Leslie Marshall: Rep. Omar's anti-Semitic tweet hurt Democrats and Muslims – Not just Jews

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has come under justified criticism for suggesting on Twitter over the weekend that some members of Congress support Israel because they are collecting money from Jewish groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Omar was responding to a tweet from journalist Glenn Greenwald that read: "GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It's stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans."

Omar’s tweeted response to Greenwald: "It's all about the Benjamins baby," referring to $100 bills.

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It was a tweet too far.

Now before anyone accuses me of siding with or against one group or religion, you should know that my father’s family is Jewish, while my husband’s family is Muslim. So I have ties to both faiths.

We should all remember that freedom of religion is one of the most precious rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And religious discrimination isn’t just unconstitutional – it’s un-American.

The Omar tweet invoked age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes involving money. For centuries, Jews have been portrayed by their enemies as a wealthy and evil group that uses money to secretly control powerful institutions and people in a sinister way. You can see these false depictions of Jews in caricatures, propaganda posters and anti-Semitic writings.

This should not be the way of thinking in 2019, especially coming from Democrats and from a Muslim woman who knows very well what it’s like to be the target of prejudice.

Just as Omar’s tweets perpetuate false and negative stereotypes about Jews, in tweeting she helped perpetuate the false and negative stereotype that Muslims hate all Jews.

Sadly, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are alive and well in America. The fact that candidates were actually asked “would you have a Muslim in your Cabinet?” during the 2016 presidential campaign is proof.

We should all remember that freedom of religion is one of the most precious rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And religious discrimination isn’t just unconstitutional – it’s un-American.

In addition to helping fan the flames of hatred and wrong beliefs about Muslims, tweets and other comments from Omar put more barriers between Muslims and Jews. That hinders the possibility of achieving peace between Israel, the Palestinians and predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East.

Omar’s tweets aren’t just offensive – they’re divisive. Democrats don’t all agree on the solution for peace in the Middle East. Some are pro-Israel, some pro-Palestinian, and others – like me – are just pro-peace.

Like many on the left, Omar has been very critical of the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government. There is a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel that Omar and many others support to push the Israeli government to improve its treatment of Palestinians and allow the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Supporters of this campaign, like Omar, are calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank. And her passion on this issue is not unwarranted. I have been to the Palestinian territories and these people are absolutely oppressed. Something has to be done.

But hatred from both sides will not bring peace, as we have seen from history. And presenting negative and painful anti-Semitic stereotypes only hurts this process, divides the Democratic Party and reflects poorly and negatively on Muslims.

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Omar has apologized for her tweet, saying in another tweet: “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. 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."

I am glad Omar apologized but I am hoping she will go a step further. I hope she will calmly and professionally discuss her views on Israel and the Palestinians with both Democrats and Republicans and work for a compromise peace settlement that both Israelis and Palestinians can live with.

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