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Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Seven years ago, long before she arrived in Congress, Ilhan Omar tweeted: "Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."

I'm not Jewish, but I'll admit to being hypnotized by Israel. When I visited with a group of Latino journalists seven years ago, through a program sponsored by the New York-based organization America's Voices in Israel, I was very impressed.

To think that a tiny country with no oil that is less than 100 years old has managed not just to survive but to prosper and be a global leader in innovation -- all while surrounded by enemies, some of whom want to wipe it off the map -- is really quite astounding. Add to that the fact that Israel knows what it's like to be at the bottom of the stack, when critics pile on in places like the United Nations, and you can see why many Americans have a soft spot for the one functioning democracy in the Middle East.

And, ironically, that's the very reason Americans should be more sympathetic to Omar, who -- after a series of provocative comments and incendiary tweets -- finds herself at the bottom of the heap.

The freshman Democrat from Minnesota stands accused of being an anti-Semite by a host of media commentators, politicians in both parties and others in the chattering class. But, upon closer review, it does seem that not all the criticism of Omar has been honest or fair.

We should start by defining anti-Semitism. I think of it as a first cousin to racism, and thus it can be explained by the same standard: hate, fear and inferiority.

If you hate Jews, fear Jews or think Jews inferior, you're guilty of anti-Semitism. However, just criticizing Israel, or even those in the United States who lobby for Israel's interests, doesn't quite get you across the finish line.

We don't know what's in Omar's heart. We do know that she is often too glib for her own good. On the sensitive topic of how Americans who support Israel get members of Congress to pay attention to their concerns, Omar invoked a slang reference to $100 bills when she tweeted that the strategy was "all about the Benjamins baby."

In response to criticism, Omar apologized. Yet, clearly, the backlash she has received has given her a lot to think about. And lately, she has pushed back and asserted that she has a right to her views -- even when they make others uncomfortable, including members of her own party.

During a recent speech in Washington, Omar said: "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Her fellow Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., took offense to that comment and reminded her colleague on Twitter that Jews have long been accused of having divided loyalties.

To which Omar, who was born in Somalia, replied: "I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee."

Omar stands by her most recent comments.

As well she should. There is nothing wrong with raising the issue of U.S. lawmakers pledging their support for a foreign country -- no matter which country we're talking about.

As a Mexican-American, if someone were to accuse the Mexican-American members of Congress of pledging allegiance to Mexico, I would not get all bent out of shape and call it evidence of anti-Mexico bigotry.

Let's all take a deep breath, and take our fingers off the outrage button.

This is what real diversity looks like, folks. It's not just about electing people of a different race or background. It's about accepting the fact that those people, once elected, will often think and speak differently.

In Omar's most recent comments, she's not attacking Israel, the Israeli people or Jews. She's doing something that, in the Washington swamp, is considered even more deplorable -- attacking the integrity of her fellow lawmakers in Congress, who are easily influenced by campaign contributions.

Have we never heard this before -- in our discussions about the power of the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, Big Pharma, etc.?

Omar is obviously brave and outspoken. But she may, or may not, also be anti-Semitic. We can't tell from her statements.

The only thing that's crystal clear is that she has contempt for Congress. Ask around. In that regard, she is hardly alone.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. writes for the Washington Post.



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