The Ilhan Omar Affair

Can a Muslim American politician be critical of Israel and her American supporters without being anti-Semitic?

The answer to this question is obviously: yes. There is no question, or there shouldn’t be one. First of all, it doesn’t matter whether she is Muslima, Christian, Jew or something else. Religion should not be considered in such matters. Her criticism should be judged on its merits, and maybe on its ulterior motives, but not on her religious affiliation. The fact that the US Congress has Muslims representing Muslims and others, and that she is a woman, should be compounded causes for celebration. Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee and daughter of a Somali refugee father (her mother died when she was two) makes this country ever so slightly less absurdly European white male dominated. Her deviance from this norm is part of why she is paying a steep price for her outspokenness. It’s also why others on the new left have been declaring their solidarity with Omar, even though her comments about Jews and supporters of Israel were needlessly offensive. Which brings us to the next point.

Can a Muslim American politician be critical of Israel and her American supporters without being anti-Semitic? One would hope so. As Tom Friedman wrote in the NYTimes, one can be a Jew from Minnesota, criticize AIPAC and loathe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not veer into anti-Semitic territory. One might counter that the reason why Tom Friedman can say things that Ilhan Omar can’t and not be accused of anti-Semitism is simply that he is Jewish. But non-Jews have been able to criticize Israel, Israeli policies, and Israeli politicians without accusing Jews of dual allegiance, or insinuating that American support for Israel is bought by Jewish money (“the Benjamins, baby”). Ilhan Omar has complicated matters by apologizing for some of her remarks. But then she soldiered into the next faux pas. And so observers are puzzled: is she just inexperienced and blurts out things people around her say without thinking, or is she calculatingly appealing to her base? Either would be bad.

Now, on a scale from 1 to 10, how important is any of this? If we went by the amount of stuff written about this affair we would think that Western civilization itself is on the brink of collapse because of Ms. Omar’s annoying statements. People on the right see her remarks, and their defense by the left, as heralding the end of the exceptional status of Israel in American politics. Some would consider this a good thing, whereas others believe it is a sign that the America we know and love is doomed if we don’t speak up now and condemn the Congresswoman from Minnesota for her defamation of those of us who support and love Israel as the sovereign nation state of the Jews. (It should be allowed to ask since when and why Israel has become so central to the American narrative. In fact, that’s exactly what Ms. Omar is asking. She’s just not pointing her question in the right direction. It’s not the Jews, baby.)

After days of soul searching, reading around, and discussing how to respond to Ms. Omar I am left with the feeling that we are wasting our time. We are dealing with a case of hyper-moral narcissism. Why can’t we cut her some slack and let the matter die down? She will reveal what she is made of. We will find out what she really thinks. There are many bigots in Congress. Why shouldn’t some of them be Muslims?

Meanwhile we should all go back to working on some of the things that really matter: ending the humanitarian crisis at the southern border; working on getting HR1 through the Senate; exerting oversight over the many systemic abuses of power by the executive branch; having a decent human being elected to the presidency; and unite everyone behind the Green New Deal. Jews, Somalis, Muslims, Christians, queer, straight, what does it matter if we destroy our planet ? Now get back to work, everyone.

One Comment

trunnion ball valve posted on August 26, 2022 at 2:12 am

The Ilhan Omar Affair | Michael Zank1661494319

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