Here’s what backlash against Ilhan Omar says about American anti-semitism

Donnie Harris, Staff Writer

Ilhan Omar, the representative of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, has repeatedly been under fire for remarks deemed anti-Semitic by many. Omar, as a woman of color, a practicing Muslim and an active critic of the Israeli government, walks a fine line in the public eye. Such a quick backlash from members of both her own party and the public at large have raised a serious question: Are critics of Israel branded anti-Semitic all too quickly?

In 2012, Omar posted a tweet saying that, “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and that she hoped, “Allah would awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” In February of this year, she also tweeted, referring to the pro-Israel interest group AIPAC, that US-Israeli relations are “all about the Benjamins baby.” Here it is clear that Omar is alluding to the role that money plays in international affairs and that the US’s relationship with Israel is about American  and Israeli financial interests. In the following weeks, Omar again criticized the pro-Israel agenda as pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country.” Repeatedly, Omar’s comments have evoked criticism by many who have taken her commentary on the Israeli government and misinterpreted it to be considered targeting Jews instead. Omar has repeatedly denied that her comments were meant to be anti-Semitic, recanting some of her previous remarks, but sticking to her stance as a pro-Palestine member of congress, even in the face of such overwhelming criticism.

In a time where political correctness has become a major component in politics, the Democratic party has come to pride itself for its status on the moral high-ground. Whether advocating for women and minority rights or checking members of both the opposition as well as fellow Democrats for inflammatory or offensive behavior, the party has construed itself as the champion of progressivism and the protector of human rights. Their morals are failing, however. Both sides of the aisle have come together to fight a perceived presence of anti-semitism within the ranks of congress, yet fail to acknowledge when members who are actually overtly anti-semitic make remarks (as demonstrated via California Congressman McCarthy’s comments against prominent Jewish politicians such as George Soros). If liberals are unable to recognize the inherent Islamophobia and racism underlying attacks on Omar, we can’t begin to have an actual conversation on whether or not Omar’s remarks were anti-semitic in the first place.    


The truth is that Omar’s comments were not overtly prejudiced. Omar is criticizing a regime guilty of numerous human rights violations, ranging from the illegal occupation of what many consider to be sovereign lands, to the unlawful shooting of protesters, journalists, and even children. She is not attacking the Jewish community. However, due to Israel’s stance as a critical ally of the US as well as the political influence of pro-Israel interest groups such as AIPAC, many critics, including Omar, have become chastised for simply speaking out on injustices committed in the international community. By invalidating Omar’s challenges of Israel as nothing more than blatant ignorance, we the people of the United States fail to hold our government accountable for its affiliation with a regime that is not as innocent as many would like to believe. Instead, the wording of her government-centric criticism was misconstrued and loosely linked to age-old stereotypes of Jews as manipulating and controlling world events and wealth.

Regardless of the controversial nature of Ms. Omar’s comments, she is certainly not the only critic of Israel. Israel has come under further scrutiny from organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Human Rights Watch, the UN, and even individuals such as Angela Davis and Alan Rickman.

Of course, it would be foolhardy and dangerous to ignore the presence of anti-semitism in modern politics. From over-the-top conspiracy theories on Infowars to the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, it is clear that anti-Semitism is alive and well. Blindly sweeping prejudice under the rug and writing it off as nothing more than “political criticism” would only further perpetuate centuries of hate. However, it is equally important to be careful not to be too hasty to label someone as anti-semitic. As with many topics in the media, it is important to be a mindful consumer of information and not only review the headlines, but to also look at the full story as well. Look up Omar’s comments on Twitter, read what is being said from the source, not just the excerpts from the front page. When relating Omar’s comments to the broader context of the Israeli-Palestine conflict as a whole, it is clear to see that she is not spewing hate speech, but instead is trying to invoke a sense of consciousness in the people regarding the inequity we currently see in the Middle East.