A Jewish Defense of Ilhan Omar


Image via Osie Adelfang

Jewish Voice for Peace member Osie Adelfang hiking through Palestine in April 2017.

Democratic Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar stirred controversy when she retweeted Glenn Greenwald’s criticism of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, February 10th, 2019. She received harsh criticism from politicians across the establishment spectrum, ranging from President Donald Trump to Nancy Pelosi. They claimed that by saying the phrase, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar was using ancient antisemitic tropes.

On February 15th, 2019 the FBI apprehended Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, a white supremacist Coast Guard Officer who was plotting to assassinate her in a domestic terror attack. The mainstream media barely covered it, potentially due to establishment opposition to Ilhan Omar.

Since antisemitism is an incredibly touchy subject, we reached out to Osie Adelfang, a Jewish Israeli-American Woman and Jewish Voice for Peace Denver/Boulder member to better understand the complexities of the controversy surrounding Omar.

Arapahoe Pinnacle: How did you feel about Ilhan Omar’s comments on AIPAC’s influence on our government?

Osie Adelfang: Let’s think about Congresswoman Omar’s treatment since she made these comments. How has this comment become such a big deal? No one rational could believe that promoting Palestinian human rights is in any way antisemitic, it’s absurd. So why did so many Democratic leaders decide to create a resolution to censure Congresswoman Omar? Is Israel this important and close to their hearts? Is this an important statement to their constituents? Or are they opposing these comments and promoting unconstitutional laws because…the Israel Lobby (AIPAC) gives them millions of dollars in campaign donations?

Basically, in this recent case, AIPAC used its influence on American politics to get politicians to present a resolution condemning Ilhan Omar as an anti-Semite for her stating that AIPAC has a lot of influence on American politics. This whole witch-hunt only proves her point.

Just like Big Pharma, AIPAC contributes a lot of money to our elected officials, and just like big pharma, all well-funded PACs influence government. They’re not in DC to give politicians millions of dollars to vote against their interests.

Do you believe the accusations of antisemitism being thrown at Ilhan Omar are just?

Image via Twitter
Democratic Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar stirred controversy by criticizing AIPAC via tweet on Sunday, Feb, 10, 2019.

Let’s start by defining some terms. Judaism is a religion, Israel is a nation, and Zionism is a political philosophy. Judaism as a faith isn’t in any way connected to Zionism or the state of Israel… Zionism is political, not religious. Judaism is a faith, not a nation-state. How is it that opposing an apartheid government, not a religion, is anti-Semitic? AIPAC is a political entity, not a religious one. Period.

And so, criticizing AIPAC is not antisemitic; what it is, is opposition to a political situation. And by the way, because a lot of people think Israel is the tail that wags the dog when it comes to US policy, you only have to follow the money to know America is only acting in its own self-interest because it is literally financially backing the occupation with billions of our tax dollars. Billions in aid are flowing from here to Israel. AIPAC isn’t an Israeli organization, it’s a United States Political Action Committee. It’s not paid for by Israelis, it’s funded by Americans who support and profit from the occupation and the destabilization of the Middle East. How is telling the truth about these folks antisemitic by any stretch of the imagination?

Where do you see threats of antisemitism currently on the rise?

Antisemitism is of course a real and scary reality in the world, as history has taught us time and again. As white supremacists around the world are reminding us today. However, white Jews like me are privileged in this country, whereas other targets of hate, people of color (including Jews of color, Sephardi, and Mizrachi Jews), and most of all, Muslims, are being openly targeted on a constant, daily basis, in today’s America.

I just want to put that into perspective, to bring light to all the atrocities happening today. So as a white Jew, as an Israeli-American, I can say all this without fear of reprisal while other people often can not. For example, here I am saying the same thing that Congresswoman Omar said, and no one’s going to try to ruin my life. In fact, Israel supporters usually try to ignore, not shine a light on, the many Jewish voices like mine because it’s easier to attack a black Muslim woman than a white Israeli one. They are, in reality, trying to silence Ilhan Omar’s voice because it draws attention to the truth. So unless the truth is antisemitic, we should all be supporting and raising up the voice of our only black Muslim woman in Congress and our Palestinian brothers and sisters and fighting for their human rights. For all our human rights.

What’s your opinion on The Combating BDS Act of 2019 (S. 1 and H.R. 336)?

Well, making it illegal to boycott as a form of protest is a violation of the First Amendment. The ACLU and even liberal Zionists who are anti-Boycott Divest Sanction, like our new Governor Polis, are opposed to these bills on First Amendment grounds. These bills are blatant attempts to scare people away from criticizing Israel and supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Israel supporters are afraid that the BDS movement will end apartheid and bring equality in Israel/Palestine. And the Israeli government and its supporters don’t want that to happen. Israel has just codified apartheid into its constitution, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated that Israel is a country not for all its citizens, only for the Jewish ones.

Image via Twitter
President Donald J. Trump pushes for Representative Ilhan Omar to be removed from the Foreign Relations Committee via twitter on Monday, March 4, 2019.

Comparing this scenario, that is like Trump stating (well, overtly stating!) that America is a country just for white Christian people, and everyone else has absolutely no rights. And Congress changing the constitution to get rid of “all men are created equal” to “white Christian men only” …and now imagine being anything other than a Christian white man with zero rights under the law. So while we lament that despite our constitution, black people and Muslims are targeted, often with no consequence to the perpetrators, and school kids are being photographed making white power signs and sieg-heils, we theoretically have the same legal rights under the law. Shouldn’t every country be responsible for and provide equality for all its citizens? Since the election, so many people have been protesting, resisting, fighting for equality and against racism and xenophobia. In a situation like Israel, all those people would not have had the right to do so, they’d be in jail or murdered by the government.

Do you have any suggestions on how to combat antisemitism and support the Jewish community?

The first thing that is critical to ‘combating’ antisemitism is to counter the narrative that apartheid Israel represents the Jewish faith and Jewish people with the truth that Judaism and Zionism are completely different things, a religion and a political philosophy. I truly believe that Israel and its government are the number one threat to my safety as a Jewish person and to the Jewish community by claiming us as accessories to its war crimes and stoking the fires of antisemitism.

Second and just as important, we have to understand that we are all, those in any “other” group (poor white people, people of color, Muslims, women, Jews, LGBTQ+ etc.), being targeted by the same entities, who are turning us all against each other so we don’t realize they are the ones benefiting from everyone’s oppression. All people need to recognize each other’s humanity and be very wary of trusting leaders, movements, and media that try to turn us against each other. Get to know people, do research, reach your own conclusions.

When we all come together, we fight antisemitism because as the saying goes, “none of us are free until all of us are free.” Fighting racism, insisting on our shared humanity, that is what is needed to fight antisemitism. Suggesting otherwise, that anti-Jewish rhetoric is “special” or “different” than the mistreatment of anyone else (like the failed resolution and its supporters were saying) …again, I see that as a way to draw attention to Jews as different, which our mainstream Jewish institutions, which the failed resolution, which the state of Israel all try to push, only makes us more blatant targets of antisemites in the future.


If you’re interested in getting involved with the Denver/Boulder Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, reach out to them on Facebook or Instagram.