Greeted by protests, Rep. Ilhan Omar tells LA-area Muslims to ‘raise hell’ in face of ‘human rights’ violations
Freshman Congresswoman Ilham Omar of Minnesota urged some 400 Los Angeles-area Muslims packed inside the Woodland Hills Hilton on Saturday to stand defiant and “raise hell” in the face of discrimination they confront as Muslims in America.
It’s advice the politician appears to have adopted as her own strategy, as this appearance — a fund-raising event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations — came just weeks after her comments sparked national controversy and exposed a generational divide within the Democratic party on its approach to Israel, the pro-Israel lobby The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and anti-Semitism.
Outside the hotel ahead of the event were at least 1,000 people protesting, creating a sea of American and Israeli flags along Canoga Avenue and picket signs with messages the likes of of “Your hate makes us stronger,” on Omar’s face covered by a swastika.
“I say raise hell, make people uncomfortable,” said Omar to emphatic applause. “Because here’s the truth. For far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of living as second class citizens and I’m tired of it,” she said, pointing to scrutiny and discrimination she said American Muslims faced in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and during the administration of President Donald Trump, which has sought a travel ban from some Muslim-dominant nations.
The Valley Banquet event billed as “empowering Valley Muslims” was the fourth held by CAIR-LA. The Anaheim-based group also has a political arm in Washington.
Omar, who was born a Somali refugee, is one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, along with fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
“Muslims are told that we should not bother anyone, not make any kind of noise, be a good Muslim. But no matter how much we have tried to be the best neighbor, people have always worked on finding a way to not allow for every single civil liberty to be extended to us,” she said, only indirectly addressing her controversial comments on Israel in an apparent reference to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“People say ‘Ilhan, why are you always talking about this particular country and not that particular country?’ My choice of country to talk about is not based on my preference of country. It is based on what country is violating basic human rights. So it doesn’t matter, if that country is being run by my father, my brother my sister, I will still criticize that country … we must also hold those that we love, that have shared values with, accountable.”
.@IlhanMN to the CAIR audience: “There are very fascinating people outside who for so many years have spoken about an Islam that is oppressive, that lessens and isolates women. And today they gather outside to protest a Muslim woman who is in Congress” pic.twitter.com/QfZ7TonFmI
— Ariella Plachta (@AriPlachta) March 24, 2019
In February, Omar faced charges of anti-Semitism for criticism of Israel when she tweeted “It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby,” in an apparent questioning of the financial relationship between AIPAC and members of Congress. She later apologized and said she was learning “the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes” but held onto her criticism of the pro-Israel lobby.
Omar was accused of anti-Semitism again after making comments on the lobby in D.C. that senior Democratic congress members said rang uncomfortably close to “dual loyalty” accusations that have historically been employed to harass and persecute Jews.
Omar has argued that the anti-Semitism label is being used in bad faith to shut down debate, and supporters also believe Omar’s identity as a Muslim woman in Congress has made her an unfair target of criticism. A number of progressive Democrats have come to her defense, including freshman Rep. Alexandria Occasio Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Their support is emblematic of a growing rift among Democrats on the topic as younger, more liberal Democrats appear willing to criticize Israel and U.S. foreign policy in a way that long-serving, older Democrats have traditionally opposed.
After breaking for sunset Maghrib prayers, participants in Saturday’s banquet heard a speech by CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussein Ayloush that raised alarms about white supremacists in light of recent attacks on New Zealand mosques that left 50 worshipers dead.
He said he expected protests and safety concerns prompted hiring of extra security for Saturday’s event.
“You are here despite the protests, threats, bullying seeking to silence our community’s voice and activism. By being here tonight you’ve participated in a resounding defense of justice and equality,” he said.
Omar addressed protesters as well, calling them “fascinating people who for many years have spoken about an Islam that is oppressive, that lessens and isolates women. And today they gather outside to protest a Muslim woman who is in Congress. The irony of that is very entertaining to me.”
Hundreds outside the Woodland Hills Hilton right now protesting Rep. Ilhan Omar’s appearance at a CAIR fundraiser tonight. Crowd’s going wild for a bride walking out of the hotel pic.twitter.com/bJgOsdrrLE
— Ariella Plachta (@AriPlachta) March 23, 2019
Although many demonstrators insisted they came of their own accord, local groups including the San Fernando Valley Patriots and Israeli American Council were at least tangentially involved in planning the protest.
A mix of pro-Israel Evangelicals along with Jewish and Israeli community members participated in the Woodland Hills protest. Some elements mimicked a Pro-Donald Trump rally, with MAGA-hat wearing participants chanting “USA” and “Trump 2020.” “Burn the Koran” or “Ilhan Omar go to hell”.
Far-right activist Laura Loomer also made an appearance, saying she had purchased a room at the hotel to “observe the event” and alleged CAIR connections to Muslim Brotherhood groups — an allegation a CAIR spokesman called “blatant lies.”
Other more moderate protesters took issue with the extreme rhetoric.
“Yeah, we’re not about that,” said Paul, who declined to share his last name. “But due to the progressive narrative these days, someone like Omar can get away with saying things scot-free that she shouldn’t and I don’t think that’s right.”
A small group of some two dozen counter-demonstrators mostly aligned with Jewish Voice for Peace — a left-leaning Jewish group in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement whose local president was honored with an award at the CAIR event — stood opposite the protest in support of Omar.
“I think it’s very obvious she’s not a hateful person,” said a JVP member Steve Cox on Omar. “And this level of intensity of a reaction, those people aren’t here because they love Israel. They’re here because they hate Muslims.”
Inside the banquet, Nas Mohammed from Chino Hills didn’t appear shocked by such impassioned reactions to Omar’s visit. “It’s a free country and she’s always going to be under a microscope, especially because she’s a Muslim woman,” he said. “I think people just misunderstand what she says.”