“When David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan agrees with you,” Mohamed Ahmed tells CNN’s Sara Sidner, “you’re not doing something right.” That’s bad news for Ilhan Omar, as Ahmed is one of her constituents in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. After first being excited by Omar’s election, her fellow Somali immigrants have become more embarrassed by her performance. They’re not buying Omar’s defense that she’s criticizing Israel rather than Jews, either:
Omar Jamal, Steve Hunegs, Mohamed Ahmed and Avi Olitzky agree on the characterization of language Omar used. When Omar talked about Israel “hypnotizing” the world, they said it was anti-Semitic. When she said American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby,” referring to $100 notes, they said it was anti-Semitic. And when she questioned whether American lawmakers and lobbyists had loyalty to Israel, they said it was anti-Semitic. Local leaders want her to understand why her words were causing so much pain.
They see the remarks as anti-Semitic because they are anti-Semitic. Omar spent an entire Washington Post column today trying to argue that she’s only holding Israel to the same standard as other nations:
Valuing human rights also means applying the same standards to our friends and our enemies. We do not have the credibility to support those fighting for human rights in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua if we do not also support those fighting for human rights in Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil. Our criticisms of oppression and regional instability caused by Iran are not legitimate if we do not hold Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to the same standards. …
This vision also applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. support for Israel has a long history. The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people’s connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it. Many of the founders of Israel were themselves refugees who survived indescribable horrors.
We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians. And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity. …
Working toward peace in the region also means holding everyone involved accountable for actions that undermine the path to peace — because without justice, there can never be a lasting peace. When I criticize certain Israeli government actions in Gaza or settlements in the West Bank, it is because I believe these actions not only threaten the possibility of peace in the region — they also threaten the United States’ own national security interests.
My goal in speaking out at all times has been to encourage both sides to move toward a peaceful two-state solution. We need to reinsert this call back into the public debate with urgency. Both parties must come to the table for a final peace deal; violence will not bring us any closer to that day.
Apparently, Omar’s idea of “dignity” involves denigration over “the Benjamins” or smears about disloyalty. Unfortunately for her, Omar’s constituents, including fellow Somali refugees who support Palestinian self-determination, know the difference:
Jamal said the excitement of Omar’s election was “beyond imagination” for him and other Somalis and Somali refugees who had fled to America. But what has happened since has been disappointing.
“(When you are elected,) you’re supposed to bring people together, you’re supposed to create a sense of unity instead of farther dividing them and pitting one group against the other,” Jamal said.
Ahmed dismissed the argument that Omar was merely criticizing the Israeli government — something all the men interviewed by CNN said was her prerogative and not the problem. “I speak as a friend of Israel and a brother to the Palestinians by faith,” he said. “We believe in Palestinian rights and freedoms, but we will not do it denigrating our Jewish community.”
Last week, local Democrats began some throat-clearing over making sure Omar doesn’t get two terms to embarrass them:
Some Minnesota Democrats, aghast at controversial comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), are taking initial steps to recruit a candidate to run against her in next year’s primary election, seeking to buck history in one of the nation’s most progressive legislative districts.
Several party leaders said they have had discussions about finding a candidate to take on Omar, just two months into her first term in Congress.
But even those who were deeply offended by Omar’s comments about Israel concede they have not yet found anyone to challenge her.
“There’s definitely some buzz going around about it, but it’s more a buzz of is anyone talking about finding someone to run against her than it is anyone saying they’re going to run against her or contemplate it. There’s definitely talk about people wanting someone to run against her,” said state Sen. Ron Latz (D), who represents a portion of Omar’s district.
All of the action here will be in the primary. The MN-05 constituency is one of the most progressive and Democratic in the country; its D+26 Cook PVI index might underestimate Democrats’ strength in Minneapolis. If Omar embarrasses Democrats, they have a virtually cost-free opportunity next year to rid themselves of the problem. No matter who wins their primary, Democrats will have a lock on the House seat.
That’s a big if. Omar might be offending some Democrats, including her Jewish and Somali constituents, but she also might be in the vanguard of the direction in which this party is heading already. If they can’t be bothered to find someone else to run for one of the safest and cushiest seats Democrats have in Congress, consider that an endorsement for that direction.