Op-ed: Why should we call out Ilhan Omar's comments?

Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 1:08pm

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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has recently and rightly faced backlash from the Jewish community.

For what? Here are a few examples. She said that the Jewish state has “hypnotized the world” and suggested that pro-Israel politicians are paid off by America Israel Public Affairs Committee, a non-profit organization with a policy to not endorse, donate to or otherwise promote any candidate or politician. The point I want to focus on, though, is her allegations that Jews have some kind of dual-allegiance in which their loyalty to the United States is secondary.

This accusation runs deep in the veins of every single Jew. Throughout history, it has been the impetus for persecution and genocide. After all, if Jews’ loyalties lie elsewhere but they live among us, wouldn’t persecuting them just be a matter of self-preservation? This twisted logic fueled the Jewish people’s long, repetitive history of expulsion and marginalization.

This phenomenon starts back as early as ancient Egypt (contrary to one of my professor’s assertions, Jews, in fact, did not “invent religious persecution”), but since the Jewish holiday of Purim is on the horizon, let us begin with Jewish life in ancient Persia with the biblical story of Esther. Haman, chief adviser of the Persian King Ahasuerus, warned that Jews were not loyal and would one day revolt and depose the king of his power. A convinced King Ahasuerus consequently decreed that all Jews be murdered. 

In other words, Jews were accused of “dual-loyalty” and of being a threat to the powers that be.

Despite Haman’s conspiracy theories about the Persian Jewish community, the secretly Jewish Queen Esther miraculously convinced the king to spare the lives of those Persian Jews. Next week, Jews around the world will be observing the holiday of Purim with costumes, dancing, and a festive meal to celebrate freedom. As the old Jewish American saying goes, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

Fast-forward to 15th-century Spain and its infamous Inquisition and subsequent expulsion of Jews. The 1492 edict, which decrees the Jewish expulsion from Spain, reasons that Jews “attempt in various ways to seduce faithful Christians from our Holy Catholic Faith.” Hence, Jews tempt Christians to be unfaithful to their own and instead pursue a Jewish agenda.

About four centuries later, accusations of dual-loyalty in France led to the birth of Zionism. A Jewish colonel in the French military, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely convicted in 1894 for conspiring with the German government. French mobs chanting “Death to the Jews” marched through Paris. The Dreyfus Affair in France inspired a secularized Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, to begin the Zionist movement — a movement that advocates for Jewish self-determination. He reasoned: If French, Spanish, Egyptian or Persian governments cannot defend us from violence and threats of annihilation, then who will?

A few decades later, Jews faced their greatest test to their very existence: the Holocaust. Stemming from the mass genocide of 6 million Jews in Europe was, you guessed it, accusations of dual-loyalty. “Mein Kampf” repeatedly spells out this canard.  

Of course, I skipped dozens of other examples, but these are some relevant ones. You get the point: Jews have a long history of being accused of dual-loyalty.

Omar’s blatant double standard against the United States' relationship with the Jewish state renders her recent accusations especially concerning. Omar is characterizing the United States’ alliance with Israel as the anomaly among our other international commitments. We may have alliances and military obligations in dozens of countries, but only our alliance with Israel is an instance of “dual-loyalty” to another nation and abandonment of allegiance to the U.S.

Criticize Israel’s policies all you want. As the daughter of an Israeli and with many family members living in Israel today, I can assure you that Israel’s fiercest critics are the Israelis themselves. To label any and all criticisms of Israel as inherently anti-Semitic is senseless and stunts any dialogue.

Accusations of dual-loyalty, however, trigger a deep sense of alarm among the Jewish community, given the long history of people in government threatening our very existence.

Omar’s comments sent a shock through the Jewish community.

Make no mistake — what Omar spouts is blatant anti-Semitism and we should treat it as such. The history of the Jewish people makes this perfectly clear.

Talia Katz is a senior in the Ford School of Public Policy.