Ilhan Omar On Dual Loyalty

[Editor’s note: Many of Rep. Omar’s constituents are part of the TC Jewfolk community as well. So for the sake of due diligence on Omar’s latest anti-Semitism controversy, where she implies that American Jews have dual loyalty to America and Israel, TC Jewfolk transcribed the majority of the answer during which Omar made those remarks. Readers can decide for themselves what to think with the more complete context, and can also watch the video here.

The transcription is based on a Facebook stream by Busboys and Poets, the Washington, D.C. cafe and bookstore where Omar spoke at the “Progressive Issues Town Hall” with Rep. Rashida Tlaib.]

Moderator’s question: “I want to pivot a little bit and talk about an issue that tends to keep propping up over and over again, the issue of anti-Semitism. I know that’s a very sensitive topic, and I know that’s an issue that has been out there.

And it’s used oftentimes to quiet people, to disparage them, to isolate them and make them feel like they’re not connected to something bigger. Can you please speak…the process by which this happens, and what can we as a community here do to help support you, so that when we are criticizing Israel for some of the war crimes that it has done, it’s not seen as ‘you’re anti-semitic.’

Because you’re not criticizing the religion, you’re not criticizing the Jewish people. You’re criticizing government policies. Just like we criticize government policies in the United States when our government doesn’t do something right. So can you speak a little bit to that?”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib answered before Rep. Ilhan Omar, but for the sake of clarity we have only Rep. Omar’s answer transcribed here.

Rep. Omar: I know I have a huge Jewish constituency. Every time I meet with them they share stories of safety and sanctuary that they would love for the people of Israel. Most of the time when we’re having the conversation, there is no actual relative that they speak of, and there is still lots of emotions that comes through because it’s family, right? My children still speak of Somalia with passion and compassion even though they don’t have a family member there.

But we never really allow space for the stories of Palestinians seeking safety and sanctuary to be uplifted. And to me, the dehumanization and the silencing of a particular pain and suffering of people should not be okay and normal. You can’t be in the practice of humanizing and uplifting the suffering of one, if you’re not willing to do that for everyone.

So for me, I know that when I hear my Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues speak about Palestinians who don’t want safety, or Palestinians who aren’t deserving, I stay focused on the actual debate about what that process should look like. I never go in the dark place of saying ‘here’s a Jewish person talking about Palestinians, Palestinians are Muslim, maybe they’re Islamophobic.’ I never allow myself to go there because I don’t have to.

And what I’m fearful of, because Rashida and I are Muslim, that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.

To me, it’s something that becomes designed to end the debate because you get in this space of…yes, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, ‘the words you used Ilhan, are resemblance of intolerance.’ And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that.

But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something – regardless of what it is we say that is supposed to be about foreign policy or engagement, our advocacy about ending oppression, or the freeing of every human life and wanting dignity – we get to be labeled in something. And that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.

So I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. I want to ask, ‘why is it okay for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?’

[…. Condensed from around the 1:05:00 mark. Omar said there are congresspeople who have fought “for people around the world to have dignity, to have self-determination” like in South Africa.]

I know that they care about these things. But now that you have two Muslims who are saying, ‘yes, a group of people that we want to make sure they have the dignity that you want everybody else to have?’ We get to be called names and we get to be labeled as hateful. No, we know what hate looks like!

We experience it every single day. I have colleagues who talk about death threats. There are cities in my state where the gas stations have written on their bathrooms ‘assassinate Ilhan Omar.’ I have people driving around my district, looking for my home, for my office. Causing me harm. I have people every single day on Fox News, and everywhere, posting that I am a threat to this country.

So I know what fear looks like. The [mosque] I pray in, in Minnesota, got bombed by two domestic white terrorists. So I know what it feels to be someone who is a faith that is vilified. I know what it means to be of someone who is of ethnicity that is vilified. I know what it feels to be of a race…like, I am an immigrant, so I don’t have the historical drama that some of my black sisters and brothers have in this country, but I know what it means for people to just see me as a black person, and to treat me as less than a human.

So when people say ‘you are bringing hate,’ I know what their intention is. Their intention is to make sure that our lights are dim. That we walk around with our heads bowed. That we lower our face and our voice.

But we have news for people: you can call us any kind of name, you can threaten us any kind of way. Rashida and I are not ourselves. Every single day we walk in the halls of congress, we have people who have never had the opportunity to walk there walking with us.

So we’re here, we’re here to stay and represent the voices of people who have been silenced for many decades and generations. And we’re here to fight for the people of our district who want to make sure there is actual prosperity being guaranteed, because there is a direct correlation between not having clean water, and starting endless wars.

[… Omar continued at around the 1:09:00 mark to speak about student debt, corporations, and migrant children in detention centers on the U.S. border.]