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Why Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel’s government isn’t anti-Semitic

“Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.”

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is already claiming her place in American history even though her official work as part of the new Democratic House majority won’t begin until January.

In addition to being the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress, along with Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the congresswoman-elect who lived in a refugee camp as a child after the outbreak of Somalia’s civil war and came to the United States at the age of 12 despite being unable to speak English, will be the first Somali-American congressional member and is poised to become the first lawmaker to wear religious headwear in Congress.

The story of the 36-year-old Democrat, whose interest in politics started “at age 14, when she would interpret for her grandfather at local caucuses,” and who became the first-ever Somali-American legislator by defeating a 40-year veteran of the Minnesota state legislature in 2016, is providing inspiration at a time when almost all of the news is always bad.

That is, unless you’re a conservative fear-mongerer.

Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism over her support of the BDS movement, which seeks to punish Israel financially, through boycott, divestment, and sanctions, for its unlawful actions against Palestinians.

This is not a new tactic, as anti-Semitism is often invoked when Israel is criticized for its widelycondemned mistreatment of Palestinian people.

However, the attacks have seemed particularly pointed against the first Muslim congresswoman-elect.

The right-wing echo chamber, notorious for either ignoring or failing to understand nuance, is using an August video of Omar to claim she has changed her views on the BDS movement since winning her election by nearly 60 percentage points.

What the Minnesota Democrat really said was she didn’t believe BDS was the best way to achieve a “two-state solution,” which she supports.

While in the Minnesota state House, Omar voted against a bill “prohibiting the state from doing business with vendors participating” in the BDS movement. Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN) signed the bill into law last year. Minnesota is one of 25 states, including Democratic strongholds like California and New York, to pass laws condemning the BDS movement or sanctioning officials from doing official business with its supporters.

During debate over Minnesota’s anti-BDS bill, Omar spoke about how effective the strategy of boycott, divestment, and sanctions was against apartheid-era South Africa.

In May, Omar responded to a tweet calling her “a proud Jew hater” to note the difference between support of the BDS movement and anti-Semitism.

Omar’s staff confirmed that “lhan 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.”

Despite all of this, the conservative freakout is in full effect.

President Donald Trump’s pal and scourge of Martha’s Vineyard Alan Dershowitz accused Democrats of “tolerating anti-Semitism” over Omar’s BDS stance. Jazz Shaw at the right-wing site Hot Air referred to the congresswoman-elect as “another Democrat who has been exposed as a blatant liar.” The conservative Free Beacon’s David Rutz called her “a liar and an anti-Semite.”

The Federalist, the far-right site that needs to confront its own anti-Semitism and racism, proclaimed “Ilhan Omar shows Dems aren’t interested in confronting anti-Semitism.” Noted right-wing rape apologist and Pizzagate promoter Mike Cernovich claimed this was more proof that “the far left actively hates Israel.”

Even the Anti-Defamation League, which refers to the BDS movement as a “hostile delegitimization tactic that rests on a fundamental rejection of Israel’s right to exist or defend itself,” called Omar’s stance “alarming.”

The notion that the BDS movement or its supporters are anti-Semitic is a stretch in logic. Criticizing the policies of Israel’s government is obviously not equivalent to discriminating against an entire religion, especially since the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are not supported by many Jewish people, both in his country and the United States, as Muslim Girl explained:

(I)n 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. Criticism of the Israeli government isn’t just for American Jews; one in four Jewish Israelis support the right to return for Palestinian refugees.

Tlaib, another member of this year’s Democratic “blue wave” in the House, defended her colleague and confirmed her support for the BDS movement.

Activist Imraan Siddiqi sarcastically noted that Omar’s criticism of Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the official religion, over its execution of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi “makes her Islamophobic too.”

Unfortunately, Omar, who will represent the 5th congressional district that was vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to become Minnesota’s attorney general, is no stranger to right-wing abuse that has at times been outright Islamophobic.

The congresswoman-elect was asked about baseless allegations that she had married her brother by far-right racist and unverified tire liar Laura Loomer in August. In 2016, Omar said she would “pray” for a man in Washington, D.C. who used “the most hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats” against her. The Minnesota Democrat corrected false quotes attributed to her by Islamophobes on Sunday.

“Who said facts mattered?” she tweeted.

This News first appeared on thinkprogress, and can be accessed here

 

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