Ilhan Omar’s Words Were Cynically Twisted – And Democrats Were Part Of The Problem

Ilhan Omar has been treated disgracefully.

The Guardian (3/9/19)

This month, Nancy Pelosi tweeted a photo of Rolling Stone magazine, on which she is pictured posing next to three of the new young congresswomen. “A picture is worth 1,000 words but [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Jahana Hayes] and Nancy on the cover of @RollingStone is worth millions of dreams to women and girls across America,” Pelosi said. “To them we say: know your power. Know your worth. Have a plan. And be ready.”

While those are very inspirational words, Pelosi could have done with taking them a little more to heart herself. Instead she, and other Democratic leaders, have spent the last week disgracefully pandering to morally bankrupt hypocrites on the right, intent on smearing Omar as antisemitic. While Pelosi was keen to stand next to Omar in a photo touting the diversity of the Democratic party, she has proven rather less keen to stand up for her colleague in the face of bad-faith attacks.

Let’s recap this fiasco, shall we? A recent comment from Omar about the pro-Israel lobby immediately sparked accusations that she was being antisemitic. This is the second time Omar has faced such accusations; in February, she was widely denounced for tweeting “it’s all about the Benjamins baby” regarding American support of Israel.

It is fair to say that Omar could have been more careful about her language. It is not fair, however, to intentionally twist her remarks, or to automatically label criticism of Israel as antisemitic. And yet that is immediately what happened. In many corners, the response to her remarks seems to be driven not so much by a genuine concern about antisemitism but by a virulent hatred for Omar herself. As Joshua Leifer pointed out in the Guardian, Omar did not say anything about the pro-Israel lobby that other critics have not said before. “If she were not a black, hijab-wearing Muslim woman, the reaction to her words surely would have been different.”

It was always to be expected that Republicans would twist Omar’s words. However, Democrats like Pelosi should have been firmer in the face of what was clearly a bad-faith attack.

This is particularly important when antisemitism is on the rise. As Leifer writes: “It should not be difficult to recognize the meaningful distinction between Ilhan Omar’s recent comments and the kind of antisemitism and xenophobia surging on the right that led a rightwing extremist to murder 11 Jews in a synagogue. …

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This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct”

By Jeff Cohen
Common Dreams (3/7/19)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly still considering a symbolic “show vote” in Congress on an anti-Semitism and “hate” resolution – which would offer all the authenticity and honesty of a Soviet show trial. If Pelosi proceeds, it will prove Rep. Ilhan Omar’s point about the inordinate influence wielded over Congress by the “Israel-right or-wrong”/AIPAC lobby and its power to stifle criticism of Israel.

The anti-Omar resolution, whether mentioning Omar or not, was originated by two Democrats who are among Congress’s most longstanding pro-Israel diehards: Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey. Both endorsed Bush’s Iraq invasion. Both opposed Obama’s Iran nuke deal. Both supported Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

A large number of proud Jewish Americans—raised to believe in civil liberties and open discussion—are appalled by the campaign to muzzle Rep. Ilhan Omar, as well as Speaker Pelosi’s role in it.

I’m a proud Jew raised in a liberal family that supported civil rights and human rights. My experience growing up during the 1950s and 1960s was typical of many Jewish Americans. Like many Jews with this background, I’ve grown increasingly ashamed of Israel.

More openly racist and abusive of Palestinian rights

For 40 years, Israel has been ruled mostly by a series of right-wing governments – more and more openly racist and abusive of Palestinian rights. It’s not the land of tree-planting, kibbutzim and “a country treating its Arab minority nicely” that we were sold as youngsters.

That’s why a large number of proud Jewish Americans—raised to believe in civil liberties and open discussion—are appalled by the campaign to muzzle Rep. Ilhan Omar, as well as Speaker Pelosi’s role in it. We’re also appalled that human-rights-abusing Israel is virtually off-limits to debate.

Most Jews—the likes of Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner excepted—empathize with the refugee experience. Only a rare few cannot be impressed by the life story of Omar, who fled civil-war-torn Somalia and came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 12, knowing only two English phrases: “hello” and “shut up.” Now a Muslim Congresswoman, she’s recently faced hateful bias and threats.

Rep. Omar has made a simple and undeniable point – that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the funding it influences exert extraordinary power over Congress. Disputing that point is flat-earther terrain. The Capitol Hill farce of an “anti-hate” resolution would provide still more evidence on behalf of her argument.

Obscuring truth

Unfortunately, all the vague media references to Rep Omar’s “anti-Semitic remarks” obscure how truthful and non-hateful those comments were. You can see a series of her recent tweets here.

Progressive Jews are rushing to her defense because of tweets like this one that speak for us in a way few members of Congress ever have:  “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.”

In his Washington Post column “The dishonest smearing of Ilhan Omar,” Paul Waldman devastatingly countered the recent attack on Omar over her comment at a town hall: “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.”

The initial media frenzy in February over two of Omar’s tweets was so huge that it obscured the fact that the uproar was sparked by a total of seven words – and six of those words are the refrain of a famous Puff Daddy song.

It began when Omar retweeted Glenn Greenwald’s comment about GOP congressional leader Kevin McCarthy’s “attacking the free speech rights” of Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib for criticizing Israel – to which Omar, a known critic of money in politics, simply added the Puff Daddy refrain:  “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” (Benjamins refer to $100 bills.) When a tweeter asked her who Omar thinks is funding politicians to defend Israel, Omar responded with a one-word tweet: “AIPAC!”

Bullying congress

The feeding frenzy over these two flippant but truthful tweets forced Omar to apologize (something Trump has not been forced to do over hundreds of dishonest, racist and/or threatening ones).

Yet if you spend a day on Capitol Hill and talk (off-the-record) with a member of Congress about this topic, you’ll hear plenty about AIPAC’s awesome clout and its ability to unleash “Benjamins”  to bully Congress.  Books and articles have documented this truism.

According to the New York Times, AIPAC allies now want to oust Ilhan Omar from Congress and hope to “punish Ms. Omar . . . with a primary challenge in 2020.”

When the well-funded Israel-right-or-wrong lobby comes after her, we’ll likely see a massive counter-movement of progressive Jews and non-Jews “Standing with Omar” – and through the Internet, matching the other side Benjamin for Benjamin.

(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.)

Link to Story

  • Why False Accusations of Anti-Semitism Against Ilhan Omar Are So Harmful — Bad-faith smears of Omar and many others are being used to crush Palestinian rights, undermine social movements and divert attention from real anti-Semitism. … Read the Rest


Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy Supports Ilhan Omar’s Critique of Israel: It’s Time To Tell the Truth

Democracy Now! (3/8/19)

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, white supremacy and other forms of hate, following a week of debate among congressional Democrats. The controversy began after some lawmakers accused Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar of invoking anti-Semitic tropes while questioning U.S. foreign policy on Israel. The House leadership initially drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in what was seen as a direct rebuke of Omar. But many progressive Democrats said Omar, one of the first two Muslim Congresswoman in U.S. history, was unfairly being singled out.

The split within the Democratic Party forced the leadership to withdraw its initial resolution and then present a much broader one. Congressmember Ilhan Omar voted for and praised the new resolution in a joint statement with fellow Muslim lawmakers Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana. We speak with Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist and member of the newspaper’s editorial board. His latest piece is headlined “Keep It Up, Ilhan Omar.”

Link to Story, Transcript and 6-Minute Video


Rep. Ilhan Omar Wanted To Discuss Palestine. Here’s What’s Happened There Since

Israeli soldiers have killed two Palestinians just this week.

The HuffPost (3/8/19)

On Wednesday afternoon, as lawmakers and journalists fixated on efforts to censure Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for saying political influence made American politicians unduly loyal to Israel and afraid of criticizing its policies, 15-year-old Saif A-Din Abu Zaied lay dying in a Gaza hospital after being shot in the head by Israeli soldiers.

Zaied and other Palestinians didn’t get a mention in the resolution Democratic leadership pushed through the next day that condemned various forms of hate, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism. And the discussion of Omar’s comments ended up mostly being about America’s national conversation: What’s really shaping policy toward Israel if it’s not, as the congresswoman once claimed, “all about the Benjamins” and how this country has, from the Oval Office on down, kept alive the bigotry she’s accused of invoking.

That left the underlying human rights crisis as overlooked as Omar suggested. “Nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine,” she said last week at the bookstore appearance where she sparked her latest controversy.

So, in the spirit of refocusing a smidgen of the sudden attention to U.S.-Israel relations to the millions whose lives are affected by them on a daily basis, consider the news out of Palestine ― the West Bank, globally considered illegally occupied by Israel since 1967, and Gaza, which Israel has cut off from the outside world since the militant group Hamas took over in 2007 ― since Omar spoke. …

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Ilhan Omar’s Denunciation Of Israel Lobby Is Not Anti-Semitism


The Real News (3/5/19)

Democrats’ resolution denouncing anti-semitism is aimed at stopping criticism of Israel and at silencing a Black Muslim refugee woman who is not anti-semitic – Phyllis Bennis joins Marc Steiner.

Link to 12-Minute Video