July 18, 2019

Hundreds Protest Rep. Ilhan Omar in Woodland Hills

More than 500 people protested Rep. Ilhan Omar, the freshman Minnesota Democrat who appeared as the keynote speaker during a fundraiser for the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), on March 23 in Woodland Hills. 

Since assuming office in January, Omar has faced a barrage of criticism from both sides of the aisle for comments and tweets that many have perceived as anti-Semitic and critical of Israel’s government.

The protest outside the Hilton Woodland Hills, where CAIR California held its fourth annual Valley Banquet, called “Advancing Justice, Empowering Valley Muslims,” prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to close several blocks of Canoga Avenue. 

There were no arrests, according to the LAPD Topanga Community Police Station, which was at the scene of the rally.

Waving American and Israeli flags, protesters wore “Make American Great Again” caps and yellow Stars of David with the word “Jude” on them. Some of their signs read “Remove Hate From Our House,” “Your Hate Makes Us Stronger,” “This Is How It Started in Germany,” “No Sharia Law in America,” “Reject Ilhan’s Bigotry” and “Ilhan Omar Is a Pile of Human Waste.”

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Omar’s got to go!” protesters shouted.

In February, Omar tweeted that American support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby.” Many said her comment reinforced the trope of Jewish money controlling world affairs. After apologizing, she denounced the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as having too much influence on the U.S. government. This month, she said that her unwillingness to express loyalty to Israel was why many were upset with her, evoking the stereotype that Jews have “dual loyalties” to the United States and Israel.

Young liberals, dressed in blue, also attended the protest demonstrating issues with Omar. Photo by Ryan Torok

One of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, Omar wears a hijab, a traditional head covering worn by Muslim women, leading to accusations that she adheres to Shariah law.

San Fernando Valley Israeli community member David Zerbib said the problem was not with Omar’s head covering but with her rhetoric.

“Wearing a hijab doesn’t show hatred. If you believe in that, do so. But wearing a hijab doesn’t give you the right to spew hatred the way she does,” said Zerbib, a bodyguard, who was working out at the L.A. Fitness next door to the demonstration, heard the noise and decided to join the protest.

“I heard about Ilhan Omar being in town,” he said, wearing an Israeli flag like a cape over his workout clothes. “It’s an honor to be here among everyone else.”

At times, the protest got ugly, as when people in formal attire walked into the hotel across the street from the protest against the CAIR event and protesters shouted hateful remarks, including “traitors” and “bastards.”

The rally against Omar, a grass-roots effort that was publicized largely through social media, drew American Jews, Israelis, evangelical Christians, Catholics and others. Their common motivation was to support Israel. 

“As a Christian, it is the belief that it is my duty to stand behind Israel,” said Kira Innis, an African-American in a red Make American Great Again cap. “[Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu is our ally and our friend. While the liberals have spent eight years under the last guy shivving him in the back, President [Donald] Trump now has his back and Ilhan Omar would seek to undo the very key work that has been done by our president to help aid the Jewish people.

“Down with the likes of Ilhan and up with the likes of Judge Jeanine,” Innis said, referencing Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whose show has not aired since she said this about Omar on March 9 in her opening: “Is her [Omar’s] adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shariah law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”

Leonard Furman, a retired Russian Jew from Porter Ranch who wore a yellow Star of David on his shirt — “I thought it would be very appropriate to have one and show who I am,” he said — said he was pleased to see people of many backgrounds protest against Omar.

“I am glad people of different denominations, not only Jews, came to express outrage,” he said.

Paul, a young demonstrator who declined to give his last name, said he was an independent. He dressed in blue to stand apart from the crowd’s Trump supporters.

He said Omar’s statements about Israel had crossed the line into anti-Semitism.

“We’re here protesting the poor excuse for her series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial canards in conjunction with her criticism of Israel. Not just her sheer criticism of Israel but that they are tainted with very historically dangerous stereotypes toward Jews,” Paul said. “Her poor excuse is that what she meant by these series of tweets is she just wants money out of politics. Here we are demonstrating that she is taking over $60,000 from PACs [political action committees], she is currently at an event that is a PAC and a lobbying organization that donated, contributed to her campaign, so obviously she is not against that,” Paul said. “We feel that dialogue needs to be advanced, her hypocrisy needs to be illuminated and that we condemn it.”

Israeli-Americans Dekel Zelig and David Zerbib protested against Omar. Photo by Ryan Torok

Acknowledging the protesters, Omar told the CAIR fundraiser crowd that the demonstration did not bother her. 

“I know many of them drove miles to get here, spent a lot of energy and resources and money to purchase the signs that they have, but I don’t think any of them realize that people like myself and many of the people in this room can care less about what they have to say, because we know who we are and where we belong and what we stand for,” Omar said inside the Hilton.

CAIR, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, has chapters around the country, including a local Anaheim office. 

The group’s mission is to “enhance the understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice and empower American Muslims,” the organization’s website says.

Michael Wilding, general manager at the Hilton Woodland Hills, said the hotel received calls prior to the CAIR fundraiser from people who wanted the Hilton to cancel the event.

“Our standpoint is we as a hotel are neutral on this,” Wilding said. “We are just serving as a provider of services and facilities for the public. Our main goal was everyone is safe and there is no disturbance. Safety first — that was our priority, that everyone was safe.” 

This article was corrected on March 26 and 27 to reflect that CAIR was not on the Anti-Defamation League’s most recent list of the “Top Ten Anti-israel Groups in the U.S.”