An Open Letter To Rep.-Elect Ilhan Omar

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.