Dear Ilhan Omar,
My name is Sarah.
I’m an American-Israeli raised on Yiddish lullabies, because my Mom was the last scion of our shtetl and she would tell me stories of a world eaten alive first by pogroms, then by Nazis. I’m an American Israeli raised by Grandparents who were told on their honeymoon in no uncertain terms “No dogs, and no Jews.” I’m an American Israeli named for my great grandmother who chased the Jewish mafia out of her butcher shop with a meat cleaver because she wouldn’t let any bully tell her what to do.
I’m an American Israeli raised on Civil Rights anthems because my dad went down to Georgia in the early 1960’s to register African American voters. He was beaten and arrested and he could have died, but he didn’t. I’m an American Israeli whose grandparents were proud White members of the NAACP.
My values as a progressive Jewish-American-Israeli mother are steeped in who I am – it’s in my DNA. It’s why I fight for equality and shared society here in Israel. It’s why I write. It’s why I want to build bridges between progressive Israelis and progressive Americans because we need your help.
I am writing to you because I admire many of your political positions.
I also admire your courage and your tenacity and your journey. You have what my folks call “chutzpah” — sheer nerve.
I am also writing to you because I read your tweet from 2012 – well, several tweets, but one especially — and I was dismayed because you’re an important progressive voice – and one America needs. But what you said about Israel hypnotizing the world is steeped in anti-Semitic rhetoric — it harkens back to the pernicious and baseless idea that Jews are somehow evil puppet masters (SPOILER ALERT: we are not. In fact, we have been displaced and vilified for centuries, and still are in many places).
I realize that you may not have known how incendiary your words were then, but enough of us are telling you now, and I hope you’re hearing us, especially those of us who share your side and want to work with you: Your tweet was wrong, and fed into something dangerous.
Look: I don’t expect you to be a Zionist — although it IS possible to be a Zionist and still fight for Palestinian statehood as many Jewish Americans and Jewish Israelis like me do every single day — I don’t expect you to love Israel – there are enough folks who do.
But I hope your mind is open and you’re willing to hear from more American Jews and American Israelis who are struggling with the leadership in Israel just as you and other progressive Americans struggle with the current leadership in America.
And I hope you will take the time as you settle in to get to know more American Jews and Jewish Israelis like me and so many others who share similar values with you and other progressive leaders. I hope you will see the ways our stories are so similar and how our vision for a better future can be shared even with our differences. I hope one day you will not only delete your anti-Semitic tweets, but will also be able to wrap your arms around why it was hurtful and corrosive not just to Jews but to the progressive camp, and acknowledge that wound and stand alongside us to fight anti Semitism along with all the other nastiness America is facing.
Our president is doing all he can to divide us, and he’s good at it. But we are better than that. We have an opportunity here to build bridges and heal riffs that desperately need healing so we can fight together for justice, dignity, and equality for everyone.
Thanks for your time. I look forward to moving forward and working side by side.
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor of the Times of Israel and the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year In the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem. If you missed her Nov. 7 talk at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, you can watch it below.
Sadly Ms. Omar seems to have answered you by endorsing the antisemitic BDS movement again: forward.com/news/national/414050/rep-elect-ilhan-omar-backs-bds-in-new-interview/?fbclid=IwAR09mp7e0UFypS5xuts114JboRuV1GjSMrhkrqn6KxAt2DoZFSqIkL_K2NY
I have honestly about given up on the idea of peace and reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. Too many Muslims simply aren’t interested. Those who are often are called traitors by their own people. It takes real courage to speak out for tolerance and understanding these days. It’s a truly sad state of affairs.
caitlin. its funny because I often feel the same way about jews wanting peace. not enough are interested, and those of us who are are often called traitors by our fellow tribe members of the more militant stripe…
Caitlyn, please don’t give up on peace and reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. “Muslims” are millions and millions of people from many different societies and cultures. When American Muslims raise thousands of dollars for Jews from Tree of Life synagogue, they are telling you, they are human beings first, just as we are. And I get why you sound frustrated and sad. There is a lot of animosity and it’s sometimes hard to hope.
It won’t take everyone, Caitlyn. Just small groups. It’s possible. It will always be possible.
Our Synogogue and a nearby mosque often share events and friendships. I found that the Somali American Community was largely detached from the Israeli – Arab conflicts. We welcomed the new immigrants because we share a similar refugee/immigrant story. Unfortunately it is very easy to step on mines in this discussion, even more so if you are new. My objections to Israeli government acts often result in rude accusations. I wish Representative elect Omar the best of luck while learning to navigate this complex issue. We should all recognize that a few rookie mistakes do not make one an antisemite.
A lot of you misunderstand the “Muslim” position on Israel. It has nothing to do with the Jewish identity of the state and everything to do with Israel being a living embodiment of the destructive European colonial legacies post-colonial societies are still contending with. It’s why you find widespread support for Palestine in non-Muslim countries like Ireland or South Africa. Israel is a colonial presence embedded in the heart of the Middle East. The presence of holy sites alone isn’t what mobilizies millions of Muslims against Israel. Interfaith “dialogue” isn’t going to change how Muslims perceive Israel because their animosity doesn’t come from the Qur’an. You’d be better off picking up a copy of Orientalism if you wanted to understand the roots of this anger.
Muslim anger at colonialism should be directed at those who practiced colonialism, not at Jews and not at Israel. The UN , including many former colonies, voted to allow for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Arab world pressured its friends to resist it because Arabs simply do not want Jews on what they consider to be their land. The land of Israel has far more connection to Jewish history than to Arab history, and Jews have a right to settle it, the Arabs of course have the opposite view. The muslim world uses this issue to scapegoat Israel and Jews, one only need to study Arab culture towards Jews over the past 1000 years to see this.
I’m reading this two years on, so an update is due. Ilhan’s antisemitism continues unabated, the left is unwilling to call her on it, david duke dedicated a radio show to her, and the right is shooting up synagogues.
We’re heading towards a weird populist convergence where one of the left / right touchpoints will be shared antisemitism. Can the Steve King / Ilhan Omar tour be far behind?