Recognizing anti-Semitism: How Omar’s statements reflect anti-Semitism

Gavin Small

Most Williams students would agree that it is important to be vigilant in condemning hate and bigotry. Yet, there are flyers throughout the campus saying, “We Stand with Ilhan – Palestine will be Free” and expressing “solidarity and militant love with Ilhan Omar,” a first-term congresswoman from Minnesota who has made multiple comments that promote anti-Semitic ideas.  

Apparently – at least according to those who made the flyers – we should express militant love for those using anti-Semitic tropes that have served to promote hatred of Jewish people for thousands of years. For those who are unaware of Omar’s offensive statements, they include the tweets, “Israel has hypnotized the world,” as well as stating that U.S. support for Israel is, “all about the Benjamins baby,” and even saying, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” 

The argument that the Jews are using money to control the government from behind the scenes is an argument that is classically anti-Semitic. Jewish people have often been typecast as working in secrecy and using money to undermine society. The concept of a Jewish conspiracy has sparked years of persecution including pogroms, massacres, expulsions and genocide.  Additionally, Omar’s final statement implies that Jewish-Americans have allegiance to Israel, and not America. This rests on an idea of dual loyalty among Jews, an idea that had been used to justify preventing the immigration of Jews to America. These views are dangerous, and it is alarming that people at the College agree.  

Some might argue that Omar’s statements were merely critical of Israel and not anti-Semitic. However, it is evident that these statements go beyond simple criticism. For one, the rhetoric of “hypnosis” gives an almost supernatural power to Israel, dehumanizing the Jew as an evil-doer. Also, by focusing on the issue of money, the anti-Semitic concept of Jews as money guzzlers is promoted. The idea that supporting Omar is about Palestinian rights is being used as an excuse for supporting anti-Semitic remarks. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I strongly disagree with those in the country who have been attacking and threatening Omar using Islamophobic language. These attacks are harmful and should be countered, just as anti-Semitism should be. However, this does not excuse Omar’s comments, or the fliers around campus expressing solidarity with Omar’s statements. It is important that students realize the harm in Omar’s comments, since they promote bigotry and hate. 

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States and Europe. The Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by 57 percent in 2017 from 2016. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October, in which 11 Jews were murdered, further goes to show the harm that bigotry can cause. 

It is important to be able to recognize and condemn all forms of hatred, including anti-Semitism. Although it is tempting to feel that it is the liberal position to support Ilhan Omar, her statements in fact endorse ideas that have led to the persecution and murder of Jews for centuries. 

Gavin Small ’22 is from Huntington, N.Y.