Editorial: Pro-Palestine doesn’t mean anti-Semitic


Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. — one of two Muslim women recently elected to the House of Representatives — awaits the start of the 116th Congress on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

One of the trademarks of Congress’ incoming class is its members’ affinity for Twitter. Newly minted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez frequently sends out pithy, sometimes funny tweets, like her list of “Cocktails for the Revolution.”

Recent tweets from Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., however, have not been quite as amusing. The tweets, which have been decried by Democrats and Republicans alike, lacked the context of a long history of anti-Semitic tropes and offensive stereotypes. But those who immediately call Omar’s pro-Palestinian sentiment anti-Semitic shut down possible opportunities to be more open to talking about Israel.

Omar replied to a Twitter message on Sunday with the words “It’s all about the Benjamins baby [musical notes emoji]” to suggest that many members of Congress support Israel because of the campaign donations they receive from pro-Israel groups. For many, this brought to mind old stereotypes that link Jews to money and power. In another tweet, she named a powerful advocacy organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which spends millions to lobby on behalf of pro-Israel legislation.

Both tweets were snappy oversimplifications of a much larger issue and were ignorant of offensive anti-Semitic tropes. It’s understandable for many to be offended by their underlying message and their delivery, and Omar apologized for them via Twitter — as she should have done. But other leading congresspeople’s reactions are also troubling.

Omar is the first hijabi and the first Somali-American member in Congress, as well as one of the first Muslim women in Congress. In her apology tweet, she expressed her understanding of the difficulties of being attacked for one’s identity.

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” she wrote. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

She then reaffirmed her belief that lobbyists have taken a problematic role in today’s politics.

Omar has a history of supporting Palestine over Israel, which may have contributed to her tweets being called anti-Semitic by House Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, among others. These congresspeople put out a statement Monday condemning Omar’s tweets.

“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests,” the statement read. “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share.”

But what these Congress members and many others fail to acknowledge is that being pro-Palestine doesn’t equate to anti-Semitism, just as being anti-Zionist doesn’t equate to anti-Semitism. Judaism and the State of Israel are not one in the same, and a disapproval of one doesn’t mean a disapproval of the other.

Omar’s tweets weren’t sensitive to the context others could interpret them in, but House Democrats struck down a good opportunity to talk openly about Israel in thinking that anyone who is pro-Palestine hates Jews.