Editor’s Desk: Ilhan Omar needs to believe | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Editor’s Desk: Ilhan Omar needs to believe


When I was editor for the daily newspaper in Racine, I noticed a bad habit among us journalists. I call it the we-got-it moment and it’s when, journalistically speaking, you fall off your game.

It works like this. Big news breaks. Maybe it’s a terrible shooting or a political figure stepping down. You rush to cover it. Then, through hard work, established relationships with sources, having amazing people on your team and some luck, you own it. You’ve got the news up on your site before any of the Milwaukee TV stations, before the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or anyone else can get anywhere near it.

Rep. Ihan Omar

The news may be bad or sad for the world, for Racine, or for the individuals involved, but you can take pride in knowing that you did your job. Ahh. We got it. Time to relax. Which is when the other news media, which is also pretty darn good at what they do, moves in to crush you on the second-day story: What more is there to know about the shooting? Why did the politician step down? Can we get him to talk to us?

Journalists get defeated by that moment of success because it can be followed by a pause, a moment of self-satisfied complacency. They miss the follow-up story and that’s the story that can add nuance and depth. I learned this the hard way after getting second-day scooped too many times.

This thought takes me to the national news media’s treatment of Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman representing Minneapolis. After tweeting that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby” (it is not), the media pounced and she apologized. Ahhh, we got it.

“Benjamins” apparently referred to $100 bills, showing at least an insensitivity to the specter of an anti-Semitic trope. Yet literally three hours after her apology, Omar retweeted a story by a former Congressional staffer alleging AIPAC influence and claiming “it was definitely about the Benjamins.”

The statement Omar retweeted continues, “AIPAC is a central pillar of the occupation. Without Congressional support, the Likud/anti-Palestine/pro-occupation project would be radically undermined. AIPAC is the anchor of that support, and its money and Sheldon Adelson’s money are indispensable to the work.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar retweeted a tweet string, including this statement (above) and a repeat of the “Benjamins” comment, three hours after she apologized on Twitter (below).

My heart goes out to the person who wrote this statement, because he reports on his Twitter page that he has ALS and is dying. That’s horrible. But the words have been retweeted by a Congresswoman and a response is warranted.

In fact, there’s so much to unpack here, let’s reduce it to a top-five list. This isn’t everything in the suitcase, but it’s something.

  1. Ahh, we got it. Or perhaps not.
  2. Um, sorry but AIPAC is actually not the central pillar of the “occupation,” nor is Sheldon Adelson. The central pillar of the situation is that Gaza is no longer occupied and Hamas has turned it into a rocket/terror/tunnel/attack-balloon launching pad, so why would Israel withdraw from the West Bank and then face the same issues? This simple fact has disempowered the Israeli left, which had previously shown an ability to strike a deal with Palestinian leadership, which that Palestinian leadership then showed an ability to walk away from. So there’s a pillar for you.
  3. Rep. Omar, I don’t want to burst any anti-Semitic bubbles or anything, but we Jews are actually not as powerful as you may think we are. A Pew Research Center report in 2013 declared, “Jews are among the most strongly liberal, Democratic groups in U.S. politics. There are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public, this balance is nearly reversed.” So I guess that explains why Trump is president, Republicans control the Senate and until recently they controlled the House. Republicans control both houses in the Wisconsin state Legislature, holding the Assembly by an astonishing margin of 63-35, in a state that is supposedly purple. Both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court lean conservative at this time. But Jews are in control, got it.
  4. I fully admit that when I was but a lad I did not see this coming, but support for Israel may be even stronger today among evangelicals than it is among American Jews. There are certainly a lot more of them than there are of us. I’m grateful for the support, which is grounded not in money but in faith and shared cultural values. There are, in fact, many reasons why people chose to support Israel that have absolutely nothing to do with the Benjamins.
  5. Those of us who support Israel are hungry to be understood, to be heard. Throw us a few crumbs and we’ll give you the world. Omar should ask people from different walks of life why they support Israel and what their “central pillar” is. If she were to show us what she’d learned, she could be the unifying heroine we all want her to be. She could be the rising progressive star of the media’s dreams.

It would have been nice if we could have believed in Ilhan Omar, but it’s hard to get there if she’s not going to believe in us.