Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s official portrait as freshman member of the 116th Congress. Photo courtesy of Kristie Boyd, U.S. House Office of Photography & Wikimedia Commons.
by Angel John, COLUMNIST
14 March 2019
Freshman member of Congress Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) has been making headlines with her series of anti-Semitic comments.
The development of the controversy
Just after being seated on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar was publicly criticized for a 2012 tweet referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
In early February of this year, Omar argued that U.S. lawmakers support Israel because of campaign donations from Jewish donors, the congresswoman tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to $100 bills. Critics immediately jumped on the tweet saying that Omar was calling up a negative stereotype of Jewish Americans.
In another tweet soon after, Omar said the the bipartisan organization, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), was funding Republican support for Israel.
This tweet received bipartisan backlash, and Omar was widely accused for anti-Semitic rhetoric. Omar later apologized after members of House leadership, including the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on Omar to “immediately apologize for these hurtful comments. Omar said she was only learning about “the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes” but held onto her criticism of the lobbying of the AIPAC.
The latest Omar controversy comes from her remarks at an event in a bookstore called Busboys and Poets located in Washington where she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Again, an attack on the Jewish lobbyists.
The issue I have is not with the tweets she wrote to the world and later recanted. I do believe that her apology was genuine and that she was ignorant of anti-Semitism in America. My issue has to do with her stance on AIPAC.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, first Somali-American, first refugee, and after the change of an age old rule in Congress that prohibited headwear, she became the first person to wear a hijab on the House floor. I applaud her for being a trailblazer in our current Congress and giving a voice to those who were not given one in the past.
However, that does not excuse her from her derogatory language towards the Jewish people. Bigotry is bigotry whether you wear a MAGA cap or a hijab on the crown of your head.
Omar called out AIPAC for being a powerful lobbying group that affects policy and promotes allegiance to a foreign country.
First of all, claiming that the Jewish people have “dual loyalty” has been an accusation used for centuries and is a common anti-Semitic cliché. Secondly, most people do have a reverence to their country of origin. Omar may feel that way towards her birthplace, Somalia. I feel that way towards India and so do the Jews towards Israel. That does not make anyone less American. Finally, how can she accuse AIPAC when CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations), does the same but for Muslim-Americans? Lobbying is lobbying and it will continue to happen, and those groups are given the right to do so.
So, her words were indeed anti-Semitic by the very definition of the word.
The resolution and responses
In response to this recent uproar, the House, in an overwhelming majority (407-23), approved H.Res.183 on March 7th, to condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and all other forms of bigotry.
The 23 representatives opposed to this resolution were all from the Republican party. On MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) the most senior member to vote “no” on this resolution, said to host Chuck Todd, “I decided to vote against it because I think it was really clearly an effort to actually protect Ilhan Omar, to cover up her bigotry and anti-Semitism by refusing to name her. The kind of anti-Semitism that you’re seeing now from Ilhan Omar and that has been supported by her colleagues is the kind of anti-Semitism that really has the ability to creep in and become normalized in our discourse. And we have an absolute obligation not to let that happen.”
This excuse is absolutely ridiculous. To vote no on a resolution that condemns hate speech and racism in Congress because you see it as a cover-up to someone else’s hate speech and racism makes no sense. You should not vote for something based on external factors that do not affect the contents of what you are voting for. Besides, it is a resolution that condemns the words that Omar said, so Cheney and the 22 other Republicans vote “no” indicates that they support racism and bigotry in Congress rather than their criticism of Omar.
The sad thing is that in this extremely polarized age in America, Congress could not even unanimously agree to not hate, not necessarily because they disagree with the resolution but simply because of their contempt of the other side.
What they did agree on was that Omar’s words were unacceptable.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N. Y.) the chairman of the committee that Omar sits, said that her comments were unacceptable and deeply offensive by calling into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the US-Israel relationship.
“Her comments were outrageous and deeply hurtful, and I ask that she retract them, apologize, and commit to making her case on policy issues without resorting to attacks that have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives,” Engel said, according to a report published by the Washington Post on March 4th.
President Donald Trump even went so far as to say that Omar’s apology was “lame” and called for her resignation according to a report published by the Associated Press of February 12th.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress. I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the foreign affairs committee,” Trump said.
It seems rather odd that our president would suggest that someone should resign because of saying something that can be perceived as racist. He is the man that said that there were good people on both sides at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charleston, Virginia, and he is the man that said that Mexicans are rapists. However, he is still the man sitting in the Oval Office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shared the same sentiments as the President.
“It is unconscionable for any member of the United States Congress, even less a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to repeatedly traffic in base stereotypes,” McConnell said on the Senate floor according to a report published by the Washington Post on March 6th.
I personally think the amount of criticism she is getting is due to the fact that she is a Muslim woman. If her fellow non-Muslim colleagues used the same “anti-Semitic” rhetoric they would not nearly have been as criticized as Omar has in the past weeks. There have been so many cases of bigotry and anti-Semitism by U.S. politicians from the left and the right, but everyone turns a blind eye towards it. However, for Omar, she has been receiving backlash from the moment she sat in office.
Recently, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) deleted a tweet about Tom Steyer and George Soros that critics claimed was anti-Semitic.
“We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA,” McCarthy wrote in the tweet,” McCarthy wrote in the tweet according to a report published by CBS on October 29th, 2018.
The tweet perpetuates a common Jewish stereotype that Jews only care about money. However, McCarthy did not nearly receive as much backlash or media attention as Omar did, although it was arguably the same thing.
Anti-Semitism in America
This whole story should remind America of the rise of anti-Semitism in our country from both the left and right.
In February of 2018, the Anti-Defamation League released an annual report, and the report found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL began tracking incident data in the 1970s.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise in America. Omar has been a scapegoat for it in a sense, but this anti-Semitic attitude has been increasing for years.
Due to the accessibility of the internet, anti-Semitic speech has been prevalent online. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and hate-mongers have a platform to freely spread their vile messages in anonymity, despite the efforts to limit them.
We all remember the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue that took place October 27th, 2018, Sabbath day, which took the lives of 11 people. The deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. A year after we all watched in horror as Neo-Nazi’s march in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
According to a report published by the New York Times on February 18th, 2019, that there have already been 36 anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York this year. Since the start of this year, police have made numerous arrests on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn for spray-painted swastikas and other similar acts. One video showed an Orthodox Jewish man hanging on to a fence as an attacker jumped and choked him.
We must take this situation as an incentive to protect our minority groups. Hatred is rapidly growing in our society, and we need to counteract it. This anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism must end.
Angel John is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.