Did Ilhan Omar stir the hornet's nest?

Did Ilhan Omar stir the hornets nest?

By Niharika Prabhakar

US politician Ilhan Omar adds fuel to Israel-Palestine debate

Ilhan Omar, democratic representative from the US state of Minnesota, has caused a storm with her comments on the bonhomie between the United States and Israel regarding the Palestine issue. Although Omar issued an apology following condemnation by Democrats and Republicans alike, her comments have sparked a reenergized debate on a decade-old conflict.

What did she say?

In a series of tweets earlier this month, Omar suggested that US support to Israel was a direct result of the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paying politicians for their support. While AIPAC has been a subject of scrutiny in the past, Omar's comments were perceived as referring to anti-Semitic tropes about the control and influence of Jewish money.

"Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes," Omar's apology after severe backlash read. "My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize." However, she stood by her criticism of lobbyists, reaffirming their "problematic" role, whether they are the AIPAC, the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the fossil fuel industry.

US President Donald Trump later called the apology "lame" and even called for Omar's resignation over the comment. Omar responded by accusing Trump of "trafficking in hate" his whole life.

Reactions galore - against and for
The backlash against the comment was immediate and overwhelming, but it was not entirely one-sided. Some people, such as rising Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, chose to view Omar's apology as a lesson learned. Still others have openly welcomed her criticism of the practice of lobbying, arguing that questioning AIPAC's role was not anti-Semitic. Many have applauded her for questioning the state of Israel (accused of human rights violations and illegal settlements in Palestine), while still finding her particular reference to AIPAC offensive.

Where does the US stand on Israel-Palestine conflict?
Historically, Americans have been sympathetic to Israel. The US sells arms to Israel, supports it on UN resolutions and in 2018, Trump shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a controversial move. Recently however, support for Israel seems be dropping among US youth. According to a poll conducted by The Economist and YouGov, only 25% democratic voters viewed Israel as an "ally".

Whichever side people have chosen to support in the controversy, the response has been strong and intense. Despite Omar's tweets aging seven days, the furor has refused to die down, perhaps signaling a growing need to address how Americans view the country's relationship with Israel.

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