Article details efforts made by politicians and the local Jewish community to discuss history and sensitivities with Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar.
By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News
Amid the controversy over comments made by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on different occasions regarding Israel and her use of anti-Semitic tropes, the media in her home state of Minnesota have been delving into who she is and efforts to communicate with her.
The Muslim member of the Democratic Party most recently made headlines at the beginning of this week when she stated that the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby group in Washington was paying American politicians in exchange for their support of Israel.
The innuendo of Jews paying money for power was too much for many to bear.
Omar apologized after receiving criticism from the Democratic Party’s leadership in Congress, in addition to the Republican condemnations.
“Ilhan Omar has been talked to about this before,” says an article on the Twin Cities Pioneer Press website, based in Minnesota.
“Last year, before she was elected to the House of Representatives…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,” it writes.
Minnesotan U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jew representing a neighboring district, developed an approach of engaging her in a type of educational discussion, says the news outlet.
“We agreed to move forward with a shared goal of working collaboratively to combat hatred and intolerance towards all persecuted communities, and commit to [a] respectful debate of the issues important to each of us,” said Phillips, according to Pioneer Press.
Last year, a Minnesota Democratic state senator, Ron Latz, 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,” says the website report.
The challenges included the fact that “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?” says the report.
“We wanted to reach out to her,” Latz recalled. “We were a bit troubled about several things she had said.”
The gathering with Jewish leaders did not go well, says Latz.
“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,” he explained.
The most alarming comments by Omar over time were considered to be a 2012 tweet in which she wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
The language was seen as evoking an anti-Semitic trope of Jews practicing sorcery allowing them to control others. It was not until last month that Omar explained her words, 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, says Pioneer Press. The news site notes that as of Tuesday morning, Omar had not deleted the tweet.
She explained that her comments were made in the context of an Israeli military operation in Gaza. She acknowledged that she had not previously made enough of an effort towards “disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.” Some accepted her words as an apology; others did not.
“I don’t mind a policy disagreement. That’s fine,” Latz, who said he has qualms with some Israeli policies, noted 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.”
In response to a request for comment on this story, Pioneer Press says that it received the following statement from Omar: “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.”