By Dean Malik
On February 27, 2019 at a speaking engagement held at a Washington D.C. bookstore, newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar stated, with apparent reference to both American Jews and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (“AIPAC”), “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This comment followed recent tweets from Omar suggesting that American elected officials were “bought off” by the pro-Israel lobby, and earlier tweets from before she was elected, beseeching Allah to punish Israel for its “evil deeds.”
The tweets were roundly condemned as dog whistle anti-Semitism both by conservatives and members of her own party. However, the greater question raised by Omar’s conduct before and after her election pertains to the path that brought her to the United States as a young refugee from a war-torn country on the Horn of Africa and ultimately lead to her becoming a powerful elected official. In an attempt to defend or minimize Omar’s statements, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered, “She didn’t have a full appreciation of how [her words] landed on other people where these words have a history and cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.”
The import of Pelosi’s comments is clear. Omar comes, as an immigrant, from a different cultural milieu, and she could not be expected to understand how Americans, given our culture and history, would interpret her statements. Whether joking about the American view of terrorist organization al Qaeda, dismissing the notion that America is a “Christian” nation, or referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as “some people did something,” Omar’s apparent indifference to American culture and history has been showcased on multiple occasions.
It is fitting, albeit ironic, that Omar, a naturalized American citizen, by raising an accusation of dual loyalty and self-dealing against other Americans, has opened the door to a conversation about whether natural born citizenship should in fact be a requirement for the very office she holds.