Ilhan Omar shouldn’t have to apologize

Ben Borrok, Senior Writer

House Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was forced to apologize on Feb. 18 by fellow Democrats for comments that were seen as anti-Semitic. On Twitter, Omar responded to tweets where she stated that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel group based in Washington, was funding American support for Israel. Critics immediately identified a seemingly anti-Semitic trope regarding Jewish populations and finance, a stereotype perpetuated since the Middle Ages. Instantly, a firestorm ignited on Twitter, with figures such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Chelsea Clinton leading the way. The pressure was put on Omar when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced her statements and asked for an apology. While the story looks straightforward, there are many other forces working behind the scenes and ultimately, in my opinion, Omar should not have been required to apologize for her statements.

 

Omar’s statements, as she later said herself, were not made to allude to ‘Jews in Finance’ but were rather made to point out the issue with lobbying in politics. Regardless, she is identifying a trend in American politics that has become taboo for politicians to discuss. AIPAC, along with the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has worked to shift the paradigm on criticism of the Israeli government, causing such appraisal to be misconstrued as anti-Semitism. Much of the legitimate criticisms made of Israel have been swept aside or played down to maintain the relationship with Israel and the U.S. primary connection to the Middle East. The younger generation of Americans has increasingly picked up on this ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ partnership the two share and many feel it hinders progress on peaceful solutions regarding Palestine, as well as the greater Middle East. Omar, just like every other American, has the right to share her opinion and criticize our allies when their actions defy our humanitarian beliefs.

 

The Democrats had an opportunity here to defend their young Congresswoman from bogus Republican attacks, but Pelosi has repeatedly shown that she is not willing to go to the mat for progressive opinions. First, she played down the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then she talked down ideas of aggressively pressuring the Trump Administration, and now she shies away from legitimate criticism of Israeli lobbying in Washington. It is a common fear amongst Democrats that a push away from its popular young progressives in favor of centrist, Republican-pleasing policies may result in a party fracture that can ruin the 2020 push for the presidency.

 

Much of the criticism Omar received is especially rich, considering who it came from. McCarthy–who demanded an apology along with the stripping of Omar’s committee assignments–has previously made anti-Semitic statements targeting Jews who were “trying to buy the election” this past fall. President Donald Trump, who called for Omar’s resignation, has included anti-Semitic tropes in speeches at pro-Israel events before and received raucous applause from the audience, which seems to prove Omar’s point. Trump holds the same Middle East policy as Netanyahu and has shown support for West Bank settlements and for moving the capital to Jerusalem. AIPAC and other similarly minded groups seem to excuse anti-Semitism when it benefits them, but harp on criticism of Israel and frame the story in a different light. Omar is no stranger to this type of double standard, as she has been fighting it her whole life.

 

As a refugee and a Muslim, Omar fell victim to ruthless Islamophobia throughout her congressional campaign from Internet trolls and her opponent at the time. Communities on Facebook claimed she was an ISIS supporter and even a member of ISIS herself. Her headscarf was subject to conspiracy theories about Sharia Law and her intentions as a congresswoman. This, in particular, became immensely popular among Trump supporters. Yet, despite all of this, there was no plea for civility from either Democrats or Republicans, so it seems hypocritical to suddenly demand respect. Omar has maintained her dignity despite hostility from her peers and I hope she will continue to seek out the truth as a member of Congress.

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