politics to go

Minnesota Dems may challenge Omar


Minnesota Democratic leaders upset at her public anti-Semitic statements are working to recruit candidates to run against Rep. Ilhan Omar in next year’s primary election.

The Hill newspaper is reporting that several party leaders “have had discussions about finding a candidate to take on Omar, just two months into her first term in Congress.” 

It is extremely rare for party leaders to try to primary an incumbent.

“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.

A newspaper in Omar’s district, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, reported that before she ran for Congress, Latz hosted a meeting in his home between Omar and community Jewish leaders. They weren’t trying to change her anti-Israel positions, but tried to teach her not to use hurtful language when expressing them.

Latz reported that they “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.”

After Omar’s comment that congressional support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” the Pioneer Press reported that she had met with the Jewish community again.

 “Over the past two weeks, Omar had several meetings in Minnesota with local Jewish leaders. It was essentially part of a low-profile, not-on-Twitter, fence-mending tour following Omar’s remarks earlier in the month many saw as anti-Semitic and part of a pattern that dates back several years.”

Rep. Omar’s disregard of the community’s advice about hateful tropes suggests that she doesn’t really care about promoting anti-Semitism. The Jewish community in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district is horrified.

 “Our community is exasperated by Rep. Omar’s unfulfilled promises to listen and learn from Jewish constituents while seemingly simultaneously finding another opportunity to make an anti-Semitic remark and insult our community,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement.

Omar met with Hunegs last month after her initial remarks were widely condemned. She has continued to meet with Jewish leaders both in Minneapolis and Washington, a spokesman said.

“Unfortunately, having the opportunity to speak with her about that point didn’t dissuade her making that statement,” Hunegs told The Hill in an interview Wednesday. “We were appalled.”

Most recently, CNN reported that some Muslim and Jewish leaders in her district sat down with Rep. Omar together.

 “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.”

Omar Jamal explained that Rep. Omar’s election was a cause of great excitement for him and the Somali refugee community in the district. But he has found her actions since she took office 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.”

Mohamed Ahmed did not agree that Omar was merely criticizing the Israeli government.

“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.”

According to the Hill, the search for a candidate to run against Rep. Omar in a primary next year continues, but so far no one has publicly expressed interest.

If local Democrats do find someone, that candidate will face two significant obstacles: Omar’s Somali background and the history of the district.

Minnesota is home to one of the largest Somali communities in America, over 100,000 strong. The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, represented by Rep. Omar, is the heart of the Somali community and is nicknamed “Little Mogadishu.”

Even if moderate Democrats in her district can recruit a challenger, it remains unclear if party voters will reject Omar for her hatred in a primary. Her predecessor in the seat was Keith Ellison, a student, friend, and defender of Louis Farrakhan. While subtler than Ilhan Omar, Ellison also had a history of anti-Semitism. During his run for Congress in 2006, the Washington Post reported that Ellison had defended Farrakhan against accusations of anti-Semitism in 1989 and 1990. Ellison has been a featured keynote speaker at many BDS events, including the American Friends Service Committee, which runs a BDS boot camp, and Progressives for Palestine. He is a favorite of the anti-Israel group ironically called Jewish Voice for Peace.

Ellison was elected to represent the 5th congressional district six times.

When push comes to shove, rank-and-file Democrat constituents in Omar’s congressional district may be very comfortable with anti-Semitism.