The campaign to make Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism unassailable

The knee-jerk support from minority organizations, the media and the left is part of broader effort to dismiss any criticism of the Minnesota congresswomen’s statements as its own form of bigotry.

Ilhan Omar speaking at a VoteRunLead training. Credit: Zoe Griffing Heller via Wikimedia Commons.
Ilhan Omar speaking at a VoteRunLead training. Credit: Zoe Griffing Heller via Wikimedia Commons.
Steven Emerson, founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Credit: Courtesy.
Steven Emerson
Steven Emerson is founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Two prominent American-Islamist political activists, both avowed opponents of Israel’s existence, renewed complaints that the recent controversy involving U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s series of anti-Semitic statements was unjust.

At a news conference at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia, Osama Abuirshaid, who previously worked for a Hamas-support network in America and leads one of the country’s most prominent organizations pushing for an economic, social, academic and political boycott of Israel, called it “an orchestrated controversy.” Nihad Awad, who also was part of a Hamas-support network in the United States and has been the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)’s only executive director, echoed Omar when he repeated a demonstrably false trope that “the debate [about Israel] that has been prohibited. The influence of the pro-Israel forces on our government officials’ decisions, vis-à-vis aid to the State of Israel.”

It’s part of broader effort to dismiss any criticism of Omar’s statements as its own form of bigotry. Omar (D-Minn.) first drew attention regarding anti-Semitism during last summer’s congressional primary campaign. A 2012 Twitter post she wrote during a conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza said that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” and she prayed that “Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

She apologized in January for trying to rationalize her invocation centuries-old smears alleging Jews’ ability to control the world, saying “it’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”

Just two weeks later, she again took to Twitter to invoke an anti-Semitic stereotype—this time about Jewish money and power.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote to explain why she and fellow Democrat and Israel-basher Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) draw attention for their “criticisms of Israel.” Asked who she was referring to, Omar wrote, “AIPAC!” referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Under pressure from House Democrats, Omar again apologized, again saying she was “listening and learning” and never meant “to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” She stayed silent, however, as Islamist supporters used the controversy to raise money for Omar’s re-election.

Omar then struck again, claiming that, as a member of Congress, she is pressured “to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country,” which invoked another centuries-old smear of Jews—that their faith or support for Israel constitutes a dual loyalty. It is a common refrain among Israel-bashers.

Despite this troubling pattern of behavior, a House resolution pushed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi never mentioned Omar and was weakened dramatically when it was broadened to condemn many forms of bigotry, not just anti-Semitism.

That didn’t stop people from claiming Omar was treated unfairly.

“Because she was a hijab-wearing Muslim, who was critical of Israel, the GOP sought to exploit her in their continuing effort to drive a wedge between the Jewish community and Democrats,” American Arab Institute president James Zogby wrote. “For their part, some Democrats reacted with hyperventilated outrage. Extreme language was used to denounce Omar. Her words were described as ‘bigoted,’ ‘vile’ and, of course, ‘anti-Semitic slurs.’ ”

To Zogby, Omar never said anything that stereotyped Jews.

“What she did do was challenge official American, and in particular, congressional silence on the suffering of the Palestinians, the efforts by pro-Israel groups to silence debate on this issue, and the virtual identity that pro-Israel groups have established between being pro-Israel with American interests,” he wrote.

In calling her the victim of an “orchestrated controversy,” Abuirshaid falsely described Omar’s comments as daring “to speak against the Zionist lobby in the U.S. and the policies of the Israeli government.” He then bemoaned the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which specifically acknowledges that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” though dual loyalty smears and denying Israel’s right to exist can. [Emphasis original]

“So now this could be again used as another accusation against our community of being anti-Semitic just because we dared to speak against the Israeli policies,” said Abuirshaid. “This has nothing to do with Jews.”

Remi Kanazi, a poet and member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s organizing committee, insisted that “Omar said nothing wrong,” and claimed that a critic was a racist triggered by “a black Muslim woman speaking up.”

Tablet columnist James Kirchick noticed the trend and succinctly defined it: “Reading the many progressive identity-based defenses of Omar, which repeatedly and pointlessly invoke the fact that she is a hijabi-wearing black refugee being criticized by a white native-born American woman, one gets the impression that this particular legislator can pretty much say whatever she wants and expect to be absolved for it: Her canonization as a left-wing hero is necessary, and irrevocable.”

Tlaib appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” last week to discuss the March 15 terrorist attack that killed 50 Muslims inside two New Zealand mosques. News anchor Jake Tapper asked why she recently said, “I think Islamophobia is very much among the Democratic Party, as well as the Republican Party.”

Anti-Muslim bias is “part of” the reaction, even among Democrats, to Omar’s repeated controversies, she told Tapper.

“Is it because she’s a black Muslimah? Is it because it’s around the issue of human-rights violations from the country of Israel? I don’t know,” said Tlaib.

Other people say bad things but don’t generate the same attention, she said.

It’s no coincidence that many of the people making these arguments oppose not only Israeli policies, but the nation’s very existence.

Abuirshaid, for instance, blamed Israel for the Syrian civil war and for the Egyptian military’s 2013 ouster of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. “Israel,” he told the 2016 Muslim American Society/Islamic Circle of North America convention, “is a direct challenge to the entire region. Israel is risking the entire region … remember that Israel was not created just to take and to swallow Palestine. It was created to divide and to weaken that part of the world.”

Linda Sarsour, who has never apologized for blaming Jews for police shootings of unarmed black people in America and who blamed “Jewish media” for giving her a bad reputation, says Omar is just one of a series of activists being shut down over nothing.

Steven Emerson is founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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