On Monday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) publicly called presidential advisor Stephen Miller “a white nationalist.” This should be an uncontroversial statement. Unfortunately, it is complicated as far as political discourse is concerned by the fact that Miller is Jewish and conservatives think Omar is a raging antisemite. Therefore, the swooning upon the fainting couches by right-wing politicians and media figures was incredibly predictable:
During my time in Congress before @IlhanOmar got here, I didn’t once witness another Member target Jewish people like this with the name calling & other personal attacks. In 2019 though, for @IlhanOmar, this is just called Monday. https://t.co/sgvsEvsj56
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) April 9, 2019
Steve Miller is a Jew. An American Jew. A patriot. Not a “white nationalist.”
I don’t believe you should be calling a Jew anything, Ms. Omar. https://t.co/3WPaL2U2R6
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) April 8, 2019
I see that the head of the Farrakhan Fan Club, @IlhanMN, took a short break from spewing her usual anti-semitic bigotry today to accuse a Jewish man of being a “white nationalist” because she apparently has no shame. https://t.co/y96IG8E7Y6
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 8, 2019
It is true that white nationalists are generally not fond of Jews. But this should be recognized as completely separate from how Miller’s hardline restrictionist position on immigration lines up with white nationalist goals of keeping non-white people from entering the country. In pursuing that goal, Miller has been anything but subtle. He was behind the administration’s “Muslim ban.” He has pushed for harsh consequences for migrants seeking asylum, such as the infamous family-separation policy and ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for refugees from nations such as Haiti and Liberia, refugees who in some cases have lived in America for decades.
For his efforts in keeping refugees of color from entering the nation, Miller has been blasted by both his childhood rabbi and his uncle. The former rebuked Miller in a sermon last Rosh Hashanah, saying that his actions are “completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.” The latter once published a column excoriating his nephew for seemingly forgetting that he is pursuing policies that would have kept his own ancestors from immigrating to America a hundred years ago.
Yet in the wake of his efforts to purge the Department of Homeland Security of top officials who were not cruel enough to asylum-seekers (Nielsen reportedly had pushed back on Trump’s exhortations to her that she defy court orders and start the family-separation policy up again), here come right-wingers like Zeldin and Pollak who think that Miller’s Jewishness somehow shields him from charges that he is fulfilling every white nationalist’s wet dream of an America with fewer dark-skinned people entering it.
What none of these defenders of Miller’s honor acknowledge is that white nationalist impetus to turn away refugees out of a fear that they will change America is actually in tension with both the teachings of Judaism, which instructs us to “welcome the stranger,” and the lived experience of the Jewish people over centuries as they have been driven from place to place by antisemitism. Miller is ignoring this teaching and this experience in an effort to keep America a majority-white country. If white nationalists secretly harbor any animus towards him because of his religion, they will happily keep it quiet and let him be their useful idiot.
If anyone is following the lived experience and teachings of Judaism here, it is Omar. As a refugee herself who came here from Kenya, she seems more cognizant of the goals of Miller’s restrictionist policies than the conservatives defending her do. But because the right has decided, based on a bad-faith interpretation of some of her past comments about the Israeli lobby’s power in Congress, that is enough for them to attack her and defend Miller. It is an appalling substitution of political tribalism for genuine debate over policy and religious dogma’s role in promoting it.
Not that anyone would have ever expected better from the likes of Zeldin and Pollak.