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Ilhan Omar Raises Phony Israeli Chemical Attack to Distract from Columbia Antisemitism Concerns

Welcome back to Forgotten Fact Checks, a weekly column produced by National Review’s News Desk. This week, we look into trouble on Columbia’s campus — both real and imagined — and cover more media misses.

With all eyes on pro-Palestinian protesters unleashing chaos on Columbia University last week, Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) chose to turn her attention to an alleged “attack” with a “toxic chemical substance” against students at an anti-Israel protest earlier this year.

Omar used her time during a congressional hearing on Wednesday to ask Columbia president Minouche Shafik about an alleged “chemical attack by former Israeli soldiers.”

“In January, there was an incident involving students that were protesting that were attacked with a toxic chemical substance, leaving many hospitalized,” Omar claimed. “A lot of them did not receive support from the school administrators. Can you speak to what is happening with the investigation?”

Shafik pushed back, saying that while police are still investigating, it is believed an “odorous substance” was discharged, rather than a “toxic chemical substance.” The president added that the university did in fact reach out to the students who said they were affected, but that many of them “didn’t want support.”

And yet despite Omar’s comments and media reporting at the time, it appears the “attack” was nothing more than a pro-Israel student using prank-style stink spray.

A lawsuit filed by one of the pro-Israel students who was suspended over the incident says the substances were in fact novelty sprays called “Wet Farts” and “Liquid A**.”

“Plaintiff attended one of the unsanctioned pro-Hamas pro-Palestine rallies on campus, and, as a harmless expression of his speech, he sprayed into the air a novelty, non-toxic ‘fart’ spray named ‘Liquid A–‘ and ‘Wet Farts’ which he purchased on Amazon for $26.11,” says the lawsuit, which was filed on April 16.

The suit says Columbia quickly placed the student on interim suspension and then released a statement accusing the student of a hate crime, placing the student “in grave jeopardy.”

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that students were admitted to hospitals for observation or treatment.

Yet that didn’t stop Al Jazeera from publishing a documentary claiming two Columbia students and former Israeli military soldiers “infiltrated” the pro-Palestinian rally.

AJ+, Al Jazeera’s social-media news publisher, conducted a visual analysis of photos and videos taken by students and claimed to have found “unusual activity” at the rally. Though the outlet acknowledged that it could not confirm whether the individuals that “infiltrated” the rally were responsible for the allegedly-hazardous chemical spray.

“Why are Palestinians and their supporters being subjected to violence at a U.S. Ivy League institution? And what is the University doing about it?” the documentary asks.

The Students for Justice in Palestine at Columbia called the incident a “hateful assault,” which came “after months of Columbia viciously targeting and repressing Palestinian student advocacy, contributing to a hostile environment that dangerously emboldens violent attacks like these.”

And yet it is pro-Palestinian protesters who have forced the school to switch over to remote learning with what Shafik called “intimidating and harassing behavior.”

New York City police arrested 108 anti-Israel protesters on Columbia University’s campus on Thursday after the university’s president asked law enforcement to step in and break up the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.”

Columbia University Apartheid Divest organized the encampment and asked students to gather around the lawn to block police from entering. The group led chants calling for “intifada revolution” and for Hamas to “kill another soldier now.”

Days later, pro-Palestinian protesters outside Columbia chanted “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” and other pro-violence slogans.

“We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” protesters shouted Saturday night, according to footage posted by Israel War Room.

“Al-Qassam you make us proud! Take another soldier out!” protesters said, referring to Hamas’s military wing that carried out the October 7 attacks against Israel.

Other chants included, “Hamas, we love you! We support your rockets, too!” and, “Red, black, green, and white, we support Hamas’ fight!”

“It is right to rebel, al-Qassam, give them hell!,” demonstrators said.

But on Wednesday, when Omar asked Shafik whether she had seen anti-Jewish protests on campus, the university president responded that she had not.

Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi, was one of the more than 100 students who were arrested at Columbia on Thursday. Hirsi announced on X she had been suspended from Barnard College because of her involvement.

“I was a little bit frantic, like, where am I going to sleep? Where am I gonna go? And also all of my s–t is thrown in a random lot. It’s pretty horrible,” Hirsi told Teen Vogue.

“I don’t know when I can go home, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to,” she added.

Meanwhile, Elie Buechler, an Orthodox Rabbi at Columbia/Barnard, urged more than 290 Jewish students to go home on Sunday and to remain there until “campus has dramatically improved.”

Shafik said in a statement on Monday that “antisemitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken.

“Tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas,” the president said, adding that the administration plans to meet to resolve the “crisis” on campus in the coming days.

The mayhem moved to Yale University as university police arrested 40 to 45 anti-Israel protesters on Monday morning, breaking up an encampment that had formed three days earlier.

Amid the arrests, some 150 protesters locked arms and chanted, “YPD [Yale Police Department] or KKK, I don’t know, they’re all the same” and “Officer, officer, can’t you see? You’re on the wrong side of history.”

Headline Fail of the Week

The Washington Post apparently wants readers to feel bad for Hamas sympathizers: “They criticized Israel. This Twitter account upended their lives.”

“Since Oct. 7, StopAntisemitism has flagged hundreds of people who have criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza. Many were swiftly fired,” a subheading explains.

The Washington Post tells the sad story of Celine Khalife, a 25-year-old therapist, who says StopAntisemitism shut down her career just as it was getting started. “A video posted by StopAntisemitism shows the Palestinian American tearing down a poster of Israeli hostages. She said Israel kidnapped its own citizens, a false conspiracy theory,” reports the outlet.

And in another example of what the paper apparently sees as run-of-the-mill criticism of Israel, Dani Marzouca was seen in a clip posted to X by StopAntisemitism saying that “radical solidarity with Palestine means . . . not apologizing for Hamas.”

• For those who were holding their breath waiting for Mehdi Hasan’s new independent publication that aims to fill what he claims is a lack of progressive viewpoint in the media space, the time has come. Zeteo launched last week with contributors including Greta Thunberg, Cynthia Nixon, Kamau Bell, and Naomi Klein.

• The Washington Post framed the recent events at NPR as the public radio network “being targeted by conservative activists” over Uri Berliner’s essay exposing the outlet’s liberal bent, “which many staffers say is misleading and inaccurate.”

 •MSNBC has cooked up another in a long line of conspiracy theories; this time the network’s staff is floating the idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia are driving up oil and gas prices to help Trump win the election.

“Now, this is a common thing going into the summer,” host Stephanie Ruhle said of rising gas prices. “More people drive more. It pushes up demand. That is normal. But there are other reasons as well. Ones that might be more deliberate, even political. Like Saudi Arabia and Russia continuing to cut oil production until June and remember when production is down, prices go up.

Former Jeb Bush communications director Tim Miller replied, “One of the biggest concerns I have had this year, I have several concerns this year, but one of the bigger ones was exactly what we are talking about now. I think it’s pretty clear that [Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] would rather have Donald Trump in the White House. Same with Putin of course. And so, there might be some monkey business with oil prices that go beyond June into this year. I think that that’s something that the White House is going to have to contend with.”

Ruhle later said, “These prices are not the fault of President Biden . . . we’ve got the highest oil production in U.S. history and some overseas oil producers who would sure like to help DJT.”