Thursday, January 27th | 25 Shevat 5782

September 23, 2020 5:39 pm

New York Times Interview of Ilhan Omar Is Faulted for Going Easy on Antisemitism

avatar by Ira Stoll


US Reps Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the US Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump’s attacks on the four minority congresswomen. Photo: Reuters / Erin Scott.

Under the headline “Ilhan Omar Is Not Here To Put You at Ease,” the New York Times marked Rosh Hashanah in its own inimitable way by publishing a softball interview with a Democratic member of Congress, Ilhan Omar. Omar is known for favoring economic warfare against Israel and was denounced by congressional leaders for making antisemitic comments.

The interview is being met with outrage in the Jewish community. “PR for a corrupt hater,” is how a former Israeli diplomat in Washington, Lenny Ben-David, described the article in a tweet. He faulted the Times for failing “to press her on her anti-Semitism or 7-figure campaign payments to her husband.”

“Some antisemites are denounced in NYT’s pages. Others get puff pieces,” observed Melissa Braunstein, in a tweet that generated more than 500 likes and more than 100 retweets.

The Times interview, as published, includes two questions, of the 18 asked, that include the word “anti-Semitism.” First the Times journalist who conducted the interview, David Marchese, asks, “Do you believe there’s a connection between what you’re describing — the way you’re interpreted — and the accusations of anti-Semitism that you’ve received?” Omar replies in part, “I mean, there are a lot of preconceived notions about what thoughts and ideologies I have that have no basis in reality. … Anything that I say or do will be filtered to create an excuse of why they now are trying to call me a bigot.”

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The phrase “accusations of anti-Semitism” carries a footnote explaining “Omar has drawn criticism for comments and tweets about Israel’s influence on American foreign policy that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic and for which she has since apologized.” This sort of language—“accusations of anti-Semitism that you’ve received,” “drawn criticism,” “have been interpreted,” makes it sound like this was all just Jews being overly sensitive. Omar’s “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” comments were not about “Israel’s influence” but about AIPAC, which is an American organization. The Times capsule summary is inaccurate.

It’s also a classic Times double standard. People who utter racist or sexist comments hardly ever get this “accusations” and “interpreted” kid-glove treatment from the Times. They just get canceled.

Then, Marchese follows up: “I’m curious about whether your being made to think about anti-Semitism has caused any changes or filled in any gaps in your understanding of what anti-Semitism is and how it works.” Omar answers in part, “If you’re an ally, it’s your job to learn and to be supportive. That’s what I expect of allies, and that’s how I behave as an ally.” That would have been a fine juncture for the Times to ask, well what kind of supposedly supportive ally favors, as the BDS movement does, the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel? But no such luck—the Times drops the topic.

The New York Times has been deeply in the tank for Omar since she was first elected to Congress in 2018 after hiding from voters her support for the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. Back then, the Times ran two articles cheering her victory. One instructed readers that her win was “worth celebrating.” Another was described by other journalists as a “whitewash” and a “puff piece.”

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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