell Omar. Instead, he allowed her to present her own narrative unchallenged.