Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism has consequences

Even before she was sworn into office, she tweeted “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Ilhan Omar (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ilhan Omar
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Newcomer US congresswoman Ilhan Omar is at it again. The Somali-born Democratic representative for Minnesota has not shied away from voicing her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and expressing anti-Israel opinions.
Even before she was sworn into office – claiming falsely to be the first refugee to enter Congress – a tweet she made in 2012 received new attention and indicated her mindset: “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” she wrote.
Omar and Rashida Tlaib (D.-Michigan) are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both seem set to use their position to attack Israel and promote a pro-Palestinian agenda.
This week, having been recently appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar decided to take her anti-Israel rhetoric up a notch and showed her true colors, spreading viscous 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.
A response she wrote on Twitter triggered a typical tweeting exchange. Glenn Greenwald wrote that: “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Omar replied: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” apparently referring to the slang for $100 bills, which sport the image of Benjamin Franklin.
Batya Ungar-Sargon, an opinion editor for The Forward, tweeted back: “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second antisemitic trope you’ve tweeted.”
Instead of issuing an apology, Omar made it clear what she thought with the single-word response: “AIPAC!”
Ungar-Sargon replied: “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non- antisemitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.”
Chelsea Clinton responded to Ungar-Sargon, tweeting: “Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in antisemitism.”
Omar replied, “Chelsea – I would be happy to talk. We must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith.”
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jonathan Greenblatt weighed in, saying: “Antisemitism is on the rise in the US and abroad. The use of this tired antisemitic trope about Jews and money is inappropriate and upsetting. As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not fuel it.”
Antisemitism is indeed again raising its ugly head in the US, as it is elsewhere in the world. As Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said last week, a hotline is being inundated with calls from American students suffering from antisemitism on their campuses. In Brooklyn, there have been at least 10 unprovoked attacks on Jews within the last two months. And nobody can – or should – forget the attack at the synagogue in Pittsburgh last year in which 11 Jews were murdered during Shabbat prayers.
The attacks are coming from Left and Right. But they are not coming in a vacuum.
When a congresswoman employs antisemitic images and rhetoric, she is encouraging – not preventing – violent incidents. She should be castigated, not only via Twitter, but in Congress itself by both Democrats and Republicans. That seemed to be the case on Tuesday when many members of Omar’s own party condemned her recent antisemitic comments.
Omar, like all American citizens, has the right to express her opinion. But as a legislator and an elected representative of the American people, she should be aware about the consequences of her statements. No one expects her to become a sudden lover of Jews and Israel, but she should not be allowed to use her position on Capitol Hill to disseminate antisemitism while pretending to represent American values. Spouting antisemitic tropes should never be seen as acceptable. Anywhere.