Yes, Tanenbaum Has Thought About Rep. Omar…

As an organization dedicated to combating religious bigotry, Tanenbaum was repeatedly asked where it stood in the debate surrounding Representative Ilhan Omar and the welcome resolution by the House condemning religious bigotry including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and identity focused hatred.

Through the heated news cycle focusing on her, our response was presented in our Weekly Religion News Round-up, where we have highlighted diverse reflections so that our readers could explore a range of perspectives. But people I respect continued asking me what we think. Interestingly, about an equal number think we should condemn Rep. Omar’s language as anti-Semitic as think that we should denounce the reaction to her as clear-cut Islamophobia.

Let me be as clear as I can. Tanenbaum condemns anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Period. And I believe that the debate surrounding Rep. Omar involves both.

I use the framework of “surrounding Rep. Omar,” why? Because…though I believe that her statements warrant a response and her positions open to civil debate, she is not the only elected representative who has “misspoken” or used anti-Semitic tropes (or worse), and because the differential treatment accorded to her reflects repugnant vitriol and religious bigotry. As New Zealand painfully reminds us, the issues before us are far-reaching and go deeper than one Congresswoman, who has views about a lightning rod subject (Israel) and has referenced hurtful stereotypical themes.

Many of the articles that Tanenbaum tracked on Rep. Omar revealed the diversity and complexity of the issues presented. They made us reflect, and I now share some of the ideas and issues that came up, as we discussed this complex situation and our efforts to combat anti-Semitism and all religious bigotry no matter against whom.

Communication is an art form—and humans regularly mess it up!                          

Every communication has two parts: what is said or conveyed; and how the information is heard or received. Figuring out what someone meant is not always easy. Assessments of intent can be clouded by our own beliefs and views, and not reflect what the speaker was thinking, feeling or intending to share.

Making sure we have the context is, therefore, an imperative. Selected snippets from longer statements can implicate, fuel inaccurate interpretations and lead to emotional responses. [Read more]

In many of the articles written about anti-Semitism and Rep. Omar, writers have opined on her intentions. [Rep. Omar’s intent #1][Rep. Omar’s intent #2] The truth is that only Rep. Omar knows what she intends.

Her words, when read in context, leave me with a question… why would she explicitly apologize for the hurt she caused and describe the pain of anti-Jewish sentiment experienced by members of the Jewish community, if she really wishes to spread hatred of Jews? That she also speaks of the pain she sees among Palestinians does not change her acknowledgment of Jews. So I have to ask, should I view her as someone trying to hear and see each of us?

You may hear her similarly. Or not. I invite you to read her words and reach your own conclusion. [Read more]

Why honoring the humanity of all people isn’t always straightforward.

As we were reading about Rep. Omar’s references to anti-Semitic tropes, we also monitored a sustained (and not always civil) public debate ensue. Some of that debate focused on political views and positions regarding Israel. But some was about anti-Semitism. So we decided to investigate further to see whether the media storm surrounding Rep. Omar reflected a relatively unique event in Congress and among government officials — or something far more pervasive.

A quick and incomplete review shows that bigotry is evident across both parties, including but not limited to strident anti-Semitism. Here are just two examples from the other side of the aisle:

  • On October 24, 2018, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R – CA) tweeted: “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg [all Jewish] to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th…” He posted this tweet after a bomb was sent to Soros’ house and pinned the tweet to the top of his Twitter profile page. The tweet has since been deleted; Rep. McCarthy has not apologized publicly.
  • On October 5, 2017, Rep. Paul Gosar (R – AZ) was interviewed by VICE News when he claimed that the far-right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — at which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was “created by the left” and led by an “Obama sympathizer.” He has also suggested that Soros funded the event and falsely claimed that the Jewish billionaire “turned his own people into the Nazis.” [Read more]

When it comes to Rep. Omar, it does seem that there has been a double standard. There may be a variety of explanations why this happened. What we know is that she’s a woman of color, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, one of only three Muslim representatives ever elected to Congress, the only Congresswoman wearing a hijab, and currently the only one facing a media storm of protest. Some say this reflects Islamophobia in Congress. Given all the bigotry that is readily documented, this does not seem like an irrational assessment.

Two wrongs don’t make a right!

If Rep. Omar should be condemned for using phrases that evoke anti-Jewish sentiment, then where were we, and the media, when others have said similar things and worse? We should ask ourselves that question. And recognize that we have a responsibility to be more vigilant and to fight anti-Semitism and religious bigotry from whomever and wherever it emerges—and perhaps especially when it comes from Congressional leaders and other elected representatives. Two wrongs may not make a right. But allowing one of the wrongs to go unchallenged isn’t right either.

Everyone has an opinion!

As thoughtful consumers of news, it is our responsibility to distinguish between opinions and facts, and to be careful about being misled by fragments taken out of context. When we do this, we are in a position to decide whether we agree with the news story presented. That’s why it’s important to assess the data cited in support and its context. Only then, can we evaluate whether an opinion is—or is not—reasoned. [Read more]

Here, commentators have accused Rep. Omar of blaming Jewish people for trying to extract loyalty to a foreign nation, Israel, and suggesting that that is where their first loyalty lies. [Read more]

But when asked recently about her positions and anti-Semitism, she opened with the following:

“I know that I have a huge Jewish constituency, and you know, every time I meet with them they share stories of [the] safety and sanctuary that they would love for the people of Israel, and most of the time when we’re having the conversation, there is no actual relative that they speak of, and there still is lots of emotion that comes through because it’s family, right? Like my children still speak of Somalia with passion and compassion even though they don’t have a family member there.”

She went on to share her empathy for Palestinians, her conviction that she should be free to talk about the power of lobbies, her political positions on Israel, and her experiences with anti-Muslim treatment including with death threats, intimidation and opposition in Congress.

I believe assessing her response requires reading her comments in full, and making your own assessment. [Read more]

Anti-Semitism Lives!

Now is the time to understand hate. With respect to anti-Semitism, it is the time to understand anti-Semitic tropes, stereotypes, dehumanizing techniques, and where they lead. Because when you hate Jews for being Jews, it’s normal to hate others for being who they are.

This can be a teachable moment for us as a country. We must learn, yet again, to be wary of anti-Semitism, and acknowledge that our country is struggling with religious bigotry.

We also need to seize the positive steps forward—and there are some. In the midst of the debate around Rep. Omar, there were informative articles that helped us to understand more about anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes. This unmasks nuanced hate, and is a resource for people ready to be part of the solution. [Read more]

In addition, we saw Congress carve a path forward, with a bipartisan House Resolution against hate—including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It is not the sole answer, especially since 23 elected representatives, for different reasons, voted against the anti-hate resolution. [Read more] Yet, this Resolution embraces our many faiths and identities and is another reminder in the battle against injustice, of just how important the Golden Rule is. And that, is always a good thing.