AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The City of Austin held its 4th annual Iftar dinner on Saturday with diners inside and protesters outside.
Diners gathered inside the Hilton DoubleTree on I-35 to hear the event’s keynote speaker, freshman U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Protesters, flanked by police, gathered outside the hotel to either support or denounce the Minnesota congresswoman’s presence.
Omar has received criticism for comments she has made. Some are thought to be anti-Semitic, others some believe minimize 9/11.
If Not Now, a Jewish activism group, and Undoing White Supremacy Austin gathered in support of Omar.
“I really wanted to make sure that our Muslim neighbors knew that they were supported,” said Jen Margulies, a member of both organizations. “As a Jewish woman, it’s really important to me to counter the message that Ilhan Omar is anti-Semitic -- and I don’t think that the people who are here protesting against her tonight necessarily believe that. I think there’s a lot of racism and Islamophobia.”
Members of Open Carry Texas, ACT! for America, Texas State Militia, III% Security Force and This is Texas Freedom Force were among the groups protesting Omar. Protesters say the groups were organized on the Facebook group “Texans against Taqiyya,” which calls to “stop the Islamization of Texas traditions.”
Josh Woodwell of the III% Security Force says he disagrees with Omar’s views and was exercising his “constitutional right,” protesting. As Woodwell spoke, opposing protesters supporting Omar gathered around him with signs shouting and cursing. A counter-protester began shouting back -- and a shouting match erupted.
Inside the venue, Omar seemed attuned to the division around her.
“My message to you tonight is not to let the hate around us divide us. That we show up with love, because ultimately, love trumps hate.” she said.
Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller had called on Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish, to boycott the dinner because of Omar’s previous remarks.
“Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same bigoted coin.” said Omar during her speech.
Adler took the stage as guest of honor shortly after Omar spoke.
“It is through strength and unity that we push back, and that is what this night is about. Mayor Adler knew that…” said the congresswoman.
On stage, Adler mentioned damaging “old tropes” both the Jewish and Muslim communities endure, such as the Jewish people being linked to “money” and Muslims being linked to “terrorists.” Omar is accused of using a trope about the Jewish people and money.
“As both of our communities have learned such tropes have real consequences, if we are to avoid sharing more moments of pain together we must be deliberate and mindful and informed to avoid the painful and false narratives that have been used against each other,” said Adler.
Adler said whether one’s use of a trope is “intended or not,” those “at the fringe weaponize tropes with speed.”
“He’s calling [Omar] out!” whispered one diner to another.
Omar has apologized for the perception of her purportedly anti-Semitic remarks, but denies they were anti-Semitic.
Adler told the crowd “it is our responsibility to point out old language rooted in stereotypes,” warning against being selective or “weaponizing condemnation,” if someone “wears a hijab for example.”
“Just as there is no innocent use of a trope, there is no innocent failure to call out transgressions equally and everywhere,” he said. “Calling out hurtful language should be the beginning of a mutual learning experience rather than the end of a conversation. We need more moments like tonight.”