Bill Maher Addresses Ilhan Omar Controversy and Whether U.S. Jews Will Desert the Democratic Party

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"Real Time with Bill Maher."
"Real Time with Bill Maher."Credit: Screen shot

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar got not one but two slots in “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday night, with the host bemoaning the Democrats’ handling of the anti-Semitism controversy surrounding the freshman congresswoman.

In his opening monologue, Maher outlined a long list of misfortunes to befall the Republican Party this week, including Paul Manafort being sentenced to 47 months in jail, noting that this would have been a “great week to make some political hay.” Instead, he said, the Democrats “spent the week arguing with each other” about an anti-Semitism vote.

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The party spent several days on a House resolution that was initially set to denounce anti-Semitism, following comments by the Minnesota congresswoman regarding support for Israel in the United States. But after days of debate, it was eventually broadened to include other forms of bigotry and was passed by the House on Thursday.

“Only Democrats could snatch the issue of anti-Semitism away from Republicans,” Maher joked. “In fact, Congressman Steve King — you know him, of Iowa? — said, ‘Wait, I thought we were the Jew-haters?’”

“It got so petty,” Maher continued, listing the potential scale of punishments discussed by the party (from censor and reprimand to finger-wagging and the silent treatment). “Meanwhile, Trump did at least three things that would get anybody else impeached this week, among them insisting that his kids have security clearance over the objections of the CIA and the FBI.”

After comparing Trump’s kids’ overinvolvement in matters of state with those of the British royal family, Maher turned his attention to the president’s son-in-law and special adviser: “Jared Kushner is called a security threat by our own intelligence agencies. It’s OK to hate him without being anti-Semitic, right?”

Maher later discussed the Omar affair with his panel. “I’m a free speech person. I think you’re allowed to criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite. Having said that, I’ve read some of her other tweets — maybe she might be; I don’t know her thoughts on this. But it became an issue for the Democrats of ‘We can’t censor this person because it’s a woman and a person of color. And that, I think, is identity politics, is it not?”

Representative Ilhan Omar in the House of Representatives, Washington D.C., March 6, 2019.Credit: AFP

Guest Noah Rothman, author of “Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America,” concurred. “Democrats explained to us what the problem was here when the Black Lives Matter movement was active, because ‘All Lives Matter’ was said to be the inclusive approach to these issues. No, it was exclusive, because it diluted a specific claim against discrete groups who are suffering from a certain form of discrimination. That is precisely what happened here. It has just become very inconvenient for Democrats to remember the lessons they all taught us two years ago.”

Journalist Mary Katharine Ham noted that the case against Omar was “fairly strong. You’ve got the trifecta of anti-Semitic tropes: hypnosis and secret powers; secret money and influence; and dual loyalty. But in the end, because of intersectionality, Nancy Pelosi cannot rein all that in because she’s the rich white lady and she has got to lose. And she has just run into her caucus of ‘true believers’ – and true believers are tough to rein in because they DGAF. But this ‘woke-off’ is going to occur all through the primaries and it’s going to be very damaging.”

Filmmaker Jonathan Alter agreed that it would hurt the Democrats, but said the problem arose because the party “hadn’t censured President Trump first” for going against Muslims, blacks and Jews. It “was not unreasonable” for other Democrats to ask why Omar “should be singled out first,” he said.

Maher then quoted Trump’s description Friday of the Democrats as the “anti-Jewish party” and asked the panel if it could “lose the Jews.” Alter shot back: “No. As a Jew I will tell you they usually carry about 70 percent of Jews, and it’s not going to change.”

Maher went on to quote California Rep. Juan Vargas’ tweet that “questioning support for the Israel-U.S. relationship is unacceptable.” “Wrong!” was Maher’s succinct answer, to nigh-on unanimous backing from the four panel members. “Questions are not unacceptable. Everyone has to go to DEFCON 1 million for everything. Everything has to be ‘Apologize, you’re censured!’ How about just ‘I disagree with you.’”  

Rothman pointed out, though, that Omar had questioned “Jewish influence in the country and the support for Israel. … In other words, that they were more aligned with a foreign authority than their own. Again, a very ancient slur.”

Alter called Omar’s use of the word “allegiance” an “extremely harmful thing to say. The Germans before the Holocaust, they said, ‘Our Jews, they owe their allegiance to international Jewry.’ That was the rap. So this is not just like some tiny insult, this is a major insult.”

Alter, the director of HBO documentary “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists,” also got the last word, calling on Republicans to call out their own president for his hateful comments. “Just because he supports Israel doesn’t mean he can’t be anti-Semitic.”  

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