It has been well noted that the new “fresh faces” of the Democratic party happen to have a little bit of an anti-Semitism problem. To most, it only seems natural to call out ignorance and bigotry when we see it, however, when those we are calling out happen to also be the first two female Muslim members of Congress — namely Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — it is apparently unacceptable. According to them, the genuine reason anybody would dare to challenge them is because of their religion, not their policy.
The belief is that the real reason people — specifically people on the right — dislike them is because they are Muslims, and all of the Islamophobes simply can’t deal with how “empowered” and “unapologetic” they are. While it is undeniable that they are both empowered and unapologetic, that is not what people are up-in-arms about.
In reality, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib must realize that the constant criticism of them is solely rooted in their policy. Considering what they have both said and advocated for, the criticism shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Both Omar and Tlaib have come out in support of the BDS movement which has recently been outed as an organization with significant connections to terrorists. Further, Omar has echoed the basic premise for the most famous Nazi film of all time when she claimed that the regime heading the apartheid state of Israel has “hypnotized the world”, and only last week she said that she “chuckles” when people mention Israel as a democracy. Then, to top it all off, just a few days ago Omar claimed that the only reason members of Congress are pro-Israel is because of Jewish influence coming from AIPAC.
If none of that is a legitimate basis for contention, I don’t know what is.
Omar claims that criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-semitic: this is entirely correct. However, Omar has gone far past criticism. One can say that they oppose West Bank settlements, are in favor of fewer restrictions on the everyday lives of Palestinians and would like Israel to use less force on the Gaza border, while never be considered an anti-semite. In contrast, what Omar and Tlaib have done is support movements that actively try destroy Israel, promulgate messages that are akin to those spread by anti-semites throughout history, all while acting surprised when somebody calls them out on any of this.
If any other politician — especially a Republican — ever exhibited any of these behaviors I don’t believe that they would be heralded as a new, fresh and energetic face. Why are so many giving them a pass? Why are so many looking past their anti-semitism?
Part of the reason people still defend those like Omar and Tlaib — and the reason they can still declare themselves as fighting anti-semitism — is because so many fail to see the intrinsic connection between Israel and the Jewish people. This includes progressive Jewish organizations like Bend the Arc which routinely celebrates Ilhan Omar.
In actuality, both the historical and modern-day understanding of Israel is deeply intertwined with that of the Jewish people. Rabbi Jonina Pritzker explains that “The Jewish thumbprint and footprint are everywhere in the Land of Israel, from the Golan Heights up north where Jews lived when the ancient Temple still stood in Jerusalem; to Shechem, the place where Joseph is buried, and where the Northern Kingdom of Israel established itself; to Hevron, the oldest Jewish community in the world.” This connection, however, remains to this day as Israel is universally considered the state of the Jewish people. To reject this basic truth would be to ignore history.
It is because of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar’s own policies, own actions, and own messages that they are the subject of frequent criticism from both those on the right and the left. It is their support for BDS, it is their assertion that Israel is an “apartheid state,” and it is their lack of recognition that there is an inherent connection between the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
None of these criticisms has anything to do with the fact that they are Muslim. None of these criticisms is based in bigotry about who they are as people.