To Ilhan Omar’s photographer:
I first heard of you when one of our staff members told me that someone had called looking for the person he needed to sue. It was a strange and disturbing phone call which seemed to traumatize our staff.
As you well know, Jews are under attack the world over, and threatening phone calls are unwelcome at the best of times but particularly now.
You could have just asked for me by name.
I’m Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder and CEO of The World Values Network, a not-for-profit NGO primed to defend the Jewish people and Israel in mainstream media. I am also the proud father of nine children and five grandchildren, thank God. I am a rabbi. I am a writer and TV host on marriage, sexuality and relationships. I am an activist, a political commentator and professionally, above all else, a writer.
All of these facets of my identity, however, boil down to one: I am a Jew.
From the age of 14, I followed the lead of my mentor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and chose to dedicate my life to the Jewish people and to humanity at large. At the time, I thought that would mean only the study and dissemination of the timeless wisdom offered by the Torah. Today, tragically, it has also come to mean defending my people from relentless attack and a tsunami of antisemitism.
In the past 10 days alone, America witnessed its second synagogue shooting in six months, The New York Times
admitted to printing a vile antisemitic cartoon, and the Anti-Defamation League warned in its annual report that American Jews are facing “near historic levels of hatred.” As I write this, hundreds of rockets are falling down upon Israel, where two of my children live, and where they both served courageously in the Israel Defense Forces as young soldiers.
The full-page color ad we ran in The Washington Post calling out the antisemitism of Rep. Ilhan Omar – the one over which you’re suing me (and I find it interesting that you’re suing only the Jewish organization that ran the ad but not The Washington Post, which published it) – presents yet another example of the threats we face.
For a political figure barely six months in Washington, Omar has managed to cram an astonishing amount of frightening rhetoric into the American political honey jar, demonizing the Jewish people with all three legs of the antisemitic stool – those of Jewish hypnotic control, Jewish money control, and Jewish dual loyalties.
In 2012, as huge numbers of rockets rained down on Israel, Omar took to Twitter to make the disgusting, repulsive claim that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” This year, she made it clear that the America-Israel alliance was motivated not by shared interests and values but by Jewish money which buys politicians. She singled out AIPAC in particular as being guilty of a Jewish money conspiracy. And notice, she didn’t say that the America-Israel alliance is in part “about the Benjamins.” No, she said it was “all [my emphasis] about the Benjamins.” By doing so, she not only vilified Jews with a charge straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but impugned the integrity of her colleagues in the United States Congress by implying that they were all bought off and bribed. Then, during a discussion about American support for Israel, she stewed over a certain group of Americans who were “pushing for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Put yourself in our shoes. How would you feel if someone said you were a traitor to America because you’re a Jew?
“The most exciting things happen when people are extremely uncomfortable,” Rep. Omar said in an article headlined by the herculean photograph you took of her. I don’t know what “exciting things” Omar has planned, and I hope I never do. But I do know that she’s unleashed this crusade of making people “extremely uncomfortable” mostly on American Jews. She’s also making us Jews feel uncommon, unwelcome — even un-American.
Worse than being an antisemite (we’re used to those), Omar has become a celebrity antisemite.
Despite the fact that leaders from all sides of the political spectrum have come together to condemn her, there are those who can’t stop celebrating Omar, regardless of her irrepressible antisemitism. Omar has graced the front covers of Time, Rolling Stone and even the latest edition of Newsweek. She’s the subject of a documentary that premiered at Tribeca, and even made a cameo in the music video for the Maroon 5’s hit “Girls Like You,” which has two billion views on YouTube. Rolling Stone even listed her, along with Nancy Pelosi, as one of their four “Women Shaping America’s Future.”
American Jews would be wise to ensure she doesn’t. They’d also be wise to ensure all Americans know what Omar believes – namely, that we use our money to manipulate our government into being allegiant to a foreign nation that has in its arsenal the ability to hypnotize the world.
AMID ALL this, we come across your work of art which, all would agree, lionized Omar. She certainly thought so, considering she posted the photo on Facebook (itself a legal co-owner of the image which we credited for the photo). She even captioned the image with the words of Maya Angelou, “I walk like I got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room.”
In using your photo, we stood entirely within our rights. Firstly, the photo was used in accordance with Facebook standards, which, as you will find on Google, states, “According to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, any image posted with the Public setting carries the implicit acknowledgment that said photo is available for access and use by anyone – including entities not on Facebook. While permission for use is considered polite, it is not a prerequisite.”
But more importantly, art is not protected from parody. Art is not protected from criticism, satire or commentary – better known as fair use.
Considering mainstream America has roundly condemned Omar for using antisemitic tropes, any artwork that serves to promote her is itself controversial, if not a provocation. It should certainly be understood that it will be met with criticism, commentary and parody.
Ultimately, it’s your right to celebrate people who trade in antisemitism, even as I lament your decision to do so. Just don’t be surprised when we respond to your assessments, and don’t try to silence us when we do.
I can assure you that, try as you might, we will neither be silenced nor intimidated, even when we receive threatening letters demanding $150,000 in damages. We will continue to be vocal about Omar and her personal war against the Jewish people. You may seek to stifle our First Amendment rights as a Jewish organization that battles antisemitism. But as Jews are being gunned down in synagogues on American soil over ideas frighteningly similar to Omar’s claims of Jewish “Benjamins” controlling Washington, we will resist and fight back. All the legal threats in the world will not silence us. We will speak out against the demonization of the Jewish people and defend our rights to free speech.
We are, after all, fellow Americans.
I wish you God’s blessings.
Rabbi Shmuley BoteachThe writer, “America’s rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 32 books including The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.