At a vigil in New York City on Friday for the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre, Chelsea Clinton was confronted by New York University students who characterised comments she made in opposition to Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar’s tweet last month as an incitement to the violence.
“This, right here, is a result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” a student said to Clinton, as seen in a video posted on Twitter. “And I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deep down inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
The rhetoric the student in the video is referring to is Clinton’s response to Omar’s now-deleted tweet that critics said implied Jewish money drives the U.S.'s support for Israel, making the comment, "It's all about the Benjamins, baby."
An opinion editor at The Forward, a Jewish-American news outlet, quoted the tweet saying, “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.”
This is when Clinton chimed in to back the journalist up. “Co-signed as an American,” she replied. “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
Omar apologised “unequivocally” and thanked her colleagues and Jewish allies for “educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."
Clinton, who attended as the co-founder and co-chair of NYU’s Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership, offered an apology that did not sit well with the students in the video. “I’m so sorry that you feel that way,” Clinton said. “Certainly, it was never my intention. I do believe words matter. I believe we have to show solidarity.”
The exchange has sparked a conversation on social media about whether or not the criticism of Clinton was deserved. Many felt that Clinton’s words couldn’t have inspired the massacre, which left 49 people dead, but noted that a desire to protect Clinton is clashing with a need to allow POC and Muslims to express their grief and rage.
“This is absolute horseshit. Chelsea Clinton calling out Ilhan Omar’s anti-semitism is not islamophobia and blaming her for Christchurch is completely uncalled for,” one tweet read. “I’m muslim and I thought Omar crossed the line into anti-semitism. Muslims need allies. this video ain’t it, chief.”
Others took issue with the fact that Clinton’s feelings were being valued more than those who were grieving.
“Took liberals less than 24 hours to forget their empty platitudes over the NZ terrorist attack and turn on a young Muslim woman for expressing her grief and uncomfort with the fact a person who contributed to Islamophobia was at a vigil, a space for Muslims to mourn their dead,”one tweet read.
Another tweet recognised support for Clinton in this moment as another example of white comfort being prioritised over the grieving Muslim community.
“I don't understand all of the concern about Chelsea Clinton,” one user wrote. “I know how the students approached aggressively and might have even hurt or embarrassed her. but those students were hurting too. We have got to stop valuing the comfort of white people over the well-being of POC.”
Other’s pointed out how Clinton’s actions show another side of Islamophobia.
“No one thinks the Christchurch shootings were inspired by Chelsea Clinton,”one tweet read. “The point is that Islamophobia doesn’t just exist on the far-right and we all have a responsibility to fight it, whether it’s of the subtle or “invading hordes” variety.”
Clinton’s actions have opened up a discourse, unwittingly, in which minorities speaking their truth to power is the focus. As many have pointed out, it is not up to the white majority to police the timing or tone in which a Muslim girl addresses Clinton, nor is it the responsibility of that girl to tone down her grief and emotions to make the conversation more comfortable for Clinton or her defenders.
It has also created a conversation of awareness around Islamophobia. While Omar admitted her blind spots in repeating tropes about Jews, the condemnation she was met with far stripped any that her colleagues in Congress have heard for their comments lambasting Black Lives Matter, Islam, and promoting white supremacy. That is why many feel Clinton’s comments disparaging Omar contributed to marginalising her and may have helped further institutionalise Islamophobic rhetoric.
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