Monday, November 12, 2018

Doubletalk from Ilhan Omar

While campaigning in the Democratic primary for Minnesota's Sixth District, then-candidate (now Congresswoman-elect) Ilhan Omar participated in a debate at a local synagogue. She was asked about BDS, and responded as follows:
 "I believe right now with the BDS movement, it’s not helpful in getting that two-state solution. I think the particular purpose for [BDS] is to make sure that there is pressure, and I think that pressure really is counteractive. Because in order for us to have a process of getting to a two-state solution, people have to be willing to come to the table and have a conversation about how that is going to be possible and I think that stops the dialogue. I want to make sure that we are furthering policies and advocating for things that get people closer to having that conversation."
It was a statement which assuaged some (though not all) of the Jewish concern about her 2012 tweet accusing Israel of having "hypnotized the world".

But now, the website Muslimgirl* claims to have a quote from Omar's campaign that suggests she's flipped on the issue: "Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement, and has fought to make sure people’s right to support it isn’t criminalized. She does however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution."

Now, if you squint really hard you might be able to jam those two statements together in a way in which they aren't mutually contradictory. The first statement focuses on why BDS is "counteractive" -- i.e., tactically ill-advisable -- without explicitly disavowing it. The second statement likewise acknowledges "reservations on the effectiveness of the movement" in the course of claiming to support it. It's also worth noting that the first statement is Omar's own words, while the second comes from her campaign -- it wouldn't be the first time a campaign worker issues a statement that runs ahead of what the actual politician wants.

Indeed, my suspicion is that Omar will likely land somewhere in a middle position -- opposing any legislative action to target BDS (she already opposed such a law in Minnesota), and supporting the right of others to boycott Israel, while not outright endorsing the practice on her own personal level.

But really, this just feels like classic doublespeak to me. In a contested primary, in front of a Jewish audience, Omar opposes BDS. Post-election, speaking to a Muslim media outlet, she supports it. It's not exactly the boldest example of progressive leadership. But what can you do? Politicians gonna politic, I guess.

* Most of the MuslimGirl article is a lengthy explanation for why "criticizing Israel isn't antisemitic", helpfully illustrated by the many issues and cases where Jews themselves are critical of Israel. Which, of course, we often are! And one might think that the commonality of such criticism among Jews suggests that the objection to, say, Omar's "hypnotized" comment isn't reducible to it being "criticism of Israel" but instead is something more specified -- say, its overlay with the trope of mind-controlling Jewish hyperpower. 

Alas, we never quite get there. Perhaps this is because MG thinks antisemitism only exists when it has something "to do with religion" -- a ludicrously narrow definition of antisemitism that is abandoned within the same paragraph when the author continues that it "is anti-Semitism ... to erase the opinions of these Jewish people living in Israel and abroad" who are critical of Israel in the author's specified ways. I actually agree it is antisemitic to erase the views and perspectives of Jews to better fit a particular political narrative -- one might suggest that assuming anyone who opposes Israeli settlement policy also gives a blanket get-out-of-antisemitism-free pass to any statement styled as "criticism of Israel" counts as just such an erasure -- but what does any of that have to do with "religion"?

UPDATE: In a text exchange with the writer at a Twin Cities area Jewish website, Omar appears to have confirmed her stance is the one attributed to her by her campaign: "I believe and supports the BDS movement, and have fought to make sure people right to support it isn’t criminalized, re: my vote against the Anti-BDS bill. I do however, have reservations on effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution."

While she denied that her answer at the synagogue forum was "politically expedient" -- she said the moderator “didn’t ask for a yes or no answer" and that she had run an "unapologetic campaign" -- it's pretty clear that this was a case of talking out of both sides of the mouth.

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