Media Analysis

‘I am told I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel’ and that’s problematic — Ilhan Omar stands strong amid blizzard of attacks

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Ilhan Omar’s statement last week about the role of the Israel lobby– “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country” — has ignited a firestorm of criticism, including from House Democratic colleagues such as Eliot Engel, chair of House Foreign Affairs, who called on her to apologize for a “vile, anti-semitic slur.” Engel is a regular at the Israel lobby organization AIPAC, where he has promised to keep support for Israel bipartisan.

Nita Lowey has also been outspoken against her colleague:

Lawmakers must be able to debate w/o prejudice or bigotry. I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.

Lowey is also an AIPAC regular. That event was closed to the public, in a Westchester temple.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz has also slammed her colleague:

Sadly, misunderstandings over anti-Semitic, hurtful comments continue, as does hateful Islamaphobic rhetoric. Dialogue leads to understanding. @IlhanMN, repeated misunderstandings would seem to require dialogue to avoid repetitive harm.

Wasserman Schultz led the cheers for Netanyahu when he came to the Congress in 2011 and defended settlements against the pressure from President Obama. She and Eliot Engel have embraced Israeli rightwinger Naftali Bennett, who is now leading the charge to annex the West Bank.

Ilhan Omar has stood strong. Here is her thread from yesterday afternoon, responding to Nita Lowey. Note that she calls out her colleagues for being silent. Note that she finds it problematic that “I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel.” And she knows many agree with her. “I just happen to be willing to speak up.”

Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!

I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end.

I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.

My Americanness is questioned by the President and the on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent. I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.

I am in the Horn of Africa this weekend, proud to see peace prosper here and to be part of the first American delegation to Eritrea🇪🇷 in decades is one I am grateful for. I fight peace and justice because only those who experience the pain of war, know the joy of peace. ✊🏽

Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic. I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.
We must be willing to combat hate of all kinds while also calling out oppression of all kinds. I will do my best to live up to that. I hope my colleagues will join me in doing the same.

Many are standing up for Omar. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, is about the only one in the Congress though:

[email protected]’s strength inspires me and so many. She is being targeted just like many civil rights icons before us who spoke out about oppressive policies. As she uplifts my Sity [Tlaib’s grandmother in Palestine] and other Palestinians in the name of justice and peace, she shows us real courage.

The progressive base is with Omar, in yet another sign that the party will divide over Israel. Jim Zogby writes:

This thread by @IlhanMN is absolutely amazing. It is a must read. She is so strong. Thank you Ilhan. You are opening a debate we’ve needed, and have not allowed critics who defame you or threats to silence you.

Nancy Pelosi has evidently been silent on this occasion but called on Omar to apologize on the last occasion, when Omar said that money drives the Israel support. Omar did apologize then.

Ali Abunimah writes.

Pelosi is happy to use @IlhanMN for self-serving “diversity” propaganda but not prepared to defend her against the Israel lobby’s racist, Islamophobic defamation that Omar is “anti-Semitic.” In fact Pelosi joined in the smear campaign. Vile!

Pelosi tweeted out the cover of Rolling Stone March 2 with this message: “A picture is worth 1,000 words but @aoc, @IlhanMN, @JahanaHayesCT and Nancy on the cover of @RollingStone is worth millions of dreams to women and girls across America. To them we say: know your power. Know your worth. Have a plan. And be ready. #WomensHistoryMonth.”

The progressive base of the party is supporting Omar. The District Sentinel responds to Wasserman Schultz:

Ilhan did nothing wrong you putrid operative. Jews critical of Zionism are among the loudest voices decrying Congress’ slavish devotion to Israel. Stop trying to encourage a racist smear campaign just because you support apartheid in Palestine.

Ryan Grim of the Intercept responded to Lowey:

The anti-BDS bill in Congress legislatively requires Americans to be loyal to Israel or face consequences. I guess the bill is guilty of furthering anti-Semitic tropes too…

Rightwing neocons are joining the pile-on against Omar to get her out of Congress. Ari Fleischer. And here is Eli Lake.

Eli Lake piles on to Ilhan Omar.

Ken Klipperstein responds to Eli Lake with a tweet from a couple of years ago by a libertarian feminist writer:

Elizabeth Nolan Brown responds to Eli Lake.

David Roth from Deadspin says of Omar’s thanks to Jewish supporters, and her assertion that criticism of Netanyahu is not anti-semitic.

The simplest thing in the world, and not remotely objectionable. Pay attention to who the people are pretending not to understand that.

Daniel Denvir of Jacobin weighs in on the lobby’s own definition of itself as a Jewish body rather than a Zionist one.

Defend @IlhanMN.

It’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel and its bipartisan American supporters.

What *is* anti-Semitic is her critics’ assumption that AIPAC/Netanyahu speak on behalf all American Jews, and that the Israel lobby is in fact a “Jewish lobby”—which it is not.

Eoin Higgins scores the racism:

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The continued attacks on @IlhanMN are based primarily in her race and religion and less in what she said.

“It’s great that a lot of liberals dismiss Ilhan’s legitimate criticism of the Israeli lobby as just being a dumb immigrant,” writes a “leftist vet” Fired4Troop

Jonathan Chait and Josh Marshall pile on to Ilhan Omar as being from an immigrant community.

Bret Stephens of the Times of course also saw anti-Semitism in Omar’s statement.

Nobody expects to pledge “allegiance” to Israel. But her attacks on pro-Israel Americans of doing so is a charge of dual loyalty. That is classic anti-Semitism.

Eli Clifton points to the allegiance issues inherent in Stephens’s own calls for Jews to support Israel:

Was it anti-Semitic when Bret Stephens said “it is a scandal, it seems to me, if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people”?

Remi Kanazi:

Bret Stephens refers to Arabs as diseased: Still has a job at the New York Times

Ilhan Omar criticizes Israel & lobby groups: She’s smeared, receives death threats, and is told to get out of the country

The lesson: Anti-Black, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim bigotry is of no concern

Tony Karon makes the point that Israel demands dual loyalty of the farflung members of its nation. His response to Stephens:

Oh? And when Israel demands to be recognized as “the national home of the Jewish people” despite the fact that the majority of us are part of the nations in which we live, that’s not anti-Semitism? Israel literally demands dual loyalty from Jewish Americans

It looks like we’re getting a real debate over the role of the Israel lobby, thanks to the courage and outspokenness of one politician, Ilhan Omar. And the debate is sure to get stronger as it tears at the Democratic Party.

Thanks to Adam Horowitz and Scott Roth. 

Correction: This post originally stated that Elizabeth Bowen Brown’s tweet was a response to Eli Lake’s tweet about Omar. She tweeted about Lake more than two years ago. The date was right on her tweet…

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… Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on… Read more »

I wonder if congressman Jordan.s anti semitic tweet will garner the same level of attention as Omar,s. “Ohio Republican and House Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan tweeted a common anti-Semitic trope implying that Jewish billionaire Tom Steyer was influencing House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler . Both Nadler and Steyer… Read more »

Is it possible that one brave and smart Muslim woman, backed by the good people who elected her in the face of Islamophobia, could bring down the entire edifice of fake charges of anti-Semitism that has so effectively served to quiet what everyone knows, that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians… Read more »

“Corbyn critic claims anti-capitalism is also anti-Semitism” In what looks like another desperate attempt to tarnish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semites, a Labour MP who has already threatened to quit the party over its leader’s handling of the crises facing it has suggested that “to be anti-capitalism is to… Read more »

What *is* anti-Semitic is her critics’ assumption that AIPAC/Netanyahu speak on behalf all American Jews, and that the Israel lobby is in fact a “Jewish lobby”—which it is not. Rep. Omar did not mention “Israel lobby” in her tweet; she mentioned AIPAC specifically. AIPAC is a member organization of the… Read more »