Minnesota Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar is catching heat for saying she supports BDS, a movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, which some critics say is a reversal to earlier statements she made while campaigning.
For those unfamiliar with BDS, the movement says it aims to end “international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” The movement considers Israel an apartheid state—a view shared by none other than the United Nations in a 2017 report.
Last weekend, in a blog posted to Muslim Girl (h/t WCCO-TV), Omar’s staff confirmed that she “believes in and supports” the BDS movement. Some—particularly members of the Minneapolis’ Jewish community—found the comments divergent from Omar’s previously stated stance.
As WCCO-TV explains, Omar, ahead of the primary, said the BDS movement was “not helpful” in achieving a two-state solution, which Omar supports.
Omar spoke to Jewish community leaders at a St. Louis Park synagogue in August. Here’s how that conversation went, according to the Star Tribune:
Omar said she supported a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the BDS movement wasn’t helpful in trying to achieve that goal. Pressed by moderator Mary Lahammer to specify “exactly where you stand on that,” Omar replied that the BDS movement was “counteractive” because it stopped both sides from coming together for “a conversation about how that’s going to be possible.”
However, according to one reporter, Omar herself confirmed her stance in a text message, saying her stance on Israel has “always been the same.”
“I believe and supports [sic] the BDS movement, and have fought to make sure people right to support it isn’t criminalized,” the text says, referring to an anti-BDS bill Omar voted against. “I do however, have reservations on effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.”
Israel has received increasing international criticism for its draconian policies—and state-sanctioned violence—toward the Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists, including a controversial 2017 law that bars BDS supporters from even entering the country. This week alone, Israel launched a fierce air attack on the Gaza border, killing at least seven Palestinians. Rockets were also launched from Gaza, wounding dozens and killing a Palestinian laborer, Reuters reports.
But pro-Israel groups say BDS denies Israel’s “right to exist,” making support for BDS and a two-state solution impossible. Other critics of Omar say the congresswoman-elect deliberately misled Jewish voters in the run-up to her election, leading them to believe she didn’t support BDS in either their tactics or mission.
Coloring this conversation—and the intense focus on Omar’s stance, specifically—is her Muslim background. Omar is not just the first Muslim woman elected to Congress (alongside Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib)—she is the first and only black Muslim woman. While some people were quick to label her stance anti-Semitic, others saw a congresswoman who was consistent in calling out oppressive governments.
Imraan Siddiqi, an Arizona-based civil rights activist, noted that Omar had similarly called out a Muslim nation, Saudi Arabia, for its role in massacres in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“If boycotting based on human-rights violations makes her anti-Semitic, then boycotting Saudi based on human-rights violations makes her Islamophobic too,” he wrote.
Omar is one of the faces of the Democrats’ new “freshman” class, which has made waves for its gender and racial diversity, as well as its progressive politics. Two of Omar’s peers, congresswoman-elect Tlaib and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been similarly critical of Israel.