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Jewish Omar staffer targeted over boss’s comments decries religion-based hatred

‘Everything pales in comparison’ to the level of hate Rep. Ilhan Omar receives based on her religion, Slevin says

Jeremy Slevin, senior communications director for Rep. Ilhan Omar, has worked for the congresswoman since the day she was sworn in.
Jeremy Slevin, senior communications director for Rep. Ilhan Omar, has worked for the congresswoman since the day she was sworn in. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In the hours after House Republicans voted to remove his boss from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Jeremy Slevin, a Jewish American and senior adviser to one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, posted to Twitter. 

“No matter how many lies, smears and hate come her way this Jew is proud to be a part of Team Omar today and every day,” the tweet read. Republicans that day argued Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments critical of Israel, and tweets invoking antisemitic tropes that she posted in 2019 and later apologized for, disqualified the Minnesota Democrat from serving on Foreign Affairs. 

A barrage of hateful comments and retweets followed Slevin’s post, many from wide-reaching accounts — with thousands of followers and emblazoned with blue check marks. 

Slevin was called a “self hating Jew” and a “JINO” — as in “Jew in name only” — and was compared to Jews who were “proud to be Team Hitler,” likely a reference to the Judenraete, Jewish councils set up in Nazi-occupied Europe that were required to carry out German orders.

Slevin shot back at some. “Here’s an idea: don’t call other Jews Nazis if they disagree with you politically,” he rebutted in a post responding to the “Team Hitler” tweet.

House Democrats strongly objected to Omar’s tweets invoking tropes about Jewish wealth and influence in U.S. politics. The congresswoman apologized soon after, saying she was “grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” 

Slevin has worked for Omar since the day she was sworn in. Today, he serves as her senior communications director. Slevin said the bigotry targeting him even before the Feb. 2 tweet — whether on social media or in mail that’s been delivered to his home, and even to his father’s home — pales in comparison to the hate his boss faces daily. 

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Slevin talked about how being critical of Israeli policy does not make someone antisemitic and the armor he’s built up working for the congresswoman for four years.

Q: What’s your response to the comments and retweets to your Feb. 2 post on Twitter? 

A: When you work for someone who’s really strong and who gets a lot worse and more vile hate in an hour than most people get in our lifetime, it gives everyone in the office strength. 

It’s sad because I don’t think it’s productive or helpful to erase someone’s religious or personal identity because of their political views. 

There are Jews I disagree with — they’re very pro-Trump Jews. That doesn’t make them any less Jewish. And, you know, I wouldn’t suggest that they would be Nazis or self-haters, just because they have different views or have a different way of practicing their Judaism.

Q: What does being Jewish mean to you?

A: I can share my own story. I grew up going to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah, continued to go to Hebrew school afterwards until 10th grade, have been a practicing Jew my whole life, and obviously held that identity long before I took this job and will have it long after I have this job. 

So it’s obviously a little surreal to have it a question because of the member of Congress I work for. 

Q: What’s it like to be called “Team Nazi” as an American Jew?

A: These people don’t know me. They don’t know what I actually stand for or believe. They probably don’t even actually know what my boss believes. And so I think it’s more just a sad indication of where the discourse is, and in particular, the discourse I think Trump and the Republican Party have encouraged around identity, erasing certain ethnic groups from being American. 

Q: The congresswoman gets a lot of death threats. Have you ever received a death threat? 

A: Not explicitly. 

Q: Is there violent language? 

A: There’s certainly very violent rhetoric, but nothing that amounted to an explicit death threat.

Q: Are your parents or your partner worried about your safety?

A: I don’t try to burden them or worry them about my own safety. And again, I don’t sit around thinking about or worrying about it. My 97-year-old grandma, on the other hand, certainly does.  

Q: Did you anticipate the vitriol when you took the job working for one of the two first Muslim congresswomen and the first hijab-wearing congresswoman?

A: Sadly, I did. I had worked for Keith Ellison previously, who was the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. So I had a glimpse of the vitriol that Muslims in public office could face. But I think everything pales in comparison to the amount of hate [Omar] gets as a prominent, Black Muslim, refugee, hijabi member of Congress.

Q: Some of those Twitter accounts have a pretty high number of followers — does that concern you?

A: I’ve gotten plenty of hate mail myself. My dad even got hate mail at his address. To this day, I don’t know how they got that.

Sadly, I work in an office where it’s not uncommon, and the congresswoman certainly gets it a lot more. And I don’t spend, I can’t spend my day just dwelling on that or else I’ll never be able to do the actual work that I was hired to do.

Q: The congresswoman back in 2019 said she was “grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues.” Did you have conversations with her about her tweets and whether you found them harmful, or helping her understand why others found them harmful? 

A: Certainly — I’ll leave it at that. We have an open and honest relationship. 

She’s obviously apologized for that specific comment, but I know that she is someone who cares a lot about Jewish safety and building relationships and solidarity with different faith movements. Because there is this divide-and-conquer campaign right now to pit religious minorities against each other.

Q: Have you been able to have ongoing conversations with her in the years that followed about antisemitic tropes?

A: Yes. And one thing that’s important to remember is that she is also on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol and bigotry. And there are also a lot of really harmful Islamophobic tropes that are almost routine in political discourse. 

She always says it’s hard to hate up close and the best way to build partnerships and create space for dialogue is to actually have those conversations and to educate people. 

Q: What is your response to the argument that if you are against the policies of the state of Israel, then you are antisemitic? 

A: It’s dangerous to conflate criticism of any government — be it Israel, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, you name it — with criticism of a religion or hatred of that religion. 

There are Jews who fully support Netanyahu and the Israeli government. There are Jews who are extremely critical of the Israeli government and Israel as a state. That doesn’t make any of them any less Jewish. I think there are really complex and legitimate reasons that Jews have a connection to that land. But none of that justifies smearing people who criticize Israel and its government. They’re still just as Jewish even if they’re critical. And the same goes from people who are non-Jews. No government is above criticism, whether it’s Israel, the United States or anywhere else. 

Q: Do you think there are broader conversations about antisemitism in America that should be had in Congress? 

A: It’s important to call it out, to combat it, to do everything we can to stamp out antisemitic rhetoric and the rise in antisemitic hate crimes too. It’s also really important to be honest about the source of a lot of these violent hate crimes. 

Efforts to pit various religious minorities against each other and to attack immigrants or attack Muslims or attack Jews through tropes. It doesn’t help us build the multiracial, multireligious society where everyone feels safe.

Q: Do you have rhythms that help you to stay healthy and in touch with who you are outside of your job on the hill?

A: I have a band that plays music, which keeps me grounded. I now have a 1-year-old. So that takes up almost all my time outside of work. 

Q: What has been going through your mind over the last few weeks that you would want to share with Roll Call readers? 

A: The attacks on the congresswoman, calling her anti-American and whatnot, it just reminded me that so many of these attacks are attacks Jewish Americans also faced throughout history. 

I know, from my own family, early years of [my great-grandparents] fleeing pogroms, coming to America as refugees or immigrants, facing rampant antisemitism, facing constant questioning of whether or not they’re real Americans, whether or not they have allegiance to America or are trying to implement their own religious doctrine. It’s an important reminder that all our fates are connected and the only way to guarantee safety for all communities is to stand against all forms of hate.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) leaves her office at the Longworth House Office Building on Feb. 2, accompanied by Jeremy Slevin (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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