A Lawsuit Over Ilhan Omar’s Photograph Won’t Silence Me
To Ilhan Omar’s photographer:
I first heard of you when one of our staff members told me that someone had called looking for the person he needed to sue. It was a strange and disturbing phone call. You could have just asked for me by name.
I am a Jew. From the age of 14, I followed the lead of my mentor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and chose to dedicate my life to the Jewish people and to humanity. Today, tragically, this has also come to mean defending my people from relentless attacks and a tsunami of antisemitism.
In the past two weeks alone, America witnessed its second synagogue shooting in six months, The New York Times admitted to printing a vile antisemitic cartoon, and the Anti-Defamation League warned in its annual report that American Jews are facing “near historic levels of hatred.” As I write this, hundreds of rockets are falling upon Israel.
The full-page color ad we ran in The Washington Post calling out the antisemitism of Congresswoman Omar — the one over which you’re threatening to sue me — presents yet another example of the threats we face.
For a political figure barely six months in Washington, Omar has managed to cram an astonishing amount of frightening rhetoric into the American political honey-jar, demonizing the Jewish people with all three legs of the antisemitic stool: Jewish hypnotic control, Jewish money control, and Jewish dual-loyalties.
In 2012, as huge numbers of rockets rained down on Israel, Omar took to Twitter to make the disgusting, repulsive claim that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” This year, she said that the America-Israel alliance was motivated not by shared interests and values, but by Jewish money that buys politicians. She singled out AIPAC in particular as being guilty of a Jewish money conspiracy.
Put yourself in our shoes: How would you feel if someone said you were a traitor to America because you’re a Jew?
Worse than being an antisemite (we’re used to those), Ilhan Omar has become a celebrity antisemite. Despite the fact that leaders from all sides of the political spectrum have come together to condemn her, there are those who can’t stop celebrating her, regardless of her irrepressible antisemitism. Omar has graced the front covers of TIME, Rolling Stone, and even the latest edition of Newsweek. She’s the subject of a documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and even made a cameo in the music video for Maroon 5’s hit “Girls Like You,” which has two billion views on YouTube. Rolling Stone even listed her as one of their four “Women Shaping America’s Future.”
American Jews would be wise to ensure she doesn’t. They’d also be wise to ensure all Americans know what Omar believes: namely, that Jews use our money to manipulate our government into allegiance to a foreign nation that has the ability to hypnotize the world.
Amid all this, we come across your work of art, which, all would agree, lionizes Ilhan Omar. She certainly thought so, considering she posted the photo on Facebook (itself a legal co-owner of the image, whom we credited for the photo). She even captioned the image with the words of Maya Angelou: “I walk like I got oil wells/Pumping in my living room.”
In using your photo, we stood entirely within our rights. Firstly, the photo was used in accordance with Facebook standards, which, as you will find on Google, states: “According to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, any image posted with the Public setting carries the implicit acknowledgment that said photo is available for access and use by anyone — including entities not on Facebook. While permission for use is considered polite, it is not a prerequisite.”
But more importantly, art is not protected from parody. Art is not protected from criticism, satire, or commentary — better known as “fair-use.” Considering mainstream America has roundly condemned Omar for using antisemitic tropes, any artwork that serves to promote her is itself controversial, if not a provocation. It should certainly be understood that it will be met with criticism, commentary, and parody.
Ultimately, it’s your right to celebrate people who trade in antisemitism, even as I lament your decision to do so. Just don’t be surprised when we respond to your assessments, and don’t try to silence us when we do.
We are, after all, fellow Americans.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 32 books including The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.