Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, US, April 10, 2019.
(photo credit: JIM BOURG/ REUTERS)
These are questions that Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked this week, after the congresswoman retweeted a New York Times op-ed by Eric V. Copage, which claimed that “Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin.”
The writer was exploring why Jesus is so often illustrated as a white man with blue eyes, but Cooper contends that Omar likely had another agenda in sharing the article, which she did with the following message: “Don’t they (Christians) know Jesus was a Palestinian?”
“The claim that Jesus was a Palestinian is so bizarre that the question becomes what one gains by making that allegation,” Cooper told The Jerusalem Post. “For people who have no theological or historical rooting, the idea that Jesus was a Palestinian creates a new narrative for Palestinian history, which otherwise does not date back very far. If one can say that Jesus was Palestinian 2,000 years ago, then that means the Jews are occupying Palestinian land.”
Cooper said that for people who “don’t like Jews to begin with, it is a deadly combination of the Jews killed Jesus and now they are doing the same to his progeny,” he continued. “From a political and propaganda point of view, there is something to be gained.”
The myth that Jesus was a Palestinian dates back to the days of Yasser Arafat, when his trusted Christian-Palestinian adviser Hanan Ashrawi made the claim. Since then, the idea resurfaces now and again, according to Cooper.
“The absurdity of it is breathtaking,” Cooper said of Jesus being a Palestinian. “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, think about who is parents were – his mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. In the Gospels, there is no mention of Palestine, only Judea, which is where Jews lived.”
Cooper said that if the Palestinians admit that Jesus was a Jew, then the idea that the Jews only arrived in Israel in 1948 and occupied Palestinian indigenous land becomes an absurdity.
He said Omar “knows this narrative is false but also that it has an inherent power to it,” said Cooper. “The ‘Benjamins,’ the big lie of dual loyalty, Jesus is a Palestinian – it is all rewriting history to plant in people’s minds that the Palestinian people go back thousands of years.”
“She is a very clear person,” Cooper continued. “Ilhan Omar is a clever antisemite, so truth does not play much of a role anyway.”
He added that, “When an elected member of the US Congress retweets such a thing, that takes things to the next level.”
Some people came out in defense of Omar, such as American Muslim scholar, civil rights activist, writer and speaker Omar Suleiman. He tweeted a speech by American Protestant Minister William J. Barber II, who likewise made the claim that “Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew” and called out the misplaced hate directed at Omar.
Cooper said he was surprised The New York Times allowed Copage to publish an op-ed with such a line, and expected such information only to be shared on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where users can get away with much more before it is identified – if it is ever identified – as fake news.
The solution: education, he said.
“It is extremely important for world Jewry and Jewish families to teach their own and go over our amazing love affair between the people and her land that stands for more than 3,000 years,” said Cooper, noting that is the responsibility of educated Jews and Christians to counter such falsehoods.
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