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Ilhan Omar questions ‘foreign allegiance’ during talk on Israel, antisemitism

(JTA) – Rep. Ilhan Omar, who recently apologized for suggesting that Israel’s supporters buy political clout, was criticized Thursday, Feb. 28 for apparently raising another trope many consider antisemitic: the notion that supporters of Israel have dual loyalties.

In a panel discussion Wednesday, Feb. 27, according to reporting by the Jewish Insider, the Minnesota Democrat was discussing criticism of Israel when she said, “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 appeared on a panel at the Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington, D.C., alongside three House colleagues: Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Tlaib has also been accused of criticizing Israel in ways that invoke the dual loyalty charge. When the conversation turned to Israel, Omar also said her critics are holding her and Tlaib to account for their Israel criticism because both are Muslim.

“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 antisemitic because we are Muslim,” she said, according to the Insider.

Omar also appeared to compare her support for Palestinians to congressional efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, a comparison Israel and most of its supporters reject.

“So I know many [members of Congress] were fighting for people to be free, for people to live in dignity in South Africa,” she said. “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 Jewish Democratic Council of America took issue with Omar’s remarks in a statement a spokesperson called a response to her “latest ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country’ claims.”

“We reject the parallels Representative Omar has repeatedly drawn between Israel and apartheid South Africa,” the statement reads. “We also want to make clear to both Reps. Omar and Tlaib that our denunciation of their recent tweets was completely unrelated to their religion. We celebrate the diversity of Democrats in the 116th Congress, but unequivocally oppose the use of anti-Semitic tropes. We would have condemned such tweets from any member of Congress, regardless of their party or background.”

Liberal commentator Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine, accused Omar of using the cause of Palestinian rights “to smuggle in ugly stereotypes.”

“Accusing Jews of ‘allegiance to a foreign country’ is a historically classic way of delegitimizing their participation in the political system,” he wrote on Feb. 28. “Whether or not the foreign policy agenda endorsed by American supporters of Israel is wise or humane, it is a legitimate expression of their political rights as American citizens.”

CAP: Ilhan Omar speaks at an election night results party in Minneapolis, Nov. 6, 2018. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

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