When journalists ditch their trade’s “who, what, when, where, why and how” in the third paragraph for “something bigger,” news seekers should see red lights. Those lights flashed all over a Sunday, July 7 Washington Post page one puff-piece headlined “The complicated American story of Ilhan Omar; The congresswoman’s refugee narrative was made for the rancor and racial division of the Trump era.”
This 3,639-word paean, including three adoring photographs of the 36-year-old freshman Democrat from Minnesota, epitomized previous Post soft-soaping of Omar.
In just her first two months in Congress, Omar twice implied American Jews who supported Israel were guilty of dual loyalty—a centuries-old antisemitic smear. She asserted that backers of close U.S.-Israel relations bought political allies. She falsely claimed that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a policy lobby, not a political action committee, raised funds for candidates. And in a 2012 tweet—four years before Omar won her first elective office, a term in the Minnesota House of Representatives—she echoed hoary Christian and Islamic portrayals of Jews with demonic powers: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
The Post subhead’s use of the word “narrative” is a clue. Journalists borrowed the term from academic “deconstructionist literary theory.” It allows them to replace objective reporting with subjective story-telling. Hence the words antisemitic and antisemitism never appear; the Omar feature deflects the issue by alluding to “her suggestion that the Israel lobby was using its resources to buy off supporters.”
The newspaper does report that Omar wrote a letter in 2016 urging rehabilitation instead of prison for nine Minneapolis-area Somalis convicted of trying to reach Syria to fight on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In sympathetically portraying Omar as a politician shaped by poverty and periodic religious and racial intolerance in the United States, the newspaper tells readers that “since her letter she has kept her distance from the case, which she knew was politically toxic, an easy opportunity for her enemies to paint her as un-American.”
The Post acknowledges Omar “had known other young men from school who died fighting for al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.” But it did not tell readers what the Anti-Defamation League had noted in 2015. This was that “a wave of Americans traveling to Somalia to fight with al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, was described by the FBI as one of the ‘highest priorities in anti-terrorism.’”
Beginning in 2007, at least 50 U.S. citizens or permanent residents were suspected of attempting to join or joining al-Shabab or ISIS. And “most of the American men training with al-Shabab are believed to have been radicalized in the United States, especially in Minneapolis, according to U.S. officials.”
If The Post queried Omar on radicalization of Somali-Americans in Minneapolis, the article didn’t say so. Instead, the newspaper sanitized the representative’s trail of anti-Jewish incitement by accepting her self-description:
“For Omar, figuring out what it means to be the ‘president’s nightmare’ on a national stage has been a work in progress. In theory, she said, it means amplifying marginalized voices at home and overseas.
“In practice, it has been more complicated. First came the backlash this winter over her suggestion that the Israel lobby was using its resources to buy off supporters—‘it’s all about the Benjamins,’ she tweeted. Omar apologized for that remark, but she also blamed her colleagues for over-reacting.”
“At issue,” intoned Post reporters Greg Jaffe and Souad Mekhennet, with contributions from Julie Tate, “wasn’t a piece of legislation or an election. It was something bigger—a battle over the American story—who was entitled to tell it and how it would be told.” In other words, caveat emptor, readers.
The newspaper reported that “In March, at a banquet for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, Omar appeared to minimize the Sept. 11 [, 2001 al-Qaeda] terrorist attacks [that killed nearly 3,000 people] … ‘CAIR was founded after 9/11,’ she said, ‘because they recognized that some people did something [emphasis added] and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.’ (The council was founded in 1994).”
The Post corrected Omar’s erroneous chronology for CAIR. But it failed to tell readers CAIR was an unindicted co-conspirator in the United States’ biggest terrorism funding trial to date, the 2009 Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development retrial. Five men were sentenced to prison for raising more than $12 million for Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist movement based in the Gaza Strip. One, Ghassan Elashi, co-founder of CAIR’s Texas chapter, got 65 years. Information suggesting CAIR is something other than “a Muslim civil rights group” is plentiful, but chronically avoided by The Post.
Silence from newspaper also covered Omar’s role as a keynote speaker at a February 23 fund-raiser for Islamic Relief USA. In 2017, Bangladesh authorities banned Islamic Relief workers from aiding Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma (Myanmar) for fear of Islamic radicalization. In 2014, the United Arab Emirates designated Islamic Relief as a terrorist organization with ties to the Brotherhood. That same year Israel banned the group, saying it posed as a charity but actually funded Hamas.
Playing the race card
The Post acknowledged Omar’s “complicated marital history.” It said, “she and the father of her three children split temporarily in the 2000s but still filed joint tax returns in 2014 and 2015, when Omar was legally married to someone else.” Instead of examining this convoluted tax and perhaps immigration status (for one husband) the newspaper immediately distracted:
“Omar danced in a Maroon 5 video alongside lead singer Adam Levine and was interviewed by Trevor Noah of ‘The Daily Show.’” That’s when Noah asked her “what’s the plan?” and Omar replied “ ‘I am America’s hope … and the president’s nightmare.’”
The Post pointed out that when President Trump “tweeted a video that interspersed Omar’s 9/11 remarks with footage of the burning World Trade Center towers, Democrats denounced the president for inciting violence against her. One week later a man who threatened Omar’s life was arrested in New York with a cache of ammunition and guns.”
So, “Omar’s allies held a rally on her behalf in front of the U.S. Capitol.” One of those on stage behind the congresswoman was “the civil rights activist Angela Davis.” Angela Davis has been many things, most notably leader of the Communist Party USA, an associate of the Black Panther Party and a knee-jerk anti-Zionist, falsely charging Israel with “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide” and “apartheid” against Palestinian Arabs. A “civil rights activist?” With what accomplishments?
As for the “rancor” and “racial division” of The Post’s subhead, “In Omar’s version, America wasn’t the bighearted country that saved her from a brutal war and bleak refugee camp. It wasn’t a meritocracy that helped her attend college or vaulted her into Congress. Instead, it was the country that had failed to live up to its founding ideals, a place that had disappointed her and so many immigrants, refugees and minorities like her.”
But on race and rancor, when Omar spoke to Davis and her other supporters outside the Capitol, she said “this is not going to be the country of white people. This is not going to be the country of the few.” Imagine Post coverage of a congressman declaring “this is not going to be the country of black people. This is not going to be the country of a few million Muslims.”
An in-depth examination of Rep. Ilhan Omar—of her beliefs, how she came by them, who supports her financially and organizationally, her legislative platform and so on—remains to be written. A good start was made by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in “Can Ilhan Omar Overcome Her Prejudice?, a Wall Street Journal commentary.
As for The Washington Post, fixated by Omar as a Muslim woman of color rather than an anti-Jewish member of the House, it didn’t even try.
Eric Rozenman is communications consultant for the Jewish Policy Center and author of Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question. Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.