Omar faces tough challenger, remains to be seen if anti-Semitism will hurt her

Even in the campaign, her anti-Semitic proclivities resurfaced when she sent out an election flyer in July accusing her opponent of being “in the pocket of Wall Street” and listing only Jewish donors to his campaign.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

Rep. Ilhan Omar is facing a surprisingly well-funded challenger in Minnesota’s Democratic primaries on Tuesday. Antone Melton-Meaux, a black lawyer and mediator, raised millions of anti-Omar dollars to fill mailboxes and flood airwaves.

His “Focused on the Fifth” message has portrayed Omar, a member of “The Squad” of four progressive female lawmakers, as out of touch with the 5th District.

Omar rejected Melton-Meaux’s attacks, saying they were funded by interests that wanted to get her out of Congress because she’s effective. She also downplayed Melton-Meaux’s money and played up her ground game before the vote, saying, “Organized people will always beat organized money.”

Omar, 37, the first Somali American and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, would ordinarily be expected to crush any opponent in the Aug. 11 primary. She has received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (V-It.).

But she hurt herself with comments about Jews, money and Israel that even some fellow Democrats called anti-Semitic. Her apologizes rang hollow to most Jews as she made one anti-Semitic comment after another.

State Sen. Ron Latz, a Democrat who is Jewish and has sometimes been critical of Omar, backs Melton-Meaux in part for what he sees as a more balanced perspective on Middle East issues than the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel Omar.

“She seems to have found a way to restrain herself for some number of months now,” he said. “But I think that restraint has been externally imposed. We clearly know her personal inclinations because she kept saying things that were offensive to the Jewish people until the reaction got so hot that she felt she had to quiet herself down.”

Even in the campaign, those anti-Semitic proclivities resurfaced when she sent out an election flyer in July accusing her opponent of being “in the pocket of Wall Street” and listing only Jewish donors to his campaign.

The American Jewish Congress slammed the flyer, saying Omar had “crossed the line.”

“My immediate thought when I saw the mailer was ‘Here we go again.’ This had both implicit and explicit anti-Semitic tropes,” Rabbi Avi Olitzky of the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, the center of Greater Minneapolis’ Jewish community, told Vice.

That Omar thought the flyer would work may say something not so flattering about her constituency. Tuesday will tell. It also remains to be seen whether the Jewish community in her district will vote against her as a bloc now that her views are known.

Shari Dveris, a 42-year-old school teacher, said she voted for Melton-Meaux because she doesn’t think the congresswoman “has done anything for her constituents,” echoing the challenger’s claim that Omar prioritized celebrity over the interests of her district.

Dveris, who voted early on Monday in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb with a large Jewish community, said Omar “pulled a bait-and-switch” on the Jewish community during her 2018 campaign, namely with her support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions, or BDS Movement against Israel.

Omar won the 2019 ‘Anti-Semite of the Year’ award in a poll organized by StopAntisemitism.org.

She made headlines when she suggested that America’s largest pro-Israel lobbying group buys political support. In May, she attempted to link Saudi Arabia and Israel, suggesting both used money and connections to guide U.S. policy.

The outcome may not be known Tuesday night if the results are close. Absentee voting in Minnesota was heavy, and officials must count mail-in ballots that arrive as late as Thursday under safety rules imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.