Ilhan Omar and the weaponization of antisemitism

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‘That this is the second round of such condemnation of Omar in the span of a month is sadly not surprising.’ (photo: Joshua Roberts / Getty Images)
It should not be difficult to recognize the meaningful distinction between Ilhan Omar’s recent comments and the kind of antisemitism surging on the right.

By Joshua Leifer | The Guardian | Mar 6, 2019

Omar did not say anything that other critics have not said before: that the pro-Israel lobby enforces rigid support for the increasingly rightwing Israeli government’s policies. . . . If she were not a black, hijab-wearing Muslim woman, the reaction to her words surely would have been different.

Ilhan Omar’s most recent comments have been stripped entirely of their context, their intentions twisted and reversed. During an event in Washington DC last week, she spoke sensitively about her commitment to human rights advocacy, her experiences of Islamophobia, and her compassion for her Jewish constituents. Then Omar said: “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 . . . I want to ask, why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil-fuel industries, or big pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”

It wasn’t long before Republicans and centrist Democrats pounced. The backlash has reached such a degree of absurdity that Omar’s own party plans to censure her for her remarks. This is something the Democrats did not do in response to baldly antisemitic statements by Republicans, nor even, as Jeffrey Isaac wisely points out, in the wake of the massacre in Pittsburgh last October — the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history, incited by Donald Trump and his supporters’ xenophobic rhetoric.

To be sure, Omar’s comments were not perfect — few people are flawless during unscripted panels or debates. And given the unfair and disproportionate amount of scrutiny she faces, perhaps it would have been wiser to have avoided some of the terms she used — in particular, “allegiance to a foreign country.” But what she said was not antisemitic: on the contrary, the full text of Omar’s remarks shows that she was careful not to conflate the pro-Israel lobby (which is also comprised of non-Jewish evangelical Zionists) or the state of Israel with all Jews, nor did she employ the dual loyalty canard, which asserts that Jews are more loyal to each other (or Israel) than to the countries they live in.

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