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MSNBC’s Ja’han Jones Distorts and Defends Ilhan Omar’s Antisemitism

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avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue

Opinion

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

Back in 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) issued an apology to the Jewish community.

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of antisemitic tropes,” she said. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

The Congresswoman released the statement after she posted a tweet that suggested US politicians are paid by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to support Israel.

Referencing US founding father Benjamin Franklin, whose face adorns the $100 bill, Omar posted that it was “all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to the lobbying group’s allegedly boundless influence on American lawmakers.

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Within hours of the tweet, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the entirety of the Democrat leadership condemned the tweet in what was labeled an “extraordinary rebuke” by media outlets reporting on the troubling incident.

It is, therefore, puzzling that MSNBC’s Ja’han Jones characterized the episode as a storm that was whipped up by “right-wing hatemongers” in a recent article, “Omar isn’t afraid of McCarthy — but his purge vows are ominous,” which appeared on the ReidOut Blog by MSNBC anchor Joy Reid:

Omar, in particular, has been a target of right-wing hatemongers, who have sought to other-ize her for years. In 2018, she and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., became the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and both have predictably been portrayed as anti-American via racist tropes and conspiracy theories. Both lawmakers have also faced allegations of antisemitism for their criticism of the Israeli government.

This was the case in 2019, when Omar criticized conservative, pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for wielding influence over U.S. politicians. Reports have shown that AIPAC does, in fact, lobby lawmakers in favor of Israel’s government and funds lawmakers’ trips to Israel. But Omar apologized “unequivocally” for her tweets.

The  condemnation of Omar from her Democrat colleagues — as well as her own apology — was evidence that very little about the case was connected to right-wingers spreading “racist tropes and conspiracy theories.” Rather, it was proof that Omar’s criticism of Israel had gone too far for even ardent critics of the Jewish state.

Furthermore, Jones fails to note that the “Benjamins” remark is in reality the tip of the iceberg regarding Omar’s well-documented antisemitism. She was also criticized by those across the political spectrum on several occasions for clearly anti-Jewish comments, including a 2012 tweet about Israel’s November operation against Hamas in which she wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.”

It does not take a genius to identify the antisemitic trope that she was hinting at: that Jews are a sinister force who influence others to do their nefarious bidding.

As former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss pointed out at the time, the comment brought to mind the long-standing myth that Jews guided Roman judge Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus Christ.

And in another remark, Omar suggested the United States and Israel were equivalent to proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and the Taliban — a comment so alarming that House leaders joined forces to distance themselves from comments they said “foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.”

Unfortunately, these are not the only inconvenient truths that MSNBC’s Jones has failed to reference.

He states that AIPAC does indeed “lobby lawmakers in favor of Israel’s government,” and falsely suggests that it “funds lawmakers’ trips to Israel.”

First, AIPAC’s lobbying is hardly unique — it is strange that Jones apparently believes he is making some kind of revelation that the group lobbies in favor of a mutually beneficial Israel-US relationship. Indeed, the implication that AIPAC is wielding untold control over the US government, particularly when the same is not said of other bigger and better-funded lobby groups, is plainly antisemitic and echoes the dual loyalty canard.

The fact is, the First Amendment allows American citizens to petition the government for a redress of grievances — but it seems such petitioning is only an issue for the likes of Jones and Omar when Jews are doing it.

Second, AIPAC does not fund trips to Israel — its charitable wing, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), does. AIEF is a research and education organization that sponsors trips for American politicians to learn more about the Israel-US relationship through firsthand experiences in the Jewish state and briefings by experts on Middle East affairs.

Later in the article, Jones references Omar’s assertion that her role on the African subcommittee on the Committee on Foreign Affairs had given her “the opportunity to not only represent my constituents, but the voice of so many people who have never had a voice on the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

It would have been good if Jones had bothered to probe this self-important claim considering Omar has tweeted about Israel on dozens of occasions since her appointment to the committee — we can only guess as to how obsessively attacking the world’s only Jewish state is helping Minnesotans.

Turning to Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who Jones also references, it should be noted that she is also not being unfairly smeared as an antisemite.

After all, Tlaib is a proud supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks to economically starve the Jewish state out of existence; additionally, she has accused Israel of being an “apartheid” and “fascist” regime, and said that she is in favor of a “one-state solution” — a thinly-disguised way of saying she supports the destruction of Israel.

It is clear that Ja’han Jones’ argument that Omar and Tlaib have earned criticism solely because they are Muslim women and largely from extreme right-wingers is utterly fallacious.

They have been judged on their words — nothing more, nothing less.

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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