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Snow White was flawed, and other truths about Rep. Ilhan Omar

The world is gray. Let’s assume Snow White dabbled in some old-fashioned discrimination against dwarfs and that the Wicked Queen actually had quite a following.

This essentially describes Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and President Donald Trump.

Both have been in the news again recently because Trump apparently successfully lobbied Israel to bar Rep. Omar from visiting there (he did the same for her fellow “Squad” member Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), but that’s another story…).

Let’s begin at the beginning: Trump tweeted that four liberal female members of Congress, who are all women of color and who have dubbed themselves “The Squad,” should “go back” to the countries they came from and should stop criticizing our country. The tweet raises too many problems to count, so let’s just focus on a few. 

  • Three of the four women are originally from this country; Rep. Omar is a naturalized citizen.
  • President Trump has often criticized this country, but he has never suggested sending himself back.
  • Trump’s tweets are blatantly racist. They are not “racially charged,” or “racially infused,” or “caked with racism.” They are racist. Full stop.
  • The tweets are both misogynistic and hypocritical. It is not a coincidence that Trump targeted women of color and suggested that they do not belong in Congress (despite being duly elected to their offices).

If the First Amendment is designed to protect anything, it is the right to criticize our government — the one that is supposed to be “by the people, of the people, and for the people.” Yes, that one.

Trump’s tweet puts people who oppose racism and misogyny (spoiler alert — that should be more of us), in the uncomfortable position of defending Omar.

Let’s remember why we might not want to throw our full-throated support behind Omar: 

In 2012, she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Omar apologized, and said she “unknowingly” used an anti-Semitic trope.

Here is something that is too often lost in criticism of Israel — it should be possible to criticize a government and how it is run without being anti-Semitic. Too often the distinction between those two things dissolves. A criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. But, Omar’s tweet was not a mere criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, nor was it an isolated incident.

This year, Omar tweeted that members of on Congress who support Israel are only motivated by money from the American Israeli Political Action Committee. She famously tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” Once again, Omar used a well-worn anti-Semitic trope that Jews control purse strings, and by extension, people. Once again, Omar apologized.

Later, she suggested in a speech that American politicians who support Israel are arguing for “allegiance to a foreign country.” She did not apologize.

In addition, Omar, when incorrectly asserting that the Council on American-Islamic Relations was founded in the wake of 9/11, described the attacks by saying “some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” Regardless of context, we can say that using the words “some people did something” to describe a mass murder is unfortunate.

So let’s not make Omar a cause celebre. She has dabbled in old-fashioned anti-Semitic symbols one too many times (by which I mean at least once). It hurts all of us to pretend she’s not flawed.

And let’s not look the other way at Trump’s rampant racism just because Omar is no hero. Trump targeted four women of color and suggested they “go back.” This is straight out of the old-school racism textbook.

I wrote, deleted, re-drafted, shelved, and hesitated about writing this piece. My last name is Levinson — and I know that is not lost on many in America in 2019. Any time I’m asked by a journalist about Israel or “the Jewish vote,” I answer and then wince before I open my social media accounts. I brace for what I fear will be anti-Semitic comments.

It doesn’t matter if I’m orthodox or an atheist. My last name is Levinson. That’s what matters to the trolls. And that’s what some will say disqualifies me from writing about Omar, her apparent anti-Semitism, and President Trump’s racist response.

But I’m also an American who cares deeply about this country. That includes the ability to criticize both a member of Congress who peddles anti-Semitic images and the president of the United States who openly affirms racist comments disparaging that Congresswoman.

Omar is no savior, and Trump is no truth-teller.

Americans deserve better than both.

Jessica A. Levinson is a professor and director of the Loyola Public Service Institute at LMU Loyola Law School (@LoyolaLawSchool). Follow her on Twitter @LevinsonJessica

Tags anti-semitism coded racism Criticism of the Israeli government Donald Trump Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Rashida Tlaib Right-wing populism in the United States Trump tweets

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