Omar, Tlaib say critics charge 'anti-Semitism' against them as way to end debate over Israel's policies

Two outspoken freshmen congressional Democrats appeared at a progressive town hall this week, where they accused some of their Jewish colleagues of leveling anti-Semitism charges following their criticisms of Israel in order to shut down any debate over that U.S. ally's policies.

Speaking at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also touched on a variety of other issues.

“It is about the Benjamins!,” an audience member shouted at one point, referring to Omar’s now-deleted tweet linking U.S. congressional support for Israel to Jewish influence and lobbying. She apologized after a firestorm of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

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“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar stated afterward, according to New York magazine.

Omar, 37, an immigrant from Somalia, and Tlaib, 42, a Palestinian-American from Detroit, have been criticized since taking office in January over their comments about Israel, support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and remarks that some have deemed anti-Semitic.

Tlaib in January was accused of invoking an anti-Semitic slur when she criticized legislation designed to punish companies that participate in the BDS movement, which aims to pressure Israel through economic means.

The moderator began the discussion by asking what “we as a community here can do to support you criticizing Israel for some of the war crimes that it has done so that it’s not seen as ‘you’re anti-Semitic’? Because you’re not criticizing the religion, you’re not criticizing Jewish people, you’re criticizing the government policies,” according to Jewish Insider.

“What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” Omar said.

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“To me, it’s something that becomes designed to end the debate because you get in this space of – yes, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, ‘The words you used Ilhan, are resemblance of intolerance.’ And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that," she continued. "But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something -- regardless of what it is we say -- … we get to be labeled something and that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.”

"It’s almost as if, every single time we say something -- regardless of what it is we say -- … we get to be labeled something and that ends the discussion.

— U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

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Omar elaborated that she doesn’t equate her Jewish colleagues' criticism of Palestinians as Islamophobic and that longtime members of Congress fought against apartheid in South Africa but still turn against her and Tlaib when they bring up support for Palestinians.

“So I know many [members of Congress] were fighting for people to be free, for people to live in dignity in South Africa… So I know that they care about these things. But now that you have two Muslims who are saying, here is a group of people that we want to make sure that they have the dignity that you want everybody else to have, we get to be called names and we get to be labeled as hateful. No, we know what hate looks like!”

The restaurant made news when a waitress was given a $450 tip on a $72.60 bill by a group of Trump supporters following his inauguration.