When Democrats considered a resolution condemning Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) recent anti-Semitic remarks, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) invoked a bizarre defense of Omar this week that had fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley calling him out.

The Hill reported:

Clyburn came to Omar’s defense Wednesday, lamenting that many of the media reports surrounding the recent controversy have omitted mentioning that Omar, who was born in Somalia, had to flee the country to escape violence and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States.

Her experience, Clyburn argued, is much more empirical — and powerful — than that of people who are generations removed from the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps during World War II and the other violent episodes that have marked history.

“I’m serious about that. There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn said. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”

Understandably, Clyburn’s minimization of the horrific experiences of Holocaust survivors and their families didn’t sit well with Jewish groups and even some Jewish Democrats in Congress:

After his comments, Clyburn was hit by demands for an apology: From the Anti-Defamation League to former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

“I was disappointed,” added House Foreign Affairs Chairman Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., who is Jewish.

Clyburn released a statement later in the day Thursday clarifying he never meant to diminish the legacy of the Holocaust.

Here’s what Haley said:

So very disappointed in Mr. Clyburn’s comments. Many of us have felt pain as a minority. All groups have painful pasts. Please don’t suddenly make one minority group’s pain more justified or personal than another’s. #SouthCarolinaDoesNotThinkThisWay

Haley’s response to Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, is one that should be viewed in the context of their political history.

Clyburn and Haley were two people on opposite sides of the aisle who came together one sorrowful South Carolina summer to put to rest a divisive symbol seen as a motivator for a mass murder of black churchgoers that shook the state – and a nation – to its core. To understand fully, let’s take a trip back in time.

Clyburn was long a proponent of removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Though he wasn’t a strict devoted proponent of the NAACP’s boycott of the state over the issue, he nevertheless understood its hurtful symbolism to the black community

Until June 2015, the controversy surrounding the flag had been a sensitive, almost taboo subject for South Carolina Republicans – including Haley. The boycott wasn’t an issue for them, and they were content with defying the wishes of outsiders by letting it be.

But that all changed in the aftermath of the brutal June 17, 2015 murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. After photos surfaced showing the killer holding up a Confederate flag, the voices of those who had long wanted it removed – including Clyburn’s – grew louder.

Haley initially took a neutral tone, but eventually changed her mind after meeting with Republican and Democrat political and civic leaders- including Clyburn. Haley, who is Indian, told the Republican caucus of an incident from her childhood where the police were called simply over the color of her father’s skin and how it and other similar experiences impacted her life.

Clyburn, too, knew the pain of discrimination and hate over skin color. He was a civil rights activist in the 1960s, took part in many demonstrations, and went to jail over his beliefs. His experiences inspired him to become politically active in the early 1970s.

On June 22, 2015, Haley – with Clyburn, Senator Tim Scott (R), and other distinguished South Carolinians from both parties at her side – called for the Confederate flag to come down. And on July 9th, Clyburn was again there with Haley when she signed the bill that authorizing the flag’s removal. The next day, it came down.

As young people, both Haley and Clyburn went through similar experiences with people who treated them and their family members cruelly because of the color of their skin. In the summer of 2015, they put their political differences aside in an effort to heal a grieving state during a very painful racial chapter in its history. And afterward, Clyburn continued his push for the removal of the flag on state-owned properties.

Clyburn has long understood the importance of taking a strong stand against racism, bigotry, and divisive symbols in their many forms. Which is what made his defense this week of Omar’s anti-Semitism so baffling to so many people.

His membership in the Congressional Black Caucus should clear up any confusion. The CBC and the anti-Semitical Minister Louis Farrakhan are longtime allies. In 2011, Clyburn shared a stage with Farrakhan, whose research group just this week said they agreed with Omar.

Clyburn ultimately chose to avoid upsetting a hate-filled anti-Jew “minister” of doom over taking a stand against the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in his party. Haley knows Clyburn did the wrong thing. And deep down he knows he did the wrong thing, too.

He knows.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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