She has yet to be sworn in, but Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has already inflamed the Democratic divide over Israel with her post-election admission of support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Ms. Omar, who with Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib became this month the first Muslim women elected to Congress, was accused of a bait-and-switch after she revealed last week that she backs the anti-Israel BDS — Boycott, Divest and Sanction — cause, an issue she skirted during the campaign.
“With Election Now Over, Omar Voices BDS Support,” said the Nov. 12 headline in TC Jewfolk, a publication of the Twin Cities’ Jewish community.
Her stance touched off fireworks between two progressive heavyweights: Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, who has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, which she denies, and the Anti-Defamation League, headed by former Obama administration official Jonathan Greenblatt.
The ADL decried Ms. Omar’s position as “alarming,” tweeting that “BDS doesn’t just criticize Israel’s gov., it denies its right to exist as a Jewish state.”
“Rep-Elect Omar, you owe it to your new constituents to clarify your views,” tweeted the ADL.
Swinging back was Ms. Sarsour, who ripped “folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech,” prompting an immediate rebuke from pro-Israel groups.
Stand With Us called her response “classic, old-school anti-Semitism,” while the American Jewish Committee said that, “accusing Jews of dual loyalty is one of the oldest and most pernicious anti-Semitic tropes.”
“No surprise to see it coming from @LSarsour,” the AJC tweeted. “How long will progressive leaders continue to look the other way in the face of this hate?”
Ms. Sarsour also urged supporters to sign a petition, #IStandWithIlhan, that described the ADL as an organization with “a history of promoting Islamophobia.” The petition was posted by Mpower Change, a Muslim social justice group led by Ms. Sarsour.
“The ADL took to Twitter to call this ‘alarming,’” said the petition. “That’s right — the ADL is alarmed that an incoming member of Congress would support people’s First Amendment right to boycott without fear of being criminalized.”
The petition added, “Here’s what’s actually alarming: organizations like the ADL using their platforms to attack a trailblazing Black Muslim woman in order to undermine advocacy for Palestinian human rights.”
A Somali immigrant, Ms. Omar was elected to fill the vacancy created when Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, gave up his seat to run for Minnesota attorney general.
In a Nov. 11 statement to the MuslimGirl website, the Omar campaign said: “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.”
At an Aug. 6 candidate forum at Beth El Synagogue, however, Ms. Omar was asked “exactly where you stand on that,” referring to the BDS movement. She responded by criticizing BDS, saying its pressure was “counteractive” to achieving a two-state solution.
“I believe right now with the BDS movement, it’s not helpful in getting that two-state solution,” she said at the forum. “I look forward to making sure that we are utilizing and being part of a conversation that gets us closer so that we can have peace and make sure there is justice within that.”
In texts to TC Jewfolk’s Lonny Goldsmith, she denied giving a “politically expedient” answer, saying “my position has always been the same. I believe and supports [sic] the BDS movement, and have fought to make sure people [sic] right to support it isn’t criminalized.”
She referred to her April 2017 vote in the state legislature against a bill to prohibit Minnesota from entering into contracts with companies that participate in the BDS movement, which passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
Since 2015, about 25 states have passed similar anti-BDS legislation. The movement seeks to “isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily” by, for example, promoting boycotts of Israeli products, according to the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
Foes decry BDS as an attack on Israel’s existence. “[T]he BDS campaign aims to single out Israel for punitive action and does not offer a path to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace,” said AJC general counsel Marc Stern.
“In fact, BDS movement leadership seeks and has actively promoted the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state,” he said in a statement.
Two other newly elected leftist Democrats, Ms. Tlaib and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have said that they support the free-speech rights of BDS activists while stopping short of endorsing the movement.
Ms. Omar was elected with 78 percent of the vote despite alarm over her 2012 tweet: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
She has not retracted the tweet but she insisted in May that it was not anti-Semitic, saying, “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.”