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February 19, 2019 3:26 pm

ACLU Official Urged Support for Rep. Ilhan Omar as Jewish Community Condemned Her Antisemitic Comments

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Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union. Photo: Maina Kiai.

A leading official with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged support for Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar last week, while major Jewish communal leaders and party heads condemned the lawmaker for using an antisemitic trope.

Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, claimed in a Twitter post last Tuesday that the “pressure on @IlhanMN to apologize is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“The ultimate goal is to silence her and boot her out of Congress for her courageous positions on foreign policy issues including her support to the BDS movement,” he wrote, referencing the lawmaker’s support for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which she rejected before her election but endorsed shortly after assuming office.

The controversial movement has been rejected by top Jewish leaders in the United States and globally, on the basis that it rejects the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination. Supporters say it aims to force Israel to comply with Palestinian demands and international law.

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“Are you with Trump or @Ilhan? #IStandWithIlhan,” added Dakwar, who has previously expressed support for BDS. Following objections, he clarified in a subsequent tweet that “the ACLU doesn’t take a position on boycotts against Israel or any other foreign country,” and that tweets “that don’t mention the ACLU represent my own personal views.”

The hashtag Dakwar shared in his initial statement has been used on social media by supporters of the freshman Minnesota lawmaker, who sparked a storm of criticism after suggesting on Feb. 11 that American support for Israel stemmed from financial contributions made by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC does not give money to political candidates or sitting officials.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — whose membership includes the Jewish Federations of North America and the representatives of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism — at the time denounced Omar’s “anti-Semitic and bigoted Twitter comments.”

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), likewise said that Omar’s allegation “invokes classic Antisemitic themes,” while the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) National Director Jonathan Greenblatt warned that Omar was “promoting the ugly, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have an outsized influence over politics,” and that her tweets “are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior that must end.”

After top Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also condemned Omar’s “use of antisemitic tropes and prejudicial accusations,” the lawmaker released a statement in which she “unequivocally apologized.”

According to his online profiles, Dakwar — an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College and Hunter College of the City University of New York system — worked at the advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Adalah before joining the ACLU in 2004. Both have been tied to the BDS campaign by the Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor.

In 2017, Dakwar appeared to deny links between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, an ideology that rejects the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination. “Israeli leaders exploit horrible acts of anti-Semitism to encourage Jews to move to Israel,” he wrote on Twitter. “Judaism ≠ Zionism, Anti-Zionism ≠ Anti-Semitism.”

ADL chief Greenblatt responded at the time, “you should know better than to blame the victim. unless you care to make a case [against] all forms of nationalism, anti-Zionism is #AntiSemitism.”

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