Hours after The Jerusalem Post reported that US Rep. Ilhan Omar would give the keynote address at an Islamic Relief USA dinner alongside an official from the organization known for his antisemitic comments, the congresswoman’s PR team began pushing back, and the event’s marketing materials and online invitations were changed.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Omar would be headlining an event on February 23 alongside Yousef Abdallah, who has advocated for violence against Jews and expressed antisemitic sentiments on his social media pages.
As media reports surfaced, however, Abdallah’s name was removed from publicity for the event. Then, a spokesman for the congresswoman, Jeremy Slevin, began posting on social media claiming the articles were inaccurate. “Yousef Abdallah will not be speaking or attending the event with Rep. Omar and was never scheduled to do so,” he wrote. “Please correct.”
The Post responded by sending Slevin copies of the original event itinerary from the Eventbrite website, as well as a screenshot of the original flyer that listed the two speakers.
“He [Abdallah] was never confirmed to speak with the congresswoman,” Slevin replied in the name of the event organizers. “He will not even be in town then. The flyer being circulated is inaccurate and the current Eventbrite and flyer that are [now] up reflect the speakers at the event.”
Slevin did not answer the Post’s questions about the timing of the changes, or why Omar’s PR team failed to vet the flyers or the itinerary before their release, despite her high-profile governmental position. However, he “agreed” that the circumstances were strange.
Slevin sent the Post a timeline from the event organizers that he said he hoped would clarify the confusion.
On January 19, Slevin said, Islamic Relief USA’s “Florida staff notified the marketing department to remove Yousef Abdallah from the flyer because he was not a speaker.” But that was never done and the flyer was printed with Abdallah’s name.
Slevin explained by saying the flyer was based on a template used for a previous event in which Abdallah participated.
He also claimed that on February 6, Omar requested details of the program and topics, but said they “were not provided to Ilhan’s staff.”
On Monday, the Middle East Forum’s Islamist Watch blog highlighted Abdallah’s forthcoming address, and reported several instances in which he posted or shared stories of incitement. MEF’s report included Abdallah’s sharing a “very beautiful story” about “martyrs” who provide guns to “kill more than 20 Jews” and “fire rockets at Tel Aviv.”
The MEF also found that Abdallah had referred to Jews as “stinking,” and claimed “the Jews set the outside wall of al-Aqsa [Mosque in Jerusalem] on fire.”
Abdallah also “liked” a comment on Facebook that called on God to wreak “revenge on the damned rapists Zionists... Shake the Earth beneath their feet and destroy them as you destroyed the peoples of Ad, Thamud and Lot.”
Islamic Relief has been found to have connections to funding terrorism and Islamic extremists. A Swedish government report named the organization as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Tunisian government has reportedly investigated allegations that the group funded jihadists on the Libyan border, and members of Congress have launched an inquiry into FBI and IRS investigations of Islamic Relief’s activities.The announcement of Omar’s speaking engagement likely caused even greater uproar because it came just days after she claimed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. Her words hinted at one of the archetypal antisemitic stereotypes which accuses Jews of using money to control the world.
Omar’s allegation led to a storm of Twitter comments, with leaders on both the Right and Left condemning her remarks. Even her own Democratic Party issued a statement that called Omar’s statements “deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks.”
Omar has since apologized for her statement. “Antisemitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of antisemitic tropes,” she wrote. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. 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.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter that she and Omar had spoken and “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject antisemitism in all forms.”
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on Tuesday night that Omar should be expelled from Congress or censured over her antisemitic comments.
Omar’s “tweets were a disgrace [and] her apology was inadequate. Antisemitism has no place in the United States Congress, much less the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Pence wrote. “Those who engage in antisemitic tropes should not just be denounced, they should face consequences for their words.”
With his tweet, Pence added his voice to the growing calls for the freshmen Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota to be ousted from Congress.
Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump also condemned her comments.
“Antisemitism has no place in the United States Congress... and I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Trump, like Pence, felt her apology was inadequate.
“What she said is so deep-seated in her heart that her lame apology – and that’s what it was, it was lame, and she didn’t mean a word of it – was just not appropriate,” Trump said.