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August 16, 2022 10:47 am
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Why Was Ilhan Omar’s Antisemitism Erased by The New York Times and Washington Post?

avatar by Gidon Ben-Zvi

Opinion

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in 2016. Photo: Lorie Shaull via Flickr.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) won a surprisingly narrow victory last week in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district. But while The New York Times and Washington Post noted the opposition of “pro-Israel groups to Omar,” these publications made no mention of the lawmaker’s long list of controversial comments and votes regarding the Jewish state in particular, and Jews in general.

In contrast, The New York Times and Washington Post’s coverage of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) primary win rightfully noted the lawmaker’s support for bizarre antisemitic conspiracies and related comments.

What’s the reason for such selective reporting?

The Washington Post piece has this to say about Ilhan Omar and her connection to Israel:

Omar had won an expensive primary in 2020, when pro-Israel groups and donors poured in resources for her opponent — a result that kept some groups that had opposed her, like the pro-Israel group AIPAC, on the sidelines this year…While she had avoided the kind of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns that brought down other Israel critics in Democratic primaries this year, Omar’s supporters called the win a triumph for grass-roots politics.

But even though the Post goes out of its way to mention AIPAC, the publication fails to include a rather relevant fact: In 2019, Omar was widely condemned by leading Democrats for suggesting that Republican support for Israel was the byproduct of donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — a comment that recycles antisemitic tropes about Jews buying political influence.

The New York Times worked this into its coverage of Omar’s race against centrist opponent Don Samuels:

He [Samuels] drew the backing of pro-Israel groups and centrist Democrats who saw Ms. Omar’s election as a proxy fight over the Democratic Party’s direction on Israel policy.

By starting the story with the reaction of certain groups and Democrats to Omar, a casual observer of the American political scene reading the Times and Post articles would have no way of knowing the reason for the opposition to her.

Omar introduced a resolution in 2019 that stated economic boycotts are an expression of speech in a bill that was a clear attack against Israel, and was co-sponsored by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2019, Omar co-sponsored H.R. 2407, a House Resolution bill that falsely accused Israel of abusing Palestinian children, and asked the State Department to withhold US security assistance funding to Israel. Other co-sponsors included lawmakers Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Also in 2019, H.R. 246, a House Resolution that opposed the antisemitic BDS movement passed in a bipartisan fashion. Only a handful of Congressional members voted against it, including Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar.

Omar then ignited another controversy by objecting to US sanctions on Iran while simultaneously supporting placing them on Israel.

More recently, the Minnesota lawmaker was among 11 lawmakers who did not vote in favor of $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s defensive Iron Dome missile defense system. The funding was later greenlit in a separate bill that passed overwhelmingly, with 420 votes in favor.

During an interview on CNN in June 2021, host Jake Tapper called Omar out for statements that have led to accusations that she is antisemitic. Tapper specifically cited a message in which she claimed that Israel “has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Omar responded by lashing out at her Jewish House Democratic colleagues, claiming that they “haven’t been partners in justice.”

In 2022, Omar was the only member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to back the utterly baseless apartheid claim against Israel that has been peddled by Amnesty International.

Within hours of the report being released by the organization, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price stated:

We reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid. […] When speaking about Israel… we think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied.

For his part, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides called Amnesty International’s accusation “absurd.”

And while The Washington Post and New York Times were fixated on the possible ramifications of “pro-Israel” groups on Omar’s race, it turns out that she actually out-raised her opponent by more than $1.3 million, Federal Election Commission filings show.

Meanwhile, two of America’s leading news publications had no problem describing the exact nature of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s controversial remarks about Jews.

The New York Times, in its report on her Republican primary victory in the Northwest Georgia House district, noted in May that:

Ms. Greene was elected in 2020 after espousing beliefs in line with the QAnon conspiracy theory and making numerous derogatory comments about Black people, Jews and Muslims.

The Washington Post, in its article about Greene winning the GOP race, had this to say:

In addition, she had made comments on social media suggesting…that a Jewish cabal had sparked a deadly wildfire with a space beam.

With antisemitism on the rise, the way the media report on it has become crucial in order to prevent more incidents by prominent public figures from falling through the cracks.

The media has reported relatively accurately on Marjorie Greene’s hate-filled ramblings in part because her brand of Judeophobia is more traditional, and hence easier to spot. Meanwhile, Ilhan Omar expresses her anti-Jewish animus in a newer, more subtle way — by delegitimizing the world’s only Jewish state.

As a result, media coverage of her controversial remarks has been spotty at best.

Guided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, journalists would make better-informed decisions in choosing which stories to cover and how to cover them. This is all the more important given that antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories are being spread by individuals across the political spectrum.

These leaders must be held to account for their words and actions.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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