Minnesota’s Jewish leaders are speaking out and detailing how House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism dates backs years, and yet, she continues to make bigotry a hallmark of her brief Congressional tenure.
It’s the latest evidence that Omar’s anti-Semitic comments aren’t slips of the tongue or historical misunderstandings as she’s claimed, but rather, her core beliefs.
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MN Jewish leaders talked with Ilhan Omar about anti-Semitism last year. Why they remain frustrated.
Twin Cities Pioneer Press
February 12, 2019
Ilhan Omar has been talked to about this before.
Last year, before she was elected to the House of Representatives, before she emerged from a crowded Democratic field in Minnesota’s liberal 5th Congressional District, leaders of Minneapolis’ Jewish community fashioned what could be described as an anti-Semitic intervention of Omar, a rising star of the left whose remarks had made many fellow Democrats in the Jewish community uncomfortable.
This is relevant because Omar, a freshman member of Congress, has come under fire this week after suggesting on Twitter that supporters of Israel in Congress are bought and paid for by a bipartisan pro-Israel lobbying group. To many, the remark went beyond a critique of money’s influence in politics and evoked the anti-Semitic myth that Jews seek to control the world via money.
The response by some, ranging from Chelsea Clinton to fellow Minnesotan U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jew representing a neighboring district, is to engage her in a type of educational discussion. Following what he described as an “impassioned face-to-face conversation with Omar,” Phillips concluded: “We agreed to move forward with a shared goal of working collaboratively to combat hatred and intolerance towards all persecuted communities, and commit to respectful debate of the issues important to each of us.”
Apparently, this has already been tried.
Last year, state Sen. Ron Latz, a St. Louis Park Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 2002, invited Omar to his house, where a number of Jewish leaders had gathered. It wasn’t an ambush; Omar knew that group was there, and their purpose was to enlighten her.
‘WE WANTED TO REACH OUT’
Maybe Omar, who spent four years, from age 8 to 12, in a Kenyan camp for Somali refugees, just didn’t understand, Latz recalled some wondering at the time.
The apex (or nadir) of anti-Semitism — the Holocaust — would be a matter of European history for a then-36-year-old Muslim native of Somalia. Did she know it? The trappings of anti-Semitism in Minneapolis — restricted hospitals, country clubs and property covenants — were American manifestations that vanished decades before Omar came to America. And the subtleties of language — the code words used to marginalize Jews — did she understand the nuance?
“We wanted to reach out to her,” Latz recalled. “We were a bit troubled about several things she had said.”
Among their concerns was a 2012 tweet in which Omar wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” The language evokes an anti-Semitic trope of Jews as practicers of some type of sorcery that allows them to control others. It wasn’t until last month that Omar apologized, when the tweet gained national attention after she had taken office in Congress, but many in the local Jewish community were aware of it well before. As of Tuesday morning, Omar had not deleted the tweet.
In local political discourse during the Democratic Party’s endorsement process, Omar’s phrasing as she spoke of Middle East policy troubled some. But Latz — who has defended Omar’s predecessor, Keith Ellison, against accusations of anti-Semitism — emphasized that the problem wasn’t in the policy dispute, but the diction and tone.
“I don’t mind a policy disagreement. That’s fine,” Latz, who said he has qualms with some Israeli policies, said in an interview. “I accept that she comes from a different place and has a different policy, but those can be expressed in a matter that does not express anti-Semitism with it. She grew up in a refugee camp, and her perspective is different, but I would also respect a very serious attempt to understand the history of the Jewish people and the way that they have been demonized and murdered for their faith.”
Latz said the gathering was focused, not a mere social gathering. “We didn’t eat much that I recall,” he said. “We talked.”
He declined to attempt to recall exact statements made by him, or others, including Omar, saying that “wouldn’t be fair.” But here’s his summary:
“Over the course of about two hours, we shared with her our concerns for things, including language that has references and meanings beyond just the meanings of words. Tropes, dog whistles — call them what you will. We explained to her how hurtful, and factually inaccurate, they were.
“Most of us came out of that conversation very troubled by the answers we received. I was not convinced she was going to give a balanced approach to policy in the Middle East, and I was not convinced … where her heart is on these things.
“But we were glad she met with us, and we were hopeful she would be more careful about what she tweeted and she said if she got elected. Frankly, I was hopeful she’d grow in office a little, and understand the media platform she has. Instead, she keeps repeating her mistakes, if you can call them that.”
In response to a request for comment on this story, Omar issued the following statement to the Pioneer Press: “I value the close relationship I have with leaders throughout the 5th District, including members of the Jewish community. I look forward to continuing a relationship based on open dialogue, mutual respect, and combating hatred and intolerance towards all persecuted communities.”
APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED
Following a firestorm of criticism Monday, Omar tweeted this:
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.
“At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be the AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”
AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a bipartisan lobbying group that doesn’t directly donate to candidates’ campaigns but encourages its members to do so.
For some, the apology seemed to suggest an end to it.
Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator and 2020 presidential candidate, issued a two sentence statement: “Anti-Semitic language should have no place in Congress or our country. Apologizing was the right thing to do.”
For Latz, it rings hollow. It’s the part where she says “just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity,” an apparent reference to Omar being trolled and insulted for being a Muslim — a real phenomenon she has encountered since being elected to the Minnesota House in 2016.
“Even in her tweet,” Latz said, “she cannot get away from saying that if other people criticize her, they run the risk of being labeled anti-Muslim. We have to call that out. At some point, it becomes a little tired to hear her say she’s being ‘educated.’ ”
Latz implied the latest incident might lead to a steady chorus of criticism from he and others.
“What can be done now is those of us who disagree sharply need to speak out publicly and forcefully. Some have been treating her a bit with kid gloves. No more.”