The storm that has erupted over recent tweets by new Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has led to allegations that she is stirring up classic antisemitic libels that Jews control world affairs and use money to exert their influence.
And although she has apologized, twice, for three different comments, the current outrage over her rhetoric is not the first time concern over her beliefs has been brought to her attention.
A group of half a dozen Jewish leaders in Minneapolis were well aware Omar might become a new member of Congress representing a district in the city, with a population of some 45,000 Jews, so in the summer of 2018 she was invited to a meeting with State Senator Ron Latz so the group could give her their perspective on her activity and comments about Israel.
They discussed in particular her Twitter post in 2012 that said: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
She issued her tweet during Israel’s military operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in 2012, launched due to ongoing heavy rocket fire at Israeli cities from the Palestinian territory.
Latz told The Jerusalem Post that the group told Omar that her tweet was antisemitic and that it “hearkened back to centuries of antisemitic tropes against Jews and was an attack on the legitimacy of the existence of State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
But Omar was more or less unswayed, he says. She told the people in the meeting that she could have used better language and said that her comments had been directed against Israeli policy and not the Jewish people, but declined to delete the tweet.
Latz also pointed out that during the congressional primary in 2018 for the democratic nomination to represent the district, a forum had been held at a local synagogue, which she and other candidates attended.
At that forum Omar was asked specifically if she supports the Boycott, Divestment, amd Sanctions campaign against Israel and she responded that she did not believe it was helpful for the goal of achieving peace in the region.
Soon after she was elected as the representative for Minnesota’s 5th district she stated publicly that in fact she does support BDS.
“We feel that she misrepresented herself at this forum,” said Latz.
Her most recent tweets - where she alleged that US politicians support Israel due to money given to them by Jewish organizations, mentioning AIPAC explicitly - were “the last straw” for Latz.
She subsequently apologized for her comments, although with several caveats and only after a huge political and media storm erupted over her comments. Latz is dubious about her sincerity. “I don’t know if her apology is genuine,” said Latz. “If it was a single incident I would say yes, but now we see a pattern of behavior to suggest she has not learned from previous feedback.”
“I think her comments reflect what she thinks. There is a certain amount of ignorance, but we’ve tried to educate her, so it’s now an attitude and there’s only so long she can say she doesn’t understand the impact of what she’s saying," he said. ”If she doesn’t understand then she should stop tweeting. If she doesn’t like Israeli policy then say that and don’t use antisemitic canards and tropes.”
Latz said that there is concern among the Jewish community over Omar’s attitude and rhetoric. He noted that the Jewish community in Minneapolis is very diverse, with some strongly liberal congregations that have accepted her apologies so far and hope she will learn from her mistakes.
The state senator himself says he’s very concerned, arguing that Omar’s rhetoric “is feeding antisemitic attitudes from the Left that the far Right antisemites feed on, too.”
”People hear this kind of thing and feel like they can act upon it with more than just talk. It gives the Jewish community reason to be fearful. It’s hard to know what’s in her heart but the patterns of what she is tweeting is disturbing," he said, alluding to the October shooting attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 worshipers.