A Real Life Lesson In Cultural Accommodation And Communication Growth

According to the mainstream media, the past few weeks have been weeks of bungles and un-needed controversies for House Democrats. They were WRONG. In reality, the past few weeks have been a lesson for House Democrats in cultural accommodation and communication growth, two capabilities that all Americans need to acquire if they don’t already have them in order to guarantee harmonious life in 21stcentury America.

One of the new House Democrats, Muslim Congresswoman Ilan Omar, set off a cultural and media storm over tweets and comments she has made within the past few weeks. In February journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted: “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for Muslim Congresswomen Ilan Omar and Rashida Tlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans”.

Omar responded to Greenwald by tweeting: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby”, implying that Republicans were bought off by Jewish lobbyists. Omar’s tweet prompted Batya Ungar-Sargon, the editorial page editor of the Jewish Daily Forward to tweet: ‘Would love to know who Omar thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. ‘Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.’

The anti-Semitic trope Ungar-Sargon is referring to is an age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory fostered by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous early-20th-century Russian forgery that describes a plot by Jewish moneyed interests to subvert and destroy Christian societies through their finances. It has been used by anti-Semites to accuse Jews everywhere of being more loyal to their faith and the state of Israel than to the countries where they live.

Omar tweeted back to Ungar-Sargon: ‘AIPAC,’ which stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to Congress and the White House. Ungar-Sargon’s final tweet reply to Omar was: “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.” This was the first plea in this political saga for cultural accommodation and communication growth.

Democrat scion Chelsea Clinton responded to Ungar-Sargon’s plea for cultural accommodation and communication growth by tweeting: “Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.” Clinton’s tweet sparked the 2ndplea for cultural accommodation and communication growth when a Democratic political activist tweeted:

Disappointed Chelsea Clinton is piling on Congresswoman Ilan Omar instead of reaching out to her. She is a new member of Congress and figuring out how to navigate calling out AIPAC (which is a terrible organization aligned with Bibi) and learning that a lot of folks will assume the worst. Clinton responded to the plea for cultural accommodation and communication growth by tweeting back to the activist: “I will reach out to her tomorrow. I also think we have to call out anti-Semitic language and tropes on all sides, particularly in our elected officials and particularly now.”

Omar responded to Clinton’s tweet by tweeting: “‘Chelsea, I would be happy to talk. We must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith. I look forward to building an inclusive movement for justice with you.” Clinton replied: “Hello Congresswoman! Completely agree. I will reach out to your office tomorrow. Looking forward to connecting about this thread and more, Chelsea.” Clinton was not the only Democrat to weigh in, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top House leaders issued a joint statement that named Omar, condemned her remarks and called on her to “immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

Genuinely surprised by the reaction to her words Omar made her first attempt at cultural accommodation and communication growth by issuing the following apology: Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize. 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. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Omar’s apology was sincere and it reflected her desire for cultural accommodation and communication growth. After her apology, everyone’s heart was in the right place but since no honest conversation about cultural accommodation and communication growth had taken place, no one’s head was in sync with their hearts. That’s why a couple of weeks later Congresswoman Omar made more comments considered by Jews to be anti-Semitic.

Speaking at a Town Hall meeting Omar was asked a question about anti-Semitism, the complete answer is too long to print here but the part that caused the controversy was: So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?

Listen to Ilan Omar as she speaks the words that caused so much controversy

Omar’s words made it clear that even if she had made Jewish cultural accommodations in her thinking she needed more communication growth to express it. The initial reaction to Omar’s foreign allegiance claim by the Democratic House leadership was clear, while they had experienced some communication growth they had made no cultural accommodations. Their original plan was to have a vote on an anti-Semitism resolution that wouldn’t name Omar like their previous joint statement had, but would serve as an indirect rebuke to comments she made about Israel’s influence on U.S. policy.

As the plan became known to Democratic House members both veteran and the new progressive members began to complain that the resolution seemed to serve only as a rebuke to Omar. In other words, it reflected no cultural accommodation. Many like House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn were sympathetic to the fact that Omar has not been exposed too much true Jewish culture, having lived part of her life in Somalia fleeing violence until she was able to come to the U.S. as a refugee.

Others like Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley were sympathetic to the fact Omar herself has been the target of death threats. “What I’ve been in touch with leadership about is we need to have equity in our outrage, and Islamophobia needs to be included in this, we need to denounce all forms of hate. There is no hierarchy of hurt.” The Congressional Black Caucus and Omar’s progressive allies, like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demanded to know why the party was condemning Omar when, they argued, statements by President Donald Trump and some GOP lawmakers promote bigotry.

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., chairman of the House Budget Committee said “If it’s limited to anti-Semitism then it makes Congresswoman Omar’s point for her, that it would be a move to pacify AIPAC. Because we wouldn’t do that for anybody else,” Yarmuth said. “Whatever we do is going to look like we’re responding specifically to her, and to AIPAC, so I’m probably leaning against doing one. If we do one I’d prefer it be more expansive.”

As members continued to dialogue they realized that more cultural accommodation and communication growth was needed. After all, Jews were not the only ones with cultural pain and persecution that needed to be acknowledged. So language was added to condemn hate speech against Muslims, American Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and all other minorities. The end result was an anti-Semitic resolution with cultural accommodations and communication growth that condemns all forms of hate against all people.

During a press conference days before the passage of the resolution Speaker Pelosi was making a comment about Congresswoman Omar but the comment could apply to all the players involved. She said: “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.”

That’s what all the hoopla and controversy was about, people ignorant about each other’s culture and history. Congresswoman Omar is an immigrant to the U.S. who even after coming to America was not exposed to Jewish culture, therefore she spoke meaning no harm at times with a disregard for the persecution history of the most persecuted people on the face of the earth. House Democrat leaders and many from the Jewish community were not exposed to her journey as an immigrant fleeing violence in her native country of Somalia. Only to get to America to suffer the violence of hatred and discrimination as a member of a religious denomination with a tortured history with America.

In the end, the obstacle of ignorance was overcome because Congresswoman Omar, House Democrats, and members of the Jewish community all recognized the need to make the necessary cultural accommodation and grow their communications to reflect respect for each one’s culture. This is a real-life lesson in how cultural accommodation and communication growth is the formula to navigate America’s transition from a majority American white culture to an American multi-colored culture hopefully, President Trump and Republicans are taking notes and will act accordingly.

Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on March 11, 2019.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center.

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