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February 19, 2019 7:03 am

Ilhan Omar Is Not Fit for the US House Foreign Affairs Committee

avatar by Ezra Bernstein


Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Feb. 7, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst / Files.

In just a few short months since being elected to Congress, Ilhan Omar has managed to find herself in the express lane to antisemitism, with some strong views that are often completely uninformed. Before long, she may dig herself a political hole that she cannot get out of.

Her recent apology — although pressured — was certainly necessary and important, but it doesn’t change the fact that she continues to express very troubling views. Beyond the use of the age-old antisemitic trope of Jewish money and Jewish power controlling the US government, her comments show a lack of understanding that there could be other reasons to support Israel besides bribery from AIPAC. It appears that she has a very simplistic view of two very complicated countries, and of the situation in general.

In a recent interview, she said, “When I see Israel institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it, and we still uphold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle because I know that if we see that [in] any other society we would criticize it, call it out.”

I have no problem with strong views, and I have no problem with controversial views. But I do have a problem with strong, controversial views that are also completely baseless. Israel allows for some Sharia law; there is an Islamic judicial system and court for its Muslim citizens. How is that not recognizing other religions?

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Omar was also recently in the news for a tweet from 2012, where she said that “Israel hypnotized the world” in reference to the war in Gaza.

I would hope that someone on the US House Foreign Affairs Committee would have the ability to analyze conflict from multiple perspectives. I can’t say that I understand the difficulties of life in Gaza, since I live comfortably in Tel Aviv — but I can certainly imagine the difficulties.

Apparently, Omar cannot imagine the difficulties of life in Israel due to the terror and rocket attacks launched constantly by Palestinians in Gaza. It is not as though Israel suddenly decided that it wanted to make the lives of Gazans even more miserable. But when rockets are fired into their territory, countries have not only the right, but the need, to defend their borders and citizens. If there were no rockets, there would have been no war.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from living in Israel and studying here, it is that most of the time, the situation is complicated. I’m not asking for Ilhan Omar to forget about the Gazans or to suddenly start retweeting StandWithUs and other pro-Israel tweets, but I would love to see a little nuance.

What concerns me most, however, is that her tweets represent a profound lack of not only nuance, but accuracy in her understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — something that is disappointing for someone with such strong convictions, and unacceptable for someone on the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ezra Bernstein is a graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a former Fulbright scholar in Israel. He is co-host of the podcast “Israel-Palestine: Beyond the Headlines with Alec and Ezra.”

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