Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., attends a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Rayburn Building titled "Venezuela at a Crossroads," on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

I used to know a gambler, whose take on life I always find instructive. “Don’t say I’m broke and be right.” I always took that to mean: “Don’t say anything bad about me … and be right.”

Our world has come to be a place where evil has been made fair seeming, and our moral compass is askew. Most folks seem to be more concerned about the identity of the messenger who’s delivering bad news than they are about the validity of the message.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is just such a maligned messenger. A freshman member of Congress just 60 days, she had all of the nation’s capital and its attendant spin machine working overtime about something true she didn’t say, which would have been scurrilous had she said it. Along with her freshman Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), they have become a formidable posse of ardent truth tellers.

All four of them have attracted considerable, what was intended to be unflattering attention, but what would have been Omar’s rebuke, took the prize. It came in the form of a 407-23 vote in the House of Representatives condemning hate and intolerance. It was sparked by calls to censure Omar for saying something anti-Semitic. And they would have gotten away with it, until there was an uprising among members of the Democratic Caucus who felt she was being unfairly targeted.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it okay for me to talk about the influence of the NRA [National Rifle Association], of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?” is some of what she said recently.

She said it. But is it right?

“I’m Jewish and have worked against anti-Semitism for decades. I was sitting a few feet from Omar at Busboys & Poets and I heard nothing—nothing — that smacked of anti-Semitism, overt or coded or otherwise,” Phyllis Benn, is a journalist who was present when Omar spoke, wrote in The Nation. “So, in fact, the congresswoman is being attacked for anti-Semitic statements she never made, for anti-Jewish prejudices that she doesn’t hold, and for a kind of hatred of Jews that she has never expressed.”

Don’t say I’m broke and be right. Don’t say I’m wrong, and be right.

“And it’s about time to say the truth, and, yes, Amy, to ask,” Gideon Levy, a writer for Israel’s Haaretz, said on Democracy Now. “Do we support automatically and blindly the occupation? Is it legitimate to criticize the occupation? Maybe it is legitimate to handle Israel as South Africa was handled. Maybe BDS is something that we should consider. Those questions are even not legitimate to raise in the United States. And maybe now this vicious circle will be broken, and people will have the courage, the guts and the power to ask questions. Yes, everything is questioned. Even God is questionable.”

Joshua Leifer made a point in an article in The Guardian, titled “The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism.” He said that Omar’s comments have been stripped entirely of their context, their intentions twisted and reversed.

“Ilhan Omar’s criticism of U.S. support for the Israeli government’s policies may make some people uncomfortable — and perhaps it even should,” Leifer wrote. “But such criticism does not constitute anti-Semitism, nor does it threaten the lives of American Jews or other marginalized people. The Republican Party’s tolerance of open white nationalism, on the other hand, does.”

If someone says something bad about you that is not true, ultimately it cannot harm you. But again — don’t say I’m broke and be right.

Each year, the United States gives billions and billions of dollars in aid to Israel. Each year, billions of dollars are loaned to Israel by the U.S. — loans which are almost always forgiven without repayment. Each year, generous private citizens in this country donate billions more to Israel, more for that land of 8.7 million souls on territory the size of Maryland; more than combined what’s given to the 50-some countries on the entire African continent with a population of 1.2 billion.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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