MSNBC panel deflects Rep. Ilhan Omar anti-Semitism criticism, blames Trump instead

An MSNBC panel on Wednesday night defended Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, who is under fire again for comments critics say are anti-Semitic.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning lobbying group J Street, which promotes a two-state solution in Israel, immediately deflected the charges of anti-Semitism away from the freshman congresswoman and toward President Trump, insisting that a discussion about “hate and intolerance” should “start at the top.”

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“Let’s have the a discussion about the xenophobia and the racism that’s coming from the other side of the aisle and let’s stop using the discussion of anti-Semitism as a way of avoiding a real discussion about policy towards Israel and Palestine and the issues that are actually on the table about occupation and the treatment of Palestinians,” Ben-Ami told MSNBC host Chris Hayes on Wednesday night. “There’s an attempt to silence the debate by focusing the discussion on the question of anti-Semitism rather than the underlying issue that really needs to be discussed, which is our American policy towards the region.”

Al Jazeera host and The Intercept columnist, Mehdi Hasan, conceded that Omar “maybe unwittingly echoed tropes” of anti-Semitism, but slammed the “awful” media coverage of her remarks.

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“She hasn’t said anything about Jews. She has not said one word about Jews,” Hasan argued. “She talked about supporters of Israel insisting that politicians in the U.S. should show allegiance to Israel and that’s kind of undeniable. I mean, that’s been reported on for years… A lot of the good-faith criticism is based on kind of misreporting of what she’s said and done.”

“The idea that the Republican Party is going to give anyone lectures on anti-Semitism is like starting to take lectures on climate change from the Republican Party,” Hasan continued. “I mean, these are the guys who are trafficking in ‘globalists,’ ‘Soros,’ all this language that helped inspire the guy who walked into a synagogue in October and murdered 11 Jewish worshippers. That wasn’t a guy who was inspired by Ilhan Omar. That was a guy who believed in the same kind of conspiracy theories as Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress day in and day out.”

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Omar, who became the first Somali-American woman elected to Congress in November, has received criticism from both sides of the political aisle over comments for what many deemed anti-Semitic. Last month, Omar apologized for comments in which she implied that prominent pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) compensated lawmakers for their support of the Jewish state, but insisted on what she called "the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics."

The tweet was just the latest in a string of statements by Omar that have been slammed for being anti-Semitic. In 2012, she tweeted that "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine#Israel.” She did not apologize for posting the tweet until last January.

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Omar also argued in a January Yahoo! News interview that Israel could not be considered a democracy and compared it to the Islamic theocracy in Iran.

"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 any other society we would criticize it, call it out," she said. "We do that to Iran, we do that to any other place that sort of upholds its religion. And I see that now happening with Saudi Arabia and so I am aggravated, truly, in those contradictions."

Omar's remarks have prompted her own party, in an effort led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to issue a resolution condemning anti-Semitism -- but the House vote has been delayed.

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The declaration – which doesn’t mention Omar by name – was initially set to be introduced Wednesday. It was to set out the history of anti-Semitism and other bigotry in America and provide examples of anti-Jewish tropes about divided loyalties.

It was also supposed to say the House “rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”