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February 15, 2019 10:28 am

Ilhan Omar Defender Denies Arab and Muslim Antisemitism

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avatar by Simon Plosker


Congresswoman Ilhan Omar in 2016. Photo: Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons.

Plenty has already been written about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s antisemitic tweets. But what was the reaction in her home state of Minnesota?

One standout piece in the local media appeared courtesy of the Minnesota Star Tribune, where Ahmed Tharwat — described as the host/producer of the Arab American TV show BelAhdan — said some very disturbing things in defense of Omar.

According to Tharwat:

In the end, Omar caved in, surrendering to the intimidation of a system that demonizes any critic of Israel, a system full of hypes, hypocrisies and dishonesties.

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There is nothing dishonest or hypocritical about calling out antisemitism wherever it occurs; the real dishonesty is Tharwat’s, for making this incident about Israel and turning Ilhan Omar into the victim.

But then it becomes patently obvious what is guiding Tharwat’s thought processes. Referring to Omar’s “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” tweet, he writes:

This simply is not automatically an anti-Semitic trope. A reference to $100 bills bearing Benjamin Franklin’s face simply reflects the undisputed role of money in our politics. To suggest that the Israeli advocacy group AIPAC influences some members of Congress to support Israel over the Palestinians doesn’t seem so radical or inherently anti-Semitic; it is actually bragged about by AIPAC on its own website.

Whether deliberately or not, Tharwat has entirely missed the point. Omar’s reference wasn’t about the “undisputed role of money in our politics.” It was specifically aimed at “Jewish money” — a clear antisemitic trope. Omar wasn’t tweeting about AIPAC influencing politicians, which is the right of any political lobbying organization. Omar was incorrectly claiming that AIPAC was paying US politicians to support Israel.

While Tharwat does mention other lobby groups, including “right-wing evangelical Christian Zionist fanatics,” he says:

Omar needs to understand that if AIPAC has the Democrats by the throat, the NRA has the GOP.

This appalling claim that the Democratic Party is somehow under the control of AIPAC — in what he says is the same way that the gun lobby has a hold over the Republicans — simply doesn’t hold up. While the NRA clearly has more influence over the GOP as a traditionally right-wing cause, AIPAC is bipartisan and lobbies for a cause that has arguably been supported by the majority of Americans, irrespective of their voting intentions.

Then comes the writer’s attempt to deny antisemitism in the Muslim or developing world:

But Omar wasn’t talking about “Jewish Money,” reflecting a deep, wicked feeling about “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This is absurd and it is a Western thing.

Is Tharwat seriously suggesting that this antisemitic trope is limited to the West? While The Protocols of the Elders of Zion may have not have been written in the Arab and Muslim world, it has been imported, translated, and spread there — and has become accepted by tens of millions.

He continues:

What lots of Americans don’t understand is that anti-Semitism — the charge thrown causally at anyone who offers the slightest criticism of Israel — is an alien concept for most Muslims, since Arab/Muslims think of themselves not just as Semitic people, but also as indirect victims of the Holocaust atrocity, which led to establishing the Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East, beheading the nation of Palestine.

So much offensive nonsense in one paragraph.

  1. The term antisemitism does not refer to a hatred of people from a linguistic branch (Semites), but was coined specifically to refer to Jews and only Jews. To attempt to redefine the term is to attempt to diminish it and excuse hatred of Jews by Arabs.
  2. There’s plenty of antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim world — it certainly isn’t an “alien concept.”
  3. Claiming that Arabs and Muslims are “indirect victims of the Holocaust” is an appalling form of revisionism, and diminishes the very real victims of that crime against humanity.
  4. Claiming that the Holocaust was responsible for the establishment of the Jewish state “beheading the nation of Palestine” is a blatant attempt to deny Jewish historical rights in the Middle East, and to falsely present Israel as the product of European “colonization” at the expense of indigenous natives.

Now that we have established where Tharwat is coming from, his complaints about being dragged into the Ilhan Omar issue by Fox News and The Daily Caller on account of an interview he conducted with her appear to be laughable:

The Daily Caller then published an article with a frantic headline, “Ilhan Omar Gave Interviews To Host Who Called Israel ‘Jewish ISIS’ And Compared Hamas To Holocaust Victims.”

I have no idea how the Daily Caller arrived at this conclusion, I have used “Jewish ISIS,” and “Jewish Taliban,” and “Jewish Jihadists” before, just to respond to the media narrative in which any misbehaving Muslim is labeled “Islamic” — Islamic terrorist, Islamic state, Islamic jihadists, Islamic Taliban.

We took a look at the Caller piece. The screenshots of Tharwat’s tweets in the story speak for themselves as outlined here:

Tharwat has repeatedly described the Israeli government as a terrorist organization, including referring to it as “Jewish ISIS.”

“Zionism is terrorism,” Tharwat wrote in one tweet that described Israeli soldiers as the “Jewish Taliban.”

In another tweet, he wrote: “An antisemitic person these days, is not someone who hates the jew, it is someone hated by the jews.”

“Blaming Hamas for Israeli atrocities, is like blaming the Jew for the Holocaust,” Tharwat wrote in a July 2014 tweet.

After the US began bombing ISIS targets in August 2014, Tharwat wrote on Twitter: “Obama should start bombing the Jewish state of Israel.”

But for Tharwat, there is no antisemitism in the Muslim world, it’s simply anti-Zionism:

Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Equating the two is hurtful not just for Muslims/Arabs and Americans but also for lots of fair-minded, peace-loving Jews around the world. As Omar stated in her apology, anti-Semitism is real. But it mostly thrives in Europe and America, not in the Muslim world.

If there was ever an example of using a hatred of Israel to conceal or excuse blatant antisemitism, Ahmed Tharwat is the poster boy. For him, antisemitism doesn’t exist in the Arab and Muslim world; it doesn’t exist in Ilhan Omar’s tweets; and it doesn’t exist in his own head.

On all accounts he is utterly wrong and the Minnesota Star Tribune needs to ask how it could give a platform to someone whose lack of credibility is quite stunning.

If this is who Ilhan Omar is relying on to defend her own improprieties, she’s certainly got some very real problems.

A version of this article first appeared at HonestReporting.

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