When a Legislator Puts Her Foot in Her Mouth

Wow, U.S. Representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar really got herself into trouble. Some might accuse her of having a big mouth. I think one lesson to be learned is that when someone takes on a public office, their freedom of speech is put on hold. I think this is probably a good thing. When one gains the power of office, including the power to influence people’s thinking, one needs to be cautious.

One of the human characteristics that drives me crazy is when someone hears a statement about one person in a group they assume that it applies to everyone in that group. This is what happens to statements about Muslims. Omar should understand this. Even if what she said is true, she must realize that those who are already anti-Semitic will fly with it. This is why those in leadership have to be careful about their words. It is one thing to talk about a particular criminal act by an organization such a lobbying group. It is another to make general statements about their over-all activities or intentions. She did the latter.

There is another issue here that is more important to me than people putting their feet in their mouths. It is the issue of what it means for the United States to have allies in the world. I have been to Israel and stayed behind the wall built to contain the Palestinian people. There I heard many stories about abuses against innocent people simply because they were Palestinian. Our group witnessed abuses by Israeli police against teenage boys who were doing nothing but heading off to school. The room I occupied at St. George’s College overlooked the parking lot where Palestinians had to leave their cars and walk through the gate into Israeli territory to bus or take a cab to their jobs. I have also read extensively about the history of Zionism and how it led to the establishment of Israel as a nation over the objection of those occupying the land at the time.

In short, I think the solution of Israel to build a wall around the Palestinian district of Israel is appalling. It is akin to us building a wall around a Chicago neighborhood because of the gang violence there and condemn the innocent families that live there to suffer the punishment that should be aimed at those who actually do the violent acts. I get steamy thinking about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

But Israel is our ally. We pledged to defend them when they need it. We help them out in numerous ways. We share Intelligence for mutual protections. We do the same with other allies but our bond with Israel seems especially strong. I won’t get into why this is true because that isn’t related the point I want to make. My point is this: does being an ally with another nation mean that we have to put a stamp of approval on all of their actions or on their policies? We establish sanctions against human life abuses in the countries we consider our enemies, yet we turn our eyes away when these are done by our allies. I compare it to friendship. Those with whom I have a deep friendship, if they see me doing something harmful to myself or others, would tell me. I in turn would be honest with them. We have not been honest, it appears to me, with Israel. They have been oppressing the Palestinian people and it is wrong.

Having said all this, I appreciate that slapping an ally on the hands should not necessarily be done in public. I like to think that our leaders who deal with foreign relations hold high American values in all situation and call out human abuses when they see them…behind closed doors. But we need to be firm and at least not support abusive actions, even establishing some sanctions. I think what Ilhan Omar needs to learn is the power of her new office to influence people including the power to reinforce preexisting prejudices. But, while surrendering the right to speak her mind in all situations, she is now in a position to effect change that she didn’t have before. I hope she listens to the wisdom of those who have already learned the lesson of when to speak and when to keep your thoughts to yourself.

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