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Ilhan Omar’s spokesman says AIPAC ‘putting her life at risk’ with latest ads

Pro-Israel lobby says campaign with Omar’s photo and call to ‘stand against terrorists’ is fair game given her comments appearing to equate US and Israel with Taliban and Hamas

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar addresses media after lunch at the Mercado Central in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020, primary election day in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar addresses media after lunch at the Mercado Central in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020, primary election day in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

NEW YORK — A spokesman for Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Wednesday accused the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby of putting his boss’s life at risk with its latest ad campaign targeting the progressive lawmaker and frequent Israel critic.

The ad is headlined, “Stand with America. Stand against Terrorists” and features a picture of Omar and the declaration: “For Ilhan Omer, there is no difference between America and the Taliban; between Israel and Hamas; between democracies and terrorists; tell Rep. Omar: Condemn terrorists, not America.”

The ad refers to a controversial tweet Omar posted in June in which she wrote of the “unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

After she came under fire for appearing to equate alleged crimes committed by Israel and the US to ones committed by Hamas and the Taliban, Omar issued a statement clarifying that she was “not [trying to create] a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel.”

Reacting to the new ad, Omar’s spokesman Jeremy Slevin tweeted: “The language AIPAC uses in paid ads to smear and vilify [Omar] is virtually identical to the language used in death threats she gets.”

His tweet included a screenshot of the ad alongside a June tweet from Omar on a death threat she’d received, apparently equating the two: “‘Muslims are terrorists. And she is a raghead n****. And every anti-American communist piece of s*** that works for her, I hope you get what’s f***ing coming for you.”

“Make no mistake: AIPAC is putting Rep. Omar’s life at risk with repeated Islamophobic attack ads,” Slevin wrote. “It shouldn’t have to be stated, but baselessly linking Muslim-Americans to terrorism is *the* textbook example of Islamophobia and is routinely used to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights.”

AIPAC responded to Slevin’s tweet, calling it a “baseless attack” which “can’t deflect from [Omar’s] attack on America and Israel.”

It added: “It is outrageous for Rep. Omar to put the US and Israel on the same level as the Taliban and Hamas. There is no moral equivalence between democratic allies and the terrorists who target them.”

Omar’s colleague in the progressive caucus and fellow “Squad” member Rep. Rashida Tlaib responded to Slevin’s tweet, writing, “I am so sick of this shit.”

To Tlaib, AIPAC wrote: “So are we, Congresswoman. Inciting hate by demonizing Israel and spreading vicious, dangerous lies about our democratic ally Israel doesn’t advance the prospects for peace.”

The dovish Middle East lobby J Street also joined the back-and-forth, tweeting that “after 4 years backing Trump’s far-right policies, AIPAC seems to be declaring war on progressive Democrats with incendiary ads falsely accusing Congresswomen of color of supporting terror and hate.”

“This isn’t ‘bipartisan.’ It doesn’t help Israel. It doesn’t speak for American Jews,” J Street said.

Asked by Haaretz for comment on the ad, Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office said that like in a previous May ad campaign by AIPAC which depicted Omar alongside rockets fired from Gaza, the pro-Israel lobby had crossed a line.

“I disagree with the statements made by the Members, but attacking them in ads does not advance the goal of increasing support for Israel. AIPAC ought to be making the case to the American people not only for Israel’s right to protect the lives of its citizens, but why they have a moral responsibility to do so; and its value as our ally and national security partner,'” Hoyer’s office said in a statement.

Omar called out AIPAC shortly after entering Congress in 2019, singling out the pro-Israel lobby in a tweet and writing that US support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.” The post was roundly criticized as antisemitic and Omar later apologized, saying “antisemitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of antisemitic tropes.”

Since then Omar, Tlaib and other members of the so-called Squad who have also been highly critical of Israel have become common targets in fundraising and call-to-action campaigns launched by pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC.

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