For the third time in two months US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has waded into antisemitism charges.
Following her “all about the Benjamins” tweets attacking AIPAC, she told a progressive audience in Washington, DC last week that she wanted to talk about “the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
The event at Busboys and Poets began with claims that voices like Omar’s had been silenced for decades and generations, according to a report in the website Jewish Insider. An audience member shouted “It is about the Benjamins,” approvingly reiterating a new deleted Omar tweet. The evening was obsessed with Israel. It sought to portray criticism of Israel as solely about government policies but Omar claimed that she was painted as antisemitic because she is Muslim.
“A lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be antisemitic because we are Muslim.”
This was a very smart way of preempting accusations of antisemitism, but simply pretending that in fact Omar is the victim because of her faith. But she went on to then attack “political influence in this country” and link it to “allegiance to a foreign country.”
This was clearly aimed at Israel, and not a critique of Israel’s policies, but of Americans.
This is the third iteration of these kinds of comments, that seem to be increasingly frequent and a growing obsession of Omar. In January, she defended a 2012 tweet in which she had attacked Israel for how it “hypnotized the world.” But she later said the tweet was “unfortunate and offensive.”
Then in early February she insinuated that other members of Congress were pro-Israel because “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Asked what she meant, she pointed to AIPAC. Later she retracted the tweets and apologized.
In the meeting last week, however, Omar appeared to go even further, and to have crafted a kind of preemptive defense of her views. Many are shocked. Seth Mandel, executive editor of the Washington Examiner, tweeted that the comments made her antisemitism “explicit once again.” Bret Stephens, columnist at The New York Times, “seems to calculate that if she makes only one blatantly antisemitic remark per week, progressives will forgive her.”
The latest comment will be difficult to walk back. Unlike the tweets, they can’t be deleted.
The problem is that she may now be normalizing these views. Given the past two apologies, it appears clear that the views at Busboys and Poets are articulating a deeply-held view. In this worldview, Jews and Israel seem to play a large role in her agenda.
Unlike other members of Congress who rarely discuss Jews and don’t focus on Israel that often, she seems to spend an almost obsessive amount of time on the issue. Her claim that she is portrayed as antisemitic because she is Muslim is a way to distract from the fact that it is she who has sought to focus so much on Israel.
There are many other issues she could focus on; the constant Israel comments and attempt to then turn the tables on critics by using her Muslim identity is a way to make this a Muslim-Jewish issue. She doesn’t just critique the Israeli government’s policies, she continually references pro-Israel influence in the US.
Why is Israel front and center for Omar? Congress isn’t being called upon to debate Israel issues that often. It is dealing with other scandals such as Michael Cohen’s testimony.
Omar sought to respond to accusations of antisemitism in an interview published on Thursday in The Intercept. She said she had apologized in the past “for the way that my words made people feel.”
But she went on to note that she was being condemned “for speaking the truth about, you know, the kind of influences that exist, that determine, you know, our foreign and domestic policies and for that I think, you know, my tweet kind of spoke of it.”
She went on to say that “the theme here is because I’m Muslim.” She argued that others have critiqued AIPAC influence and foreign policy. “No one calls them antisemitic because they are Jewish but when it comes to someone like me, even the slight mention of them…”
In the Intercept interview she appears to be constructing a clear framework and worldview. In this view she says she is merely speaking the truth about influence in Washington and that she is held to a different standard because she is Muslim and not Jewish. She doesn’t really think the previous tweets were problematic but deleted them because the words hurt people. This is important because it doesn’t appear she has thought through the issue of why they hurt people or were seen as offensive.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum