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In Minnesota, Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments pain and confusion

Elise Viebeck Corporate and Investigation Reporter focused on politics March 10 at 19:01 In Minnesota double cities, Jews and Somali immigrants have been partners for decades. When Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota from 1993, Jewish leaders began echoing their ancestors who faced virulent anti-Semitism as newcomers to the state more than a century earlier. The communities developed strong ties, joined in the fight against hunger and illiteracy, and raised money for each other because of discrimination and threats to violence. Then came the election to Congress last year by Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant who spent four years in a refugee camp as a child and arrived in Minnesota as a teenager. Omar has heard a controversy with provocative remarks as a pronounced criticism of Israel, as some say they rely on anti-Semitic stereotypes. The pattern has aroused many Jews, and as Omar met yet another four-storm last week, community leaders on both sides expressed pain and confusion and feared that the comments could damage an alliance they spent years trying to raise. Somali community activist Omar Jamal of St Paul said he is in contact with local Jewish leaders about how the two sides can confirm their solidarity in a moment of crisis. He said he supported Omar's congress campaign, but her comments are "wrong, period". "She can solve this problem if she wants to," Jamal said. "This is up to Ilhan Omar. She has really spoken in a very dangerous way, and it will be up to her…

In Minnesota double cities, Jews and Somali immigrants have been partners for decades.

When Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota from 1993, Jewish leaders began echoing their ancestors who faced virulent anti-Semitism as newcomers to the state more than a century earlier. The communities developed strong ties, joined in the fight against hunger and illiteracy, and raised money for each other because of discrimination and threats to violence.

Then came the election to Congress last year by Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant who spent four years in a refugee camp as a child and arrived in Minnesota as a teenager.

Omar has heard a controversy with provocative remarks as a pronounced criticism of Israel, as some say they rely on anti-Semitic stereotypes. The pattern has aroused many Jews, and as Omar met yet another four-storm last week, community leaders on both sides expressed pain and confusion and feared that the comments could damage an alliance they spent years trying to raise.

Somali community activist Omar Jamal of St Paul said he is in contact with local Jewish leaders about how the two sides can confirm their solidarity in a moment of crisis. He said he supported Omar’s congress campaign, but her comments are “wrong, period”.

“She can solve this problem if she wants to,” Jamal said. “This is up to Ilhan Omar. She has really spoken in a very dangerous way, and it will be up to her to reach out to people and fix this.”

The controversy has rolled the twin cities, where Omar, one Democrat, representing Minneapolis and its great Somali American community, as well as several blocks that have been home to Jews for generations. The liberal and racially versatile 5th Congress District was previously represented by State Secretary Keith Ellison, who made history as the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006.

Omar joined the Chamber this year as one of his first two Muslim women, national media attention, as well as naughty and Islamophobic attacks from the right.

She has been both apologetic and credible when she meets criticism for comments she says were meant to criticize Israel, not Jews.

“I am told every day that I’m anti-American if I’m not pro-Israel,” Omar tweeted March 3 in response to critics. “I think it’s problematic and I’m not alone. I just happen to be willing to talk about it and open me for attacks.”

This perspective has drawn sympathy from some Jews who oppose Israeli politics in the West Bank and see accusations about anti-Semitism against Omar as politically motivated attacks. But others doubt her underlying emotions.

Steve Hunegs, chief executive of the Jewish Community Federation of Minnesota and Dakotas, said he recently told Omar why many Jews are insulted when accused of double loyalty and showing her a picture of a cousin killed in action during World War II.

About a week later on February 27, Omar told an audience at a City Hall event in Washington, DC that allegations of anti-Semitism were intended to silence her criticism of Israel and the US Israeli Foreign Affairs Committee. She said she wanted to talk about “the political influence in this country that says it’s okay for people to push for credibility to a foreign country.”

“It got scared of me,” Hunegs said. “It embarrassed me because we had at least one-way discussion in her presence with the image of my cousin. You have to ask: did she understand?”

Omar tweeted in 2012 that Israel had “hypnotized the world” about its “evil deeds” and in February, support for Israel among congressmen was “all about the Benjamin” a reference to one hundred dollar bills. She has apologized for both tweets and said she didn’t know the phrases “dark history to reinforce negative stereotypes about Jews.”

Omar and her staff have sat down with several Jewish groups and leaders in recent weeks. But it has not calmed concerns among some critics.

“Her words and her communications are anti-Semitic,” says Minnesota State Sen. Ron Latz, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer Labor Party. Latz, who is Jewish, talked to Omar last year about her tweet in 2012.

“I’m not going to try to judge what’s in her heart, but I see the pattern of what she says. She clearly learned the attitude and behavior of somewhere. “

Omar declined several interview requests from Posten and her office refused to answer extensive written questions about her views on Israel and the criticism she received.

Senior aide Jeremy Slevin promised that a forthcoming edition of an unspecified publication would more fully explain Omar’s views and point to a new interview where she endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first time Omar spoke publicly and in the longing for her view of the conflict was during a speech in the 2017 century in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where she served a term representing part of Minneapolis.

Omar invoked “special relationship” between Muslims and Jews, “One based on our common space in history”, while discussing a bill relating to the movement to boycott Israel.

“I’m really sorry about the emergence of anti-Semitism,” she said. “I have been part of a society that has raised money to support the Jewish community in this time of need, because as my society is struggling … Jewish society has struggled with us.”

Omar, 37, has said that her grandfather taught her about the history of racial repression in South Africa. She often compares Israel with an “apartheid regime”.

“I remember my grandfather talking to me about the stories of apartheid South Africa and told me how the conversation is shifted because so many conscience collectors … decided that they would participate in the boycott of that government,” she said in Omar’s family arrived in the United States when she was 12. For four years, they lived in Dadaab refugee camp in Dadaab eastern Kenya, home to thousands of Somalis who fled the country’s bloody civil war.

Latz, the state state of Minnesota, said he understands why Omar’s refugee background has shaped her views.

“The feeling I get is that the Western forces probably struck up the oppressors in their world as she grew up,” he said. “Everything she should have heard about Israel and Palestine would have supported the Palestinians, many of whom also lived in refugee camps. “

Omar has defenders in the local Jewish community, especially among those who have strong objections to current Israeli politics.” “She is not an anti-Semitic,” said Barry Cohen, a leader of the Twin Cities chapter of Jewish voice for peace, which opposes Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

“How I look at how and why she would necessarily have an understanding of Jewish history and Israeli history at some depth more than any member of Congress has understanding or knowledge of Somali history or culture? . . . This is the policy in its ugliest form. “

At Capitol Hill, Parliament replied to Omar’s comments on Thursday by giving a broad measure of condemnation.

Asked Friday about the controversy, several Somali Americans in Minneapolis came to Omar’s defense, especially in the light of a poster discovered in this month at the West Virginia Capitol that contained a picture of her during one of the World Trade Center towers in flame on September 11.

“Ilhan has nothing to do with it. That’s not what America stands for, says Abdi Ali, 40, who runs Barwaaqo Juice and Coffee Shop in Minneapolis Midtown Phillips.

About the criticism Omar faces said Ali: “I think Ilhan is a soft target because of her background – to be Muslim, black, immigrant.”

Jamal, the Somali community activist, said that Omar’s use of alleged anti-Semitic stereotypes do not reflect his society’s view of Jews. He wrote a column in 2014, calling on Somali Americans to reject anti-Semitism.

“Of course, she has the right to offer opinions on the state of Israel, but I think this was beyond that and I think we are completely disagreeable with that,” he said.

Rachael Bade in Washington and Alexandra Baumhardt in Minneapolis contributed to this report

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