US commission on religious freedom event no longer lists Ilhan Omar as speaker – but she’ll have her say

All members of Congress are invited to pre-record remarks; Joel Griffith of Heritage says “this unjustly allows her to rehabilitate her image.”

By Menachem Wecker, JNS

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has compared boycotts of Israel and of Nazi Germany, was listed as one of three members of Congress delivering opening remarks at a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom event on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims.

That’s according to a listing shared on Twitter for what was to be an April 25 event, during which the USCIRF was to release its 2023 annual report. The event is now slated for May 1, without the congresswoman or her two colleagues, listed on the docket.

In response to a query from JNS about why Omar, given her history of antisemitic statements, was an appropriate speaker choice, a spokesperson for the commission, which is part of the federal government, who did not provide a name directed JNS to the webpage, “including a list of speakers on our website.” Omar was not listed on the site.

In response to JNS reporting that Omar was no longer a speaker, Jeremy Slevin, a senior advisor to Omar, called the JNS report “false.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but this story is completely false,” he said. “Rep. Omar will be delivering virtual remarks at the event, just like Sen. Rubio.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) were the other two listed in the original announcement.

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When JNS asked the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom about the claim from Omar’s office that the reporting was false, the unnamed USCIRF spokesperson told JNS: “We had a change in date to May 1, 2023. This event is being held virtually, and we invite all members of Congress to provide remarks, as they wish, for USCIRF’s annual report rollout.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, whom JNS was unable to reach via multiple channels, remains listed as moderator at the event.

Laura Ortiz, a spokeswoman for Rubio, told JNS that the senator would not attend in person but would pre-record remarks. She deferred questions to the USCIRF. “They organize the event, not the senator,” she said. “That’s up to their prerogative.”

“Marco has been on the record on his disagreements with the congresswoman on multiple occasions,” she added.

‘A slap in the face’

Joel Griffith, a financial regulations research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told JNS that it is “preposterous” for the commission to invite someone who calls for boycotting the lone Middle East nation, which offers religious freedom for Jews, Christians and Muslims, to speak at an event about religious freedom.

“There is no excuse for any organization that claims to respect religious freedom to invite Ilhan Omar to speak,” he said. “This unjustly allows her to rehabilitate her image.”

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Griffith, who told JNS he speaks as a “proud Jewish American,” encouraged Saperstein not to moderate any event with Omar.

“I think that the commission owes an apology, both to our ally Israel and to those of us who care so deeply about this,” Griffith said. Of Omar being welcomed to speak on Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, he added: “To invite her is a slap in the face of people who put their lives on the line.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom spokesperson did not respond when JNS offered an opportunity for it to comment on Griffith’s suggestion it owes an apology.

Omar has a long history of antisemitic statements, including accusing Israel of having “hypnotized the world” and Jews of buying control of Congress (“It’s all about the Benjamins”). She has called Israel an “apartheid state” and likened it to the Taliban and Hamas terrorist groups.

Per the USCIRF website, the 2023 annual report “documents systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom that have occurred in the last year, and provides recommendations to the U.S. government intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief abroad.”