Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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Ilhan Omar shows her hand

Confession: I was excited when Ilhan Omar was elected to Congress. I knew I wasn’t necessarily aligned with her politically, but seeing a religious Muslim woman in Congress was, for me, a sign of progress.

Having lived as an immigrant, and being descended from immigrants, I loved seeing a naturalized US citizen in Congress; it’s what I think America is about. It also didn’t hurt that I find her eloquent and elegant.

Heck, for that matter, I was even intrigued by the election of Rashida Tlaib. A more diverse government that reflects our tapestry of ethnicities is a good thing.

I’ve always felt a strong kinship with Muslims. Some of it is from reading many women-focused novels set in the Middle East. But also, when I lived in Europe, I saw Jews and Muslims work together to defend some of our fundamental religious practices, such as circumcision and shechitah.

Stateside, one of the first things Omar accomplished in Congress was celebrated by the Jewish community — the right to wear a head covering in the chamber.

Boy have I been disappointed!

It started with Omar’s 2019 “All about the Benjamins” tweet, which she claimed she didn’t realize could be construed as anti-Semitic. When she apologized, I accepted it. It was plausible that coming from a different culture, she wasn’t necessarily aware of the connotations.

And to give Omar her due, she was the only “Squad” member who immediately after Oct. 7 condemned the Hamas violence and hostage taking.

Where she lost me was when shortly after the Benjamins incident, and saying that she needed more education about anti-Semitism, she came out with a dual loyalty accusation against American Jews. To question the “allegiance” of Jews is the oldest form of anti-Semitism, literally dating back to the Bible: “In the event of war, they may join our enemies in fighting against us,” Pharaoh says before enslaving the Israelites (Ex. 1:10).

What irony when a recent video of Omar in Somalia was circulated last week, in which she speaks about her loyalty to Somalia and to fellow Muslims. No, I didn’t agree with the pundits who were gleefully labeling Omar a traitor (I also didn’t hear her say “Somalia first,” a stance she was being accused of), just as I strongly disagreed with her dual loyalty accusation against American Jews. But it drove home to me the anti-Semitism of her 2019 accusation.

Of anyone, she well knows that a person can have deep connections to more than one place, more than one thing. When she held American Jews to a standard she knows intimately to be false, she showed her hand.

I really wanted to like Ilhan Omar. If only she hadn’t made it impossible.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected]

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