I am a Somali-American who is proud to make Minnesota my home — along with thousands in our community. I have served my native country as Somalia’s First Secretary to the Somali Mission to the United Nations.
I am a friend of Palestine. I am a friend of Israel. I am a friend of the Muslim community. I am a friend of the Jewish community.
At times I have opposed policies of the Israeli government. Indeed, I voted in favor of the November 2012 United Nations General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood, which Israel and the United States opposed.
At the same time, I remind our community that Israel was the first nation at the U.N. to support Somali admission into the organization. Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have long extended assistance to Somali refugees in East African refugee camps. More recently, an Israeli judge granted asylum to Somalis living in Tel Aviv. By contrast, Saudi Arabia continues to deport Somalis to the dangerous conditions of the civil war.
Israel is a country with which we have important disagreements, but Israel is also a nation that has been supportive of the Somali people, support we deeply appreciate.
This full history of the Somali-Israeli relationship is not evident in the expressions of hate and anti-Semitism — in Somali, Arabic and English — that I read on social media from members of our local Somali community. Here are some illustrative examples: “Kill the Jews.” “Hitler was a hero.” “Boycott Jewish business.” And so on.
Such comments are wrong, abhorrent and counterproductive in the effort to establish peace in the Middle East — and they reflect badly upon our community. I keep in mind that these are not sentiments held by the vast majority of decent and caring Somalis, but are the vicious outbursts of a small group of people. But unless our community repudiates them, what they say will do great damage.
We have not come to the United States to become haters of Jews, of Israel or of anyone else, for that matter. Leave that hatred to the Europeans, whose streets in Brussels, Paris and London are filled with demonstrators shouting “death to the Jews” by way of protesting the Gaza war. This is not our way. This is not the American way. This is not the Somali-American way.
This country — our country — is a land where, for all of its historical difficulties, including its own Civil War, the expression of political differences is largely civil and does not descend to the level of wishing death or misfortune for those with whom we disagree. That type of discourse has no place in the United States and should have no place in our Somali-American culture.
Besides being morally wrong, anti-Minnesotan and anti-American, such expressions of hatred bring a Palestinian state no closer to existence. All such talk does is alienate the broad band of Minnesotans and Americans who support Israel and who recognize the just need for an independent Palestinian state — a position for which I cast an affirmative U.N. vote. Mixing support for Palestinians with hatred of Jews quite rightly turns people off and relegates those who engage in it to the fringes, where Americans rightly place all anti-Semites.
Somali support for a Palestinian state is natural and important. Somali support for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine is historically right and just, and helps our community become a bridge between our Muslim and Jewish friends in Minnesota and across the United States.
This is the American way and the Somali-American way!
Omar Jamal is a Somali community activist in St. Paul and former executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.