OPINION: Smearing of Ilhan Omar isn’t about anti-Semitism

Posted on Mar 4 2019 - 5:50am by Suad Patton-Bey

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has been in hot water recently, with accusations of anti-Semitism coming from both parties.

The controversy erupted last month after Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is behind American lawmakers support for Israel.

However, that wasn’t the first time Omar criticized Israel on Twitter. In 2012, Omar tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.”

She has since apologized for and deleted the problematic tweets, but that hasn’t satisfied her critics, particularly from the right.

An Islamophobic sign made by the Republican Party of West Virginia and falsely linking the congresswoman to the 9/11 attacks was posted at the Capitol. The same party accusing Omar of  perpetuating anti-Semitic myths felt it was completely appropriate to do the same to Muslims.

Last Wednesday, Omar spoke at a town hall event expressing her concern that she was being unfairly punished because of her religion and the stereotype that Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic.

“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,” the Democratic congresswoman said.

Her comments were met with hostility and criticism from House Foreign Affairs Committee member Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who demanded that Omar apologize for her “vile, anti-Semitic slur.”

The truth is that AIPAC is a powerful organization whose financial influence does play a crucial role in American politics. Like the NRA and other organizations, AIPAC spends lots of money on lobbying, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018 alone. On its website, AIPAC credits the U.S. Congress with providing Israel with “the strongest support of any institution in the world.”

Of course, the alliance between the U.S. and Israel can’t be reduced to just dollars. The two countries share similar values and maintain complementary interests in the Middle East, but it would be naive to assume that money plays no role. In this world, money really does talk.

The smearing of Omar by both parties isn’t about anti-Semitism. It’s about silencing any criticism of the Israeli government, especially its treatment of Palestinian civilians and its building of illegal settlements. It has become a trend to label any criticism of Israel or AIPAC as anti-Semitic, which is extremely problematic.

Standing up to injustice shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Anti-Semitism is real, and it is on the rise globally. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fight for the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. We can do both — we must do both.

Suad Patton-Bey is a senior journalism major from Oxford.