‘IfNotNow’: The Anti-Israel Jews Who Back Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty)
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty
JOEL B. POLLAK

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), both facing accusations of antisemitism, have found support from IfNotNow, a radical left-wing anti-Israel organization on the fringe of the Jewish community.

IfNotNow started in 2014 as a protest against Israel’s war against the Hamas terrorist organization — a war almost universally blamed on Hamas, in which it launched rockets against civilians in major Israeli population centers.

IfNotNow seeks to disrupt the connections that many American Jewish organizations have with Israel. It blames American Jewish support for Israel for the persistence of the Israeli occupation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), though most Palestinians in that territory live under the administration of the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to staging sit-ins and protests, members of IfNotNow attempt to infiltrate Jewish summer camps and tours of Israel, where they launch demonstrations or expose the mainstream Jewish community to anti-Israel propaganda.

In one episode in 2018, members of IfNotNow were arrested while reciting the Kaddish — the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead — near the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, memorializing Palestinians killed in “protests” at the Gaza border. (The vast majority of Palestinians killed were members of Hamas, and they were trying to infiltrate Israel to carry out attacks, not stage a non-violent protest against Israeli policies.)

The phrase “if not now” is derived from an axiom of the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel: “If not now, when?” The group downplays the first part of the phrase, which stresses balancing one’s obligation to care for one’s own interests with the obligation to help others: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14). To IfNotNow, the Jewish community’s own perceived interests are inherently problematic.

In addition to targeting Jewish institutions and blaming them for Israel’s alleged misdeeds, and encouraging the general public to do the same, IfNotNow has also participated in other protests, including the Women’s March, as part of the so-called “Resistance.” IfNotNow criticized the Women’s March for its links to the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, but defended the organization in general.

Linda Sarsour, the anti-Israel Women’s March leader who is considered an antisemite by some of her former colleagues, praised IfNotNow in 2016, calling it “the future of the American Jewish community.”

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said over the weekend, IfNotNow “is a disgrace and in no way speaks for the Jewish community.”

Late last week, after Omar had been forced to apologize for a series of antisemitic tweets — which remain live as of this writing — members of IfNotNow showed solidarity with Omar and Tlaib, who has faced similar complaints:

Omar, whom Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, supports boycotts of Israel. Tlaib believes Israel should not exist and should be replaced by a Palestinian state.

These positions are often criticized as antisemitic, since they single out the Jewish state alone for isolation and destruction, ignoring both Palestinian terror and more compelling human rights issues elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Omar and Tlaib both seem to find IfNotNow’s support useful in deflecting persistent accusations of antisemitism.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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