Ilhan Omar, America’s first Somali congresswoman — and, along with Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim congresswomen — became the target of online criticism after tweeting the song lyric “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” in reference to the American Israel lobby. Everyone from private individuals on Twitter to the majority of Omar’s congressional colleagues took this statement as an act of blatant anti-Semitism, claiming that in its reference to money, it played into ancient, violent anti-Semitic tropes surrounding Jews and money. House Democratic leadership released a unified statement condemning her comments. President Trump even called for her resignation — a statement that seemed cynical and opportunistic from someone who has certainly never shied away from employing anti-Semitic language himself, or from employing anti-Semites, for that matter.
As an American Jew, I feel personally and morally compelled to stand with Omar against the smear campaign she is currently facing. I am unsure whether or not Omar’s throwaway tweet — which she has since issued an apology for — was in fact a smear of all Jews or simply an assertion that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., is able to influence a great deal in American politics. It is true that AIPAC puts a huge amount of money into American elections, which means that for most mainstream American politicians, criticism of the state of Israel is something that’s not worth doing if they don’t want to risk losing funding.
In the end, whether or not Omar’s tweet was anti-Semitic is not the most pressing issue. There are real, serious issues with those who hate Jews in the U.S. — look at the Pittsburgh massacre and the Nazis in Charlottesville that chanted “Jews will not replace us!” (those same Nazis that our great defender of the Jews, President Trump, called “very fine people”), for example. We should be worried about these real threats, not about a poorly worded comment by a congresswoman who has always been willing to stand up for the rights of the marginalized.
Rep. Omar, as a black Muslim woman, is held to a much higher standard than she would be, were it not for her minority identities. Those who are upset with her have their rage compounded by their bias, as they feel that given her marginalized status, she doesn’t have the right to speak freely. Even many of those who call for her resignation have said more deliberately anti-Semitic things than she ever has. The leading Republican to denounce Omar, house minority leader Kevin McCarthy, is not free of accusations of anti-Semitism himself, making his attacks on Omar seem particularly disingenuous. Last October, he tweeted, “we cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA.” This tweet, which has since been deleted, referenced a common far-right idea that a conspiracy of Jewish billionaires is essentially controlling world politics.
Ilhan Omar is a brave voice for freedom and dignity for all people. So I, as an American Jew, stand with her against this ongoing smear campaign. I hope that she continues to use her voice to speak out against injustice, despite the unfair standards she is held to when doing so.