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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Israel: saying what needs to be said

Surprise, surprise! The first female Muslim-American black immigrant in Congress has the country on their toes and the GOP is not happy about it. If you thought Obama was a tough pill for the elephant in office to swallow, welcome to the hour of Rep. Ilhan Omar.

In light of recent comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota the Palestine-Israel conflict has made its way to mainstream media beyond mere college activists and Al Jazeera coverage. America has a historically unspoken policy of silence regarding the exodus of Palestinians. The trail of words that left Omar’s mouth and divided the already divided Democratic party read as follows: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it’s OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” The controversy of this statement lies in the words “allegiance to a foreign country,” as it hints towards a long time running pejorative that argues the Jewish community living in the U.S. bears a loyalty agenda to the State of Israel over that of America’s.

Rep. Ilhan Omar sitting among the
House Education and Labor Committee| Photo Courtesy WHYY

Omar led her argument by voicing her concern that any Israel related opinions are often dismissed as “antisemitic” by members of the Executive and Legislative branches. She then, after media backfire, immediately released a public apology for her unintentional “antisemitic tropes” and reiterated her initial targeting of financially corrupt AIPAC lobbying linked to political influences. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee statistically runs one of the largest financially active lobbying industry in the U.S. and continues a consistent trend of increasing national donations specifically under Democratic presidents that seem, to put it best, less pro-Israel. However, as the past few months suggest, Republican and Democratic parties’ response to Rep. Omar’s comments only further validate her words. Categorizing her as a “threat to national security,” throwing bipartisan scrutiny across various media outlets at her, and suggesting she be removed from office only further highlights just how ‘off limits’ the subject of Israel is.

The four Democrats challenging AIPAC |Photo Courtesy Middle East Eye

It should be noted, however, that Rep. Omar’s words did not go to waste. Since her public criticism of the AIPAC, 2020 Democratic candidates, as well as former Democrats such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, have backed out of attending the annual AIPAC Conference.

If history has taught anything it is that the most taboo topics require the most fervent attention. The American masses must examine why it is socially acceptable to openly criticize wars fought by our own U.S. soldiers (such as the Vietnam War and the Iraq War), disapprove of our close allies (such as Saudi Arabia’s lack of democracy or imperialist U.K.’s attack on Falklands Island of Argentina), yet the moment a Congresswoman presents an opinion opposing the state of Israel, a state consistently under scrutiny by the Human Rights Watch, she is immediately thrown into a bucket of bigotry and slapped with a label of antisemitism.

The state of Israel in its entirety lays on a bed of colonialism and the misguided, falsely executed movement of Zionism. Quick crash course: The Zionist movement began in 1896 under the leadership of ethnic nationalist and journalist Theodor Herzl. Herzl preached in favor of establishing an entirely Jewish state in response to the mass discrimination, socioeconomic oppression, and institutionalized racism amidst their residency in the U.S. and many European countries. Contrary to popular belief, the Nazi-driven holocaust did not spark the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Belfour agreement, written and released by the British government under Arthur Belfour amidst WWI, promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Following WWII, the United States maintained a major role in the creation and prosperity of this nation, making way for the two sovereignties to become the best of Machiavellian friends. There’s only one problem: Palestinians are dying by the days at the hands of Israeli soldiers and America is complacent.

The long-running mother-son relationship between the U.S. and Israel is mutualistic, controversial, and stronger than the likelihood of Donald Trump stealing $60,000 from the Trump-Melinda foundation to pay for an auctioned self portrait. Pages of hard facts and vividly honest photos that depict the mass atrocities initiated the murderous Israeli government could be noted for hours, but in no way would that compliment an argument in favor of free speech. Even if Israel was the greatest neighbor, grew gardens in their settlements, treated all Palestinians like first-class citizens, never once prohibited families from seeing each other, and never kept Palestinian children from going to school, the following argument remains: the American public must be armed with the right to speak their minds as promised to them in the Bill of Rights. No formalities of being in an official position nor strength of foreign relations may stop that.

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin
Netanyahu  at the 2019 AIPAC Conference| Photo Courtesy Jewish Week

Assuming that the Jewish community represents partial-Americanism due to their connection to the state of Israel is most certainly misled. With that said, Omar’s words (due to their ambiguity) can alternatively be translated as criticism of the notion that Americans as a whole are expected to support U.S.-Israeli relations, Jewish or not. The issue lies in the public’s response to reprove the undoubtedly brutal state. Rep. Omar’s statement was to a degree politically incorrect, in the sense that her statement was underscored by a historical grimness, but she most certainly has a point in the remainder of her argument.  Bringing up Israel in Congress is like slapping a pair of costume wings on a squirrel- it just doesn’t fly. A female Muslim-American black immigrant bringing up Israel in Congress is borderline political suicide- Omar took one for the silent majority.

The political atmosphere cannot be naive enough as to think that these words did not face additional scrutiny simply on the basis of Rep. Omar’s intersectional identity. Israel is generally comprised of three sects of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Judaism. Of these three, Zionism runs least prominent among Orthodox Jews, believing that the need for a nationalist, secular and palpable platform of religiosity inherently dilutes the search for universal spirituality. Ilhan Omar’s belief does not stand alone. Many Jewish organizations have come out to oppose the movement of Zionism, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, further diminishing the misconstrued idea that antisemitism and anti-Israel-ism bear a connection or that the state of religiosity of Judaism is incomplete without supporting the land of Israel  (which historically begs a religious link to all three of the Abrahamic religions). Associating the two is an eternally false slippery slope that ends only in the infringement upon Constitutional rights.

In order to protect these rights, it is the responsibility of both sides of the political spectrum to support Rep. Omar’s freedom to dissent. Regardless of how Ilhan Omar’s political views lean, regardless of how off-putting the GOP finds her headscarf,  she should be able to vividly express both to the public. After all, she was elected fair and square to represent her constituents as she sees fit. Let the woman do her job.

About Sarah Kadous

Sarah Kadous
Sarah Kadous is an 18-year-old political activist from San Diego, CA. When she's not fulfilling her duty as the Co-Editor in chief of the MC Sun, the News and Activism Editor of Pure Nowhere Magazine, and Co-Director of March for Our Lives San Diego, Kadous religiously drinks cold brew and listens to the soothing soul Luiz Bonfa.

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