Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Ilhan Omar

Free Speech for Me, Not for Thee: Newspaper editors have a right to chastize Omar without unsubstantiated claims of racism and Islamophobia being lobbed at them.

By Rachel O’Donoghue, Honest Reporting

Ilhan Omar has been an outspoken proponent of the constitutionally protected right of free speech when it comes to criticizing Israel.

In 2019, for example, the “progressive” Democrat politician representing Minnesota, who prides herself on being the first black, Muslim congresswoman, introduced a resolution that stated economic boycotts are an expression of speech in a bill that was co-sponsored by fellow “Squad” member Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

While the legislation did not specifically mention Israel or Palestinians, when asked about it, Omar referenced the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to delegitimize and eventually dismantle the Jewish state:

“We are introducing a resolution… to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our first amendment rights in regard to boycotting. And it is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”

However, it seems Omar is less of a free speech advocate when it comes to the press criticizing her.

This weekened, she shared an open letter that attacked the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial board for republishing an op-ed by New York Times writer Bret Stephens in which he condemned Omar for voting against United States funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defensive system in September.

The Star Tribune reproduced the column and added a picture of Hamas rockets being fired at Israel, in addition to changing the headline from the NYT’s original, ‘A Foul Play by Progressives Over Israel’s Iron Dome,’ to, ‘Omar, ‘Squad,’ Launch Another Anti-Israel Strike.’

However, according to the open letter’s authors, this was not simply a bit of wordplay that highlighted Omar and some of her Democratic colleague’s incessant attacks on Israel (see here and here).

Instead, they viewed the revised headline and included image as evidence the Star Tribune was promoting a “textbook example of Islamophobia” and accused the outlet of “equating Muslims with terrorism.”

Rather bizarrely, the open letter writers nevertheless asserted they “do not feel it is necessary to explain why this represents a clear example of deeply seated racism and Islamophobia among the decision makers at the paper,” even while claiming such editorial content “increase threats of violence” towards Omar as well as her Muslim colleagues and “other women of color.”

The letter also contains a list of demands for the Star Tribune to make amends, which include hiring “black, Muslim, and female voices” to the editorial board; ending “the use [of] loaded, racist or Islamophobic language in headlines in coverage”; and, finally, apologizing for and changing the “racist headline against Rep. Ilhan Omar and accompanying image.”

Sharing a link to the letter on Twitter, Omar claimed she has “great respect for journalists” but insisted she “will not stand by while an (overwhelmingly white and male) editorial board continues to use divide and conquer tactics against communities of color in our city.”

Yet, it is rather evident that Omar does not respect a newspaper’s right to editorial independence given she supports a letter that calls for an article to be censored in addition to baselessly creating a link between negative coverage of her and real-world threats to her safety.

Just as Omar has a right to criticize Israel — although not to disseminate antisemitic tropes — and push for Iron Dome funding to be withdrawn, newspaper editors have a right to chastize her for doing so without unsubstantiated claims of racism and Islamophobia being lobbed at them.