July 17, 2019

Let’s Talk About the Benjamins

Rep. Ilhan Omar Photo from Flickr.

When I first read Rep. Ilhan Omar’s now-infamous Feb. 11 tweet — “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” — my tired brain thought: Wow, she’s praising Jewish excellence in parenting.

I rarely use Twitter, but I was monitoring it because I had tweeted to Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and her fellow freshmen colleagues, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), asking them to comment on the Feb. 7 slaying of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, whose body was found in a wooded area after she disappeared while taking a walk during a break from volunteering at a youth center near Jerusalem. Israeli police arrested a Palestinian suspect and issued a statement alleging the killing was politically motivated.

Not surprisingly, I still haven’t heard from the three congresswomen. So I am led to believe that they either condone the slaying or don’t want to talk about it because it undermines the boycott, divestment and sanctions narrative. It also doesn’t help them that Ansbacher worked with children with disabilities — of all faiths.

Omar, of course, was not talking about how well we raise our kids. With her “Benjamins” reference to $100 bills, she was implying that Jewish money — in particular from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — controls U.S. politicians. You know, just like we control the weather.

The best part of this story is that Omar’s tweet received immediate condemnation from across the political spectrum. “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” read a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Omar tweeted a response in which she said, “I unequivocally apologize” but that also included a line suggesting she still didn’t understand the way lobbying groups work — AIPAC doesn’t fund politicians.

It’s unfortunate for Omar that a recent Gallup poll found that Americans’ favorability toward Israel had reached an unprecedented 72 percent. Pro-Israel pols who condemned her remarks were responding both to their own moral compasses and the will of their constituents.

“The best part of this story is that Omar’s tweet received immediate condemnation from across the political spectrum.” 

Omar told CNN that she found it “exciting” that her comments were sparking controversy, and that people finally were able to have “difficult conversations.” OK. Here are a few difficult conversations I want to have. First, why can’t she condemn terrorism? Not once has the House’s new Troika of Doom (Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez) actually condemned terrorism. And since the latest act of alleged Palestinian barbarism involved a 19-year-old, I want to know what Omar and Tlaib think about raising little Benjamins. Jewish mothers believe in nurturing to the point of overprotecting. But most of us, no matter how bad things get, don’t teach our kids to hate groups of people and never encourage acts of violence.

Omar was clearly taught to hate Jews, as nearly all Muslims are. Has she already passed that hate on to her children? Why does she never say anything about Somalia, her homeland, which is so unsafe due to crime and terrorism that it’s on the U.S. Travel Advisory? Why doesn’t she focus on the genital mutilation performed on every Somalian girl, and the fact that a 10-year-old died from that procedure last summer? If Omar started a campaign against genital cutting, I would help her in every way possible.

You’re right, Rep. Omar, it is all about the Benjamins. But not the ones you meant. Why not use your role as a member of Congress and begin to work for change for children around the world? Why not be the light instead of mercilessly playing with the darkness?

I end with the words of Ori Ansbacher’s mother: “I ask from those who are listening to us and for whom our words are entering their hearts, to do one small thing to add light to the world — one act of kindness and maybe we will preserve Ori’s [soul] in the world and maybe we will have some comfort by adding light to the world.”

Ori means “my light” in Hebrew. Be the light, Rep. Omar. We want to believe in you.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.