Bernie Sanders on Ilhan Omar: It's not anti-semitic to criticize Israel's right-wing government, you know

A fun leftover from last night’s Fox News town hall. What strikes you first when you watch this clip is the mismatch in tone between candidate and crowd, made even weirder by the fact that it played out on Trump TV. Bernie, normally unflappable in public speaking engagements, is palpably uncomfortable talking about Omar. He begins by emphasizing that he barely knows her, allows that she needs to do a better job of communicating with Jews, and ultimately resorts to a non sequitur in the effort to defend her. Just because you dislike Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, he says, that doesn’t make you an anti-semite. True. But none of the rhetorical farts that have gotten Omar in trouble over the past three months had to do with Netanyahu. She claimed that Congress was pro-Israel because of AIPAC’s “Benjamins”; she accused supporters of the Jewish state of having dual loyalty; she said offhandedly of Al Qaeda and 9/11 that “some people did something,” which many righties felt was dismissive. The fact that Bernie had to turn to a left-wing applause line about how Netanyahu Is Bad to bail out of a discussion about Omar’s Jew-baiting speaks volumes about how reluctant he was to defend her on the merits.

Which brings me to the mismatch. Although Sanders clearly takes a … nuanced view of Omar, shall we say, the crowd doesn’t. They *explode* with cheers at the mention of her name (and of course at his point about how it’s okay to hate Netanyahu). Remember that House Democrats’ own leadership accused Omar of using anti-semitic tropes in her AIPAC/Benjamins comments in February. Even if you think Republicans were unfair in how they characterized her 9/11 comments, a politician prone to chattering about the loyalties of Israel supporters and their financial influence over the U.S. government should be viewed with caution, to put it mildly. Not to this audience, though. To hear them, you’d think Omar might give Bernie a run for his money in the primary if she could run for president. It’s a savory irony that a network that devotes so much effort to building adulation for a dubious right-wing populist momentarily became a platform for adulation of a dubious left-wing one.

Kevin Williamson considers the discomfort felt by Sanders and other Dems cursed with facing a purple electorate:

The Democrats are in a political pickle. They would very much prefer that the Jew-hating caucus shut up, and they are not crazy about the fact that the public face of the Democratic party is, at the moment, risible and demented amateurs such as Representative Omar and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, i.e., the people who are even crazier than Senator Sanders. But intersectionality is a jealous god, and they cannot simply tell Representative Omar et al. to sit down and clam up. All they can really do is to try to raise the price of criticizing the nut cutlets on the Democrats’ menu by insisting that criticism of Representative Omar is an attack on Muslims as such, that criticism of Representative Ocasio-Cortez is an attack on Latinas who don’t know how a bill becomes a law, that criticism of Robert Francis O’Rourke is an attack on . . . whatever it is that “Beto” is pretending to be this week. The New York Times et al. are reliable allies on that front.

This is, incidentally, what all those fake hate crimes are really about: Redefining criticism of Democratic politicians and constituencies as violence. When there isn’t enough violence to make that case in a sufficiently dramatic fashion, then violence can simply be invented — and, if the case of Jussie Smollett is anything to go by, the cost of doing so is pretty low. When’s the last time you heard of a prosecutor dropping a 16-felony indictment in exchange for a firm handshake?

That’s a neat trick, really: to be the hostage and the hostage-taker at the same time.

Fox’s anchors missed an opportunity to press Sanders here about Omar’s claim that Trump’s criticism of her is tantamount to violent incitement. The most infamous case of actual political violence in the Trump era happened to involve a supporter of Bernie Sanders shooting up a baseball field filled with Republican congressmen and nearly murdering Steve Scalise in the process. Go figure that years of acidic criticism of the GOP as malignant by design — tools of the rich, racist, sexist warriors against women, you name it — might convince some addled progressive that urgent action to address the evil was needed. Is there any distinction between harsh criticism and incitement to violence apart from the partisan identity of the target?

Anyway, by no means was this his worst answer of the night. He also essentially endorsed abortion up to the moment of birth, in case you thought this party was in any way redeemable.