Don’t bar Omar

Since she was elected to the House of Representatives, the Somali-born congresswoman has not shied away from voicing her support for BDS or expressing anti-Israel opinions.

July 20, 2019 20:47
3 minute read.
Don’t bar Omar

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addresses a small rally on immigration rights at the temporary installation of a replica of the Statue of Liberty at Union Station in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2019. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) announced on Wednesday that she will be traveling in the coming weeks to Israel and the Palestinian territories. She will reportedly be joined by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), the first Palestinian-American to be elected to Congress, whose grandmother still lives in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council is debating whether Israel will let her enter the country. Just before she announced the planned visit, Omar introduced a new “pro-boycott” of Israel resolution in Congress “affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

This type of legislation has little chance of getting through the House but it does pose an obstacle for Israel which has laws in place that ban people who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and the boycott of Israel from entering the country.

This is not Israel’s only problem with Omar. Since she was elected to the House of Representatives, the Somali-born congresswoman has not shied away from voicing her support for BDS or expressing anti-Israel opinions.

Even before she was sworn into office – claiming falsely to be the first refugee to enter Congress – a 2012 tweet of hers received attention: “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

In February, Omar took her anti-Israel rhetoric up a notch, spreading centuries-old antisemitic tropes. This time, she attacked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), combining two stereotypes of antisemites: Jewish power and Jewish obsession with money.

First, Omar retweeted a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald, a frequent critic of Israel, who wrote: “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”

In response, Omar tweeted: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” referring to $100 bills, which sport the image of Benjamin Franklin.

Is this someone who should be allowed into Israel? We think so. By denying Omar entry, Israel will be giving her a status of prominence that she does not deserve. Hopefully, she is a passing phenomenon, but even if she is not Israel should not play into her hands by preventing her from entering the Jewish state.

First, Israel has nothing to hide. Omar will attack Israel in the media and on Twitter whether she is allowed in or not. While unlikely, letting her come and see the country and its unique and diverse people might even have an impact on her and lead her to understand that her analysis and interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not always been on the money (pun intended).

Like all American citizens and elected officials, Omar has the right to express her opinion. But as a legislator and representative of the American people and government, she should be aware about the consequences of her actions and statements.

Coming to Israel will not turn her overnight into a sudden lover of Israel or the Jewish people. That is why when here, she should meet with government officials and be taken – like other congressmen who come on official delegations – to Yad Vashem, the Western Wall and places like Hand-in-Hand, the bilingual Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem. She should go to Tel Aviv and see the vibrancy of what the Jewish state has to offer. She should go to the Knesset and meet with the Arab, Jewish and Druze members of Knesset.

This might not change her mind or lead to the toning down of her criticism of Israel, but it will at least show her the true and real face of Israel. It is a state that is imperfect and surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction, but at the same time, has established a democracy and a vibrant and free society. Let her come and see.

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