This past week, the U.S. midterms made history, electing an unprecedented wave of women leaders tasked with taking back our democracy. Amongst them is 36-year-old Ilhan Omar, elected to Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.
Omar, a Black Muslim woman and a Somali-American refugee, has made history three-fold: as the first hijabi in Congress, the first Somali-American legislator, and one of the first Muslim women in Congress.
Her predecessor, Keith Ellison, may have been Muslim – and he faced his share of Islamophobic vitriol as well – but he wasn’t a visibly Muslim woman, and a Black Muslim woman at that, who is also an immigrant and a refugee, from a country on the Muslim ban list; a conglomerate of traits and identities that are seemingly targeted by the GOP with various policies such as the Muslim ban and current immigration policies.
Another analysis shows that President Donald Trump consistently targets Black people and women with insults about their intelligence. This has been further compounded by President Trump’s recent attacks on Black women, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, and those in the press, that occurred just this past week.
And in fact, when Trump was asked a question about Omar and another Muslim woman winning their elections to become the first two Muslim women elected to Congress being a “rebuke” to his policies, he pretended he couldn’t understand the reporter.
“The people in my district and the folks that I represent who have ties to that region understand how necessary it is for us to advocate, and not abdicate because it is politically expedient; but advocate because we know right from wrong.” – Ilhan Omar on Palestine tweet
Some of Omar’s naysayers have attacked her because of her criticism of the Israeli government. Charges of “anti-Semitism” were lobbied at her because of her condemnations of the Israeli government for their actions in Palestine.
In May 2018, Omar’s 2012 tweet was cited yet again, when a Twitter user posted a screen shot of the 2012 tweet and called Omar a “proud Jew hater.” Omar responded that “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews,” confirming that her tweet was indeed a condemnation of the Israeli government.
Criticism of the Israeli government should not be confused with anti-Semitism. In fact, conflating criticism of the government with anti-Semitism is in and of itself anti-Semitic, because you’re otherwise silencing and discounting the opinions of a large portion of Jewish people right here in the United States, who rightfully criticize the Israeli government for their actions in Palestine.
For example, in a 2013 Pew Research survey, only a quarter of American Jews aged 18-29 felt that Netanyahu’s government was “making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians.” Overall, across all age brackets, less than half of American Jews (only 38%) felt that the Israeli government was making a sincere effort at peace with Palestinians. A whopping 44% felt that settlement construction was detrimental to Israel’s own security interests.
The criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitism because it has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a brutal government committing human rights violations against an occupied peoples with little to no rights to self-determination. What is anti-Semitism is not to criticize a brutal government committing human rights violations against an occupied peoples, but to erase the opinions of these Jewish people living in Israel and abroad because it is politically inconvenient for those that support the Israeli government and its criminal tactics. tweet
Criticism of the Israeli government isn’t just for American Jews; one in four Jewish Israelis support the right to return for Palestinian refugees.
Jewish Israelis also freely protest the Israeli government’s actions in Palestine; several hundred Israelis, predominately Jews, have gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest with not nary a problem from Israeli forces — no instances of police brutality — whilst Palestinian protestors are met with extrajudicial punishments and force.
There are two sets of rules and governance: one for Israelis, and one for Palestinians. Palestinians who throw rocks can be met with lethal force; there have even been allegations of lethal force against unarmed protestors. Settlers who throw stones are often not prosecuted, let alone met with lethal force. This is reminiscent of apartheid.
The criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitism because it has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a brutal government committing human rights violations against an occupied peoples with little to no right to self-determination.
What is anti-Semitism is not to criticize a brutal government committing human rights violations against an occupied peoples, but to erase the opinions of these Jewish people living in Israel and abroad because it is politically inconvenient for those that support the Israeli government and their criminal tactics.
Ilhan Omar, a refugee who fled the civil war in Somalia with her family, knows about the realities of war all too well. She was only 12 years old when she came to the United States with her family. She spoke no English; only Somali. It’s because of her own childhood marred by war that she identifies with the plight of Palestinians.
Muslim Girl had the chance to speak with the newly-elected Congresswoman about her stance on Palestine, and why it’s so important to advocate for Palestine.
Says Omar, “For me, that particular issue really is about making sure that we are people who understand that there is oppression happening, and speak to that as you would for issues that are safe. I believe that it doesn’t really matter who you are, and where you live, and who has empowered you; no one has a right ever to transgress on other’s rights. For me, in that particular region, that is one where I am constantly thinking back to my kids, knowing that as a kid, I lived through war, and I know the pains that causes you as a child. Looking at my kids, that’s not something that would I want for them now. When I see the kind of weapons that are being used to fight kids who are throwing rocks, I think that’s injustice, and so that has propelled me to feel like I needed to say something. I think when we are thinking about this particular region, it’s one that really needs true advocacy. It needs people that are not afraid to speak truth. It is a region that has power extremely lopsided. When we are given an opportunity to look at the world, and dream of a place where people are treated equally, and people are allowed the opportunity for self-determination, we cannot dream of that world without having this particular region in mind.”
Omar says that her faith has guided her to be a better person and fight for justice and the rights of others, saying that she fights for humanity as a whole. “I don’t really pay attention to the stuff people say I am, because what I know is I am a fighter for human rights, and I am a fighter for justice, and I am someone who fights for everybody’s humanity to be uplifted, and for everyone to have a fair shake in life,” she continued.
“The people in my district and the folks that I represent who have ties to that region understand how necessary it is for us to advocate, and not abdicate because it is politically expedient; but advocate because we know right from wrong.”
Congresswoman-elect Omar’s stance is backed by international law and evidence and statements from numerous prominent international rights groups, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, amongst others.
Omar has been criticized for a past video, believed to have been filmed in August 2018, where she says that she supports a “two-state solution” and says BDS is “not helpful in getting that two-state solution.” She says in the video, “I think that the particular purpose for it (BDS) is to put pressure, and I think that that pressure is really counteractive. Because in order for us to have a process to getting to a two-state solution, people need to be willing to come to the table…… I think that (BDS) stops the dialogue.”
On November 11, 2018, Omar’s campaign told Muslim Girl that “Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement, and has fought to make sure people’s right to support it isn’t criminalized. She does however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.” Her campaign confirmed that Congresswoman-elect Omar voted against an anti-BDS bill in Minnesota. At the time, she spoke passionately about how BDS worked in South Africa, as told to her by her grandfather. Of her vote, Omar said, “I don’t want to be part of a vote that limits the ability of people to fight towards that justice and peace.”